The leader of Mexico's Caballeros Templarios drug gang has released a video blaming the government, rival cartels and citizen self-defense groups for violence in Michoacan state, after a battle in the state left at least seven people dead.
Servando Gomez, alias "La Tuta," said armed civilians supported by the government and rival cartels were responsible for deaths and disorder in the state. "The government is putting people against people," said Gomez. "If the state and federal governments take action in regard to law enforcement...we will lower our weapons and step aside. We carry weapons to defend our state from the Zetas and the CNJG (Jalisco Cartel - New Generation)."
A series of confrontations between self-defense groups, presumed criminals and security forces in Michoacan state on Sunday left seven people dead, mostly in areas with a strong Caballeros presence, reported AFP. According to news website Info BAE, at least ten people died and four were injured in the confrontations, which it said were between the Caballeros and a vigilante group. The site also reported hundreds of people marching later that day to protest against the self-defense groups, which they argued had doubled the violence in Michoacan state. Authorities claimed the protesters were members of the Caballeros.
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Adopting a supposed moral high ground is part of the Caballeros' modus operandi, as is blaming rivals for violence. Indeed the gang itself is a "self-defense group," it claims, battling the evils of "materialism, injustice and tyranny," on behalf of the Michoacan people. Rival groups are naturally to blame for said tyranny. The video ties into the Caballeros proactive public relations approach, which has seen them distributing pamphlets outlining their moral code and hanging "narcomanta" banners explaining their actions, denying responsibility for certain crimes or making demands of the government.
While second-in-command of Familia Michoacana, the once-powerful cartel from which the Caballeros formed, Gomez was known for attempting to promote a benevolent public image of the group, and has continued that strategy in his new position. In a video last year he claimed the gang was not an organized crime group but a brotherhood that wanted to bring peace to Michoacan, before calling on other criminal groups to unite against, and kill, the Zetas leader Miguel Angel Treviño.
While Gomez's attempt to paint the Caballeros as peace-loving defenders of the people is clearly absurd, his claim that vigilantes are inciting violence may be worth considering. Colombia's brutal paramilitary groups, thought to be responsible for the majority of human rights abuses during the country's conflict, sprung from citizen self-defense groups during the 1980s, and there are valid concerns Mexico's vigilantes could head down the same road.