HomeNewsAnalysisWho Turned Out the Lights on Michoacan, Mexico?

Who Turned Out the Lights on Michoacan, Mexico?


A series of violent confrontations and seemingly indiscriminate attacks on local infrastructure has provoked questions about the governability of the western Mexican state of Michoacan, and has some politicians calling for extreme measures.

On October 27, a group of assailants attacked at least three gas stations and ten power plants with firearms and Molotov cocktails. The attacks killed no one, but they left thousands of residents in some of the principal cities, including the capital of Morelia, without power. Authorities have since alleged that the Knights Templar, currently the state’s most powerful criminal group and an offshoot of the Familia Michoacana that emerged in 2011, was behind the attack.

The assaults against the state’s providers of electricity and gas come just five days after the return of Fausto Vallejo to the governor’s post, after an absence of six months for an undisclosed illness. Vallejo’s return sparked controversy; journalists reported that the interim governor, Jesus Reyna, did not want to relinquish the post, and deputies in the state legislature called for Vallejo to be denied his old position. 

The turmoil in the governor’s seat, the attacks against the basic energy infrastructure, and the ongoing drumbeat of criminal violence have led some in Mexico City to question the viability of the Michoacan government. The National Action Party bloc in the national Chamber of Deputies announced days later that it was considering pursuing a declaration of “Desaparicion de Poderes,” or “Disappearance of Powers,” a seldom-used provision of the Mexican constitution which would essentially grant the federal government the right to take over the local government. 

Thus far, however, the proposal has gone nowhere, and political analysts give the move slim chances of passing.

InSight Crime Analysis

The attacks against the power plants and the gas stations represent another escalation by the various armed actors in Michoacan. In recent months, the Knights Templar have used a series of novel tactics to advance their interests, such as blockading towns controlled by the local vigilante groups that oppose them. Like those efforts, this latest act seems to target the convenience and wellbeing of the civilian population.

But the October 27 attacks also appear to be a message to the government. The timing is striking in that the attacks come on the heels of Vallejo’s return; this could be an attempt to intimidate the newly active executive. It’s also noteworthy that the power plants and gas stations are both controlled by prominent state-owned companies -- the gas stations operate under the brand name Pemex, while the power stations belong to the Comision Federal de Electricidad -- which suggests that the attacks were an assertion of power directed at the state. 

Michoacan’s situation is unusual in that it has spilled out of the security realm, and has helped provoke a full-blown political crisis. The clearest examples are the rumors of a federal takeover and the mysterious hiatus, and tumultuous return, of Vallejo. Additionally, Luisa Maria Calderon, the sister of former President Felipe Calderon and the runner-up to Vallejo in the 2011 election, accused the governor’s family of links to organized crime. She added that he negotiated with drug trafficking groups prior to winning the election.

Certainly, there are prior examples of a security crisis morphing into a political scandal. For instance, just after the massive attack on Monterrey's Casino Royale in 2011, a video hit the airwaves in which the brother of city mayor Fernando Larrazabal appeared to be accepting kickbacks from local casinos. This led to a widespread lack of confidence and a wave of calls for him to step aside, though Larrazabal remains in his post.

However, such cases are rare. Generally, there is a degree of separation between public security and political legitimacy. Political officials have only occasionally been targeted in corruption probes related to organized crime, and the political class (especially in Mexico City) has often been accused of not paying enough attention to security issues. Moreover, in many of the most notorious locales, grave deteriorations in security have not even provoked changes in the incumbent party. In that sense, Michoacan is an outlier.

This is even more so the case when one considers that, notwithstanding its reputation, Michoacan is not a terribly violent state. According to the National System of Public Security, the state registered a homicide rate of roughly 19 per 100,000 residents during 2011 and 2012, which is less than the national average. Through the first nine months of 2013, the state had an annualized rate of 21, which is slightly north of the national rate this year, but falls short of the most violent states.

Unfortunately, both of the major realms of activity that affect public security -- the government and the criminal groups -- appear to be wracked by instability. It is not clear what the recent upheaval in Michoacan promises for the state, but there is little hope for an enduring security improvement, and an end to the nuisance attacks from the Knights Templar, without deep changes to this prevailing dynamic.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content


Mexico's produce industry has taken another hit from cartel violence, as tens of millions of dollars worth of peaches are…

FENTANYL / 18 APR 2022

Mexican authorities have intercepted a succession of flights carrying synthetic drugs to the northern state of Sonora, raising questions over…


Cartels are known for shakedowns of avocado growers, but lime farmers have been unnoticed victims of similar extortion schemes in…

About InSight Crime


Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…


Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…


Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…


Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…


InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…