The chairman of Mexico's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), Raúl Plascencia Villanueva, claims the 20,000 or more community militiamen operating in Michoacán state are "entirely outside the law," but president Enrique Peña Nieto made no mention of them this afternoon when he made yet another quick visit to the troubled region, spending about two hours with avocado producers. They were full of praise for the government's efforts on their behalf.
Peña Nieto sent federal troops into the state in May 2013, and redoubled the effort on Jan. 13 as security continued to deteriorate. On Feb. 4 he traveled to Michoacán with most of his Institutional Revolutionary Party cabinet, and announced a $3 billion dollar aid package to jump start the stagnant local economy. The president promised to return to the state every month, and he's been true to his word. In Michoacán, all the president's men arrive with cash and promises.
Today Peña Nieto visited hot and dry Uruapan county in western Michoacán, where he urged avocado growers that "not to fall into a triumphal attitude, despite our many successes in recent weeks. There are still many things to be done, and a long road to go down. We're not going to abandon this land."
The president told a carefully screened group of enthusiastic local businessmen, who appeared at his side in an open air meeting carried live on a national television network, that the avocado industry was of "the highest priority" to his PRI administration. Mexico produces about 30% of the world's avocado crop, and most of them are raised in Michoacán. The state is also important for lemons, limes and tomatoes. The price of some agricultural produce has increased dramatically in recent months in large part due to domestic security issues, and experts predict that the same is likely to occur with avocados in the weeks ahead. Michoacán lemons, very pretty - and expensive.
But today the businessmen were all smiles, profusely thanking Peña Nieto for "dramatic changes" in just two months. "For so many years, we all had to pay the extortionists," one said. "Now that's over with, and we can get on with business." The man was referring to Los Caballeros Templarios, a drug cartel which has been severely weakened in recent weeks but remains far from defeated.
Appearing with the president was Alfredo Castillo, the federal commissioner for security in the state who was appointed in January. One of his most challenging jobs in recent days has been to keep the autodefensas, or self-appointed militiamen, on a tight leash. The full scope of the problem came into sharp relief earlier this week when a prominent leader of one citizen militia faction was taken into custody for allegedly participating in the brutal murder of two autodefensas last Friday. The victims were members of a competing faction, and may have had ties to the dreaded Templarios as well. Mexico arrests key community militia leader in Michoacán, on suspicion of murder.
In remarks today Castillo made no mention of the event, which has occupied the front pages of Mexican newspapers since Tuesday. But CNDH chairman Villanueva did, as he presented the commission's fourth quarter report for 2013.
"The government is the greatest plague, and the people a perfect victim"
Villanueva called the autodefensas in Michoacán and neighboring Guerrero state, where they have a steadily increasing presence, a "danger which must be attended to." Villanueva said that he was as worried about Guerrero as Michoacán. Civilian militias stop Mexican army near Acapulco (photo).
"The autodefensas have in common the pretension that it is their right to undertake public security duties in place of duly constituted state agencies, against what the law prescribes," he said. "The origin of the problem is social and political inequality, as well as a generalized lack of confidence in local law enforcement and the government's ability to protect fundamental rights," Villanueva added. Crime with "impunity" still the norm in much of Mexico.
The CNDH chairman said Mexico's self-defense groups must be integrated into legitimate police forces as quickly as possible, a matter which government officials have largely avoided acting on since the autodefensas first appeared in early 2013.
Mar. 15 - Mexican press sources reported today that five autodefensas leaders have criminal records in Mexico and the United States, for drug trafficking, money laundering, organized crime offenses, murder and kidnapping.
Mar. 16 - Defiant civilian militias announce rupture with Mexico City
Mar. 17 - A Spanish redaction of an editorial by the U.K.'s The Economist calls the autodefensas "a monstrous danger" for Mexico.
Mar. 5, 2014 - Mexico's Human Rights Comm'n. says there's no local law in Michoacán
Feb. 17, 2014 - Michoacán belongs to organized crime: 55% of Mexicans
Aug. 25, 2013 - Civilian militias now patrol 50 counties in 13 Mexican states
July 25, 2013 - "Regrettably, parts of the state have passed into the hands of organized crime"
Apr. 11, 2013 - Mexico's troublesome policías comunitarias will prompt some to argue failed state theories
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