May 19, 2013
Michoacan’s Crisis Crosses Borders
When former Mexican President Felipe Calderon escalated the so-called drug
war after taking office in late 2006, he chose his home state of
Michoacan as the testing ground of the Mexican army’s central role in
the government’s strategy. Now, more than six years and thousands of
deaths later, Michoacan is seeped in violence, immersed in multiple
crises and beset by charges of a virtual melt-down of government
Like Calderon before him, current Mexican President
Enrique Pena Nieto, overseeing the first Institutional Revolutionary
Party (PRI) presidential administration in 12 years, is weighing
decisions on Michoacan that will impact not only the native land of
many U.S. immigrants but also likely reflect, shape and re-define his
administration’s broader national policies in the next five-and-a-half
A simmering political crisis, marked by April’s sudden
departure of PRI Governor Fausto Vallejo and at least his temporary
replacement by Jesus Reyna, took another twist last week when senators
representing the conservative National Action Party (PAN) announced they
would seek legislative action to “disappear” state powers, i.e.
forcibly sack the governor in Michoacan, as permitted by the Mexican
Among the PAN senators pushing the resolution was
Felipe Calderon’s sister, Maria Luisa Calderon, who ran unsuccessfully
against Vallejo for the governorship in the controversial 2011
Given the PRI’s power in the Mexican Congress, the
dissolution of state powers is highly unlikely but the parliamentary
rhetoric served to recast national attention on the Michoacan crisis.
Another PAN senator, Jorge Luis Preciado Rodriguez, asserted that state
officials were “overwhelmed” by delinquency and that remedies might
include putting the military in charge of security in the manner of
Ciudad Juarez a few years back.
In fact, a quasi-militarization
of state security was well underway last week when interim Governor
Jesus Reyna appointed General Alberto Reyes Vaca as the new man in
charge of state security. In turn, General Reyes named three army
colonels as his close collaborators.
The announcement of Reyes’
appointment was quickly followed by a visit by General Salvador
Cienfuegos Zepeda, Mexico’s new defense secretary. In a meeting with the
governor and other high-ranking state officials, General Cienfuegos
said President Pena Nieto assured the support of the armed forces for
unspecified “solid and cohesive actions” aimed at protecting the
population while delivering “certainty” and “tranquility.”
insisting that the Pena Nieto administration would soon take action in
Michoacan, Interior Under Secretary Luis Enrique Miranda Nava denied
that a lack of “governance” shrouds the embattled state.
criminality and violence have long been a constant in Michoacan, recent
developments in the Tierra Caliente region have pushed the situation to
Since the beginning of the month, violent
confrontations, food and supply blockades, hangings, and armed
take-overs of some local municipal governments have characterized the
Tierra Caliente, where so-called self-defense groups now operate. Last
week, 18 municipal policemen in the town of Coalcoman whom locals
accused of collaborating with organized crime were nearly lynched before
they were rescued by Mexican soldiers.
Bordering the state of
Guerrero, the Tierra Caliente is the focus of violent disputes between
the Knights Templar and Jalisco New Generation cartels, the latter of
which is alleged to have armed some of the self-defense groups.
messages recently circulated on the Internet, residents of
Tepalcatepec, Buena Vista and La Ruana denounced a “terrorist group,”
specifically the Knights Templar, for subjecting the local population to
blockades of vital supplies and burning lime packing houses. Gravely
wounded or sick people perished because road blockades prevented
patients from receiving medical treatment, according to Tierra Caliente
residents. Government officials, the writers added, were in cahoots with
the Knights Templar organization.
Almost like a real-life soap opera, the mayhem is fast turning into a spectacle on YouTube and other social media.
the Internet channel, a series of recent videos variously featured
Hipolito Mora, leader of the La Ruana self-defense group, Knights
Templar leaders Servando “La Tuta” Gomez and Dionisio “El Tio” Loya
Plancarte and a masked, anonymous “businessman” railing against the
Knights Templar. In one installment, “El Tio” proposed a “pact of peace
and civility” with Mora in order to avoid “more deaths of innocents,”
but challenged the self-defense leader to a duel if the dialogue did not
In response, Mora told an interviewer that he had
no problem personally with “El Tio,” but called on the Knights Templar
to leave the population alone. The self-defense movement, Mora said,
consisted of “poor people.”
The Tierra Caliente firestorm is now
emerging as a public issue in the United States, where millions of
immigrants and their descendants with ties to Michoacan reside. Members
of the Michoacan diaspora are appealing on President Obama, the United
Nations, the Pope,and international public opinion to heed the drama
unfolding in the Mexican state.
In an interview with Frontera
NorteSur, Jose Sandoval, a spokesperson for the new U.S.-based movement
called Michoacan for Peace, said Tierra Caliente locals had reached the
breaking point and were arming themselves to defend against the Knights
“There’s no work and the (Knights Templar) have the
people threatened,” Sandoval said. “Now people are saying, ‘I am going
to defend myself.’”
Sandoval contended that the underworld group
even charges lime industry workers, who make only 200 pesos a day, a
“protection” fee of 50 pesos and assesses a 20 peso charge for each
local school child. Tens of thousands of people in several
municipalities are impacted by the violence and extortions, he said.
week, Michoacan for Peace organized protests at Mexican consulates in
Los Angeles and San Jose, Sandoval said. In the coming days, the group
plans more protests in the California cities of Fresno, Sacramento and
San Jose, as well as a caravan to the White House and the United Nations
in New York, he said.
According to the activist, Tierra
Caliente residents fear the Mexican army will attempt to disarm the
self-defense groups, which reject laying down their arms. A solution to
the problem will come, Sandoval said, when the Knights Templar pulls
back. “We don’t want any of our people or any of their people dead,”
Michoacan’s public security crisis is not the
only one riveting the state. A teachers’ movement against the new
federal education law continued into May, with Michoacan educators
participating in a national protest encampment in Mexico City, while
education students at rural colleges wound down a round of militant
protests for 1,200 guaranteed job slots and against the federal
In recent weeks, the students upped the ante
by blockading and threatening to burn a Televisa affiliate in the state
capital of Morelia, seizing scores of buses and commercial trucks and
holding six policemen hostage for several days. The state government
could pursue criminal charges against the students.
upheavals, for different reasons, had all of Michoacan’s political and
social actors-left, right and center- speaking out about the future of
PRD Senator Raul Moron Orozco said the current
circumstances require the intervention of all three levels of government
working in unison with the larger society for economic development,
social stability, governance, social peace, and the improvement of the
Legendary politician Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, a
former Michoacan governor and co-founder of the Party of the Democratic
Revolution (PRD), blamed the contemporary state of affairs on the PAN
presidential administrations of Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon.
serving as the international liaison for Mexico City’s PRD
administration, Cardenas contended that the two ex-presidents treated
delinquency in Michoacan as an isolated phenomenon unconnected to issues
of poverty and education.
On the question of dissolving the PRI-led state government, Cardenas was not supportive.
don’t think such a measure would resolve the problem,” he said. “It
seems to me there should be more development programs and as always an
efficient way of combating delinquency.”
In an unusual letter,
Michoacan’s five Roman Catholic bishops demanded that interim Governor
Jesus Reyna restore order and social peace.
“There is a
permanent feeling of defenseless and desperation, plus anger and fear
because of the complicity, forced or voluntary, of some authorities with
organized crime,” the bishops wrote. “ All of us can attest to these
facts, for which nothing can be done, so as to avoid reprisals and not
expose one’s own life…there is a generalized perception of the lack of
effectiveness of the federal, state and local authorities in
guaranteeing safety, order and the right to free transit…”
The letter was signed by Bishop Alberto Suarez Inda of Morelia and his colleagues from four other dioceses.
original peoples are likewise taking decisive actions and demanding
changes. Dozens of communities in the Purepecha highlands have
essentially re-taken control of their own security from the Mexican
state, setting up community police forces and in some cases expelling
In a press conference, Abundio Marcos Prado,
leader of the Purepecha Nation, criticized the absence of state legal
reforms in indigenous rights as well as neglect of the educational
While disassociating his organization from the more
radical actions of the education students, Prado emphasized that
indigenous communities still support the movement of their sons and
daughters and are willing to lay down their lives to defend them.
indigenous peoples, detect a “worrisome disinterest of the state
government and the pretension of keeping indigenous peoples forgotten
and marginalized,” Prado said.
Additional sources: El
Sur/Agencia Reforma, May 19, 2013. El Universal, May 16, 18 and 19,
2013. Articles by Dalia Martinez. La Jornada, May 16, 17 and 19, 2013.
Articles by Ernesto Martinez, Emir Olivares, Notimex, and editorial
staff. La Jornada (Michoacan edition), May 15, 16 and 19, 2013. Articles
by Zayin Daleth Villavicencio, Carlos F. Marquez and Enfoque Noticias.
Proceso/Apro, May 14, 15 and 17, 2013. El Diario de Juarez, May 2, 15
and 16, 2013.
Articles by Agencia Reforma, Milenio, El Universal and La Jornada.