The Caballeros Templarios drug gang have hung banners throughout the state of Michoacan, criticizing Mexico's security forces for alleged human rights abuses, in their latest attempt to win grassroots support from the population.
The 25 "narco-banners", hung in the cities of Huiramba, Morelia and Lazaro Cardenas, were addressed to Javier Sicilla who heads the Movement for Peace. The banners criticized the government for acting "outside of any legal authority [to] raid ... rob, rape and murder innocent civilians."
The Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) called on President Felipe Calderon to distinguish between criminals and innocent civilians, stating the government should not use women and children as scapegoats.
The messages finished by asking for Sicilla's support in helping to stop Calderon carrying out what they said was a series of reprisals against the state's inhabitants for not electing his sister as governor.
Read Borderland Beat's translation of the full text of the messages.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Caballeros emerged in March 2011 when the Familia Michoacana gang split after its leader was killed by the government. The announcement of their arrival on the scene, like this latest message, came in the form of large, publicly placed notices, designed to appeal to the sentiments of the Michoacan public.
Like their predecessors in the Familia, the Caballeros try to send out the message that they are concerned to help ordinary people, and opposed to violence against those not part of the drug conflict. They also follow the Familia in their claim to be protecting the population of Michoacan against the oppressive forces of the central goverment.
The Familia had a degree of success in this quest for grassroots support, with demonstrations on the streets of Michoacan after Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, alias "El Chayo," was killed in December 2011, although it is questionable how far these kind of public displays may have been orchestrated by threats and how far by genuine sentiment.
The latest banner sounds like an attempt to co-opt Sicilia's peace movement, which could give ammunition to its opponents.