Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Rural Defense Force, to the rescue in Michoacán

Guadalajara -
More than 20,000 citizen militiamen in Michoacán went out of business today - at least in theory - as the troubled state's new Rural Defense Force (RDF) replaced them and officially began operations.

In a symbolic ceremony, Federal Security Commissioner Alfredo Castillo handed over uniforms and weapons to the first 100 members of the civilian force. The firearms included .9 mm semiautomatic pistols and Bushmaster AR-15 combat rifles.

"All of you are an example to other communities throughout Mexico. In Michoacán we are showing that we're bigger than our problems, and that citizens and the government are stronger when they work together," said Castillo.

The RDF will share security duties with federal and state law enforcement agencies in a region long plagued by narco violence. A former militia leader who is now a member of the RDF said today, "We have scarcely begun to fight. We pledge to work to guarantee the security of everyone in this state."

Community militias, called autodefensas, first began appearing in Michoacán in significant numbers in 2013, as the vicious Los Caballeros Templarios drug cartel brought much of the state to its knees. Is Michoacán a failed state? President Enrique Peña Nieto poured federal police and troops into many counties in May 2013, and then redoubled that effort in January. Michoacán security accord more of the same old song. At first the Templarios showed little fear, brazenly attacking federal units and then killing a vice-admiral last July.

Eventually the combination of troops, federal and state police and aggressive autodefensas proved too much for the organization, which is now but a shadow of its former self. All but one of its key leaders has been captured or killed in recent weeks. In Querétaro, Mexican troops kill key Templarios boss. But there is concern that other cartels may be waiting in the wings to replace the Templarios, and to divide up the spoils of war in a state which has presented a relentless security headache for the last two presidential administrations. Michoacán's agony continues.

Authorities are reviewing more than 3,000 applications of former militiamen who want to join the Rural Defense Force. But they are proceeding carefully, since some autodefensas have been accused of committing serious crimes against others as they jockeyed for power. Mexico arrests key community militia leader in Michoacán, on suspicion of murder. The leader and prominent spokesman for the now defunct General Council of Michoacán Autodefensas, who last week asked for a conference with the president or his secretary of government to discuss security challenges in the state, is himself under investigation for possible involvement in five murders. He has been a constant critic of what he calls insufficient efforts to rid Michoacán of organized crime (Defiant civilian militias announce rupture with Mexico City), and he did not appear today for the RDF inaugural ceremony.

Last month the federal government gave an ultimatum to the militias to disband by today, threatening with arrest anyone carrying a firearm without official permission to do so. The demand was initially met with resistance, but eventually an accord was reached. Still, some autodefensas leaders contend that the agreement they reached with Mexico City on April 14 allows them to maintain citizen patrols, using light weapons - an interpretation which edgy officials have chosen to ignore, with the hope that the militias will dissolve on their own. Federals, Michoacán militias reach deal on disarmament.

Many autodefensas said today that in one form or another citizen militias will remain in Michoacán, claiming that they had agreed to become members of the Rural Defense Force only to placate the government. In the Pacific coast port of Lázaro Cárdenas, community militia leaders flatly rejected the new RDF and said they had no intention of joining it. "We don't want them; we don't recognize them."

Apr. 7, 2014 - Michoacán militias reject federal call to disarm
Aug. 25, 2013 - Civilian militias soar; citizen police now patrol 50 counties in 13 Mexican states
May 23, 2013 - Fiasco in Michoacán
Mar. 29, 2013 - Confidence checks for local police forces still far behind schedule in 60% of Mexican states

© MGR 2014. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.

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