Councilmen from Michoacan have recounted life under a mayor who was in cahoots with Mexico's Knights Templar criminal organization, exemplifying how corruption and criminal control of local politicians works in practice.
In an interview with Milenio, eight out of 12 councilors from the municipality of Apatzingan discussed their experiences working with municipal president Uriel Chavez Mendoza, who was recently arrested for extortion and ties to organized crime. Serving as the group's spokesman, Jose Martin Gomez Ramirez, Apatzingan's councilor for Industry and Business, nervously described two fearful years living at the mercy of the Knights Templar.
"It was a presidency full of threats," Ramirez said. "From the moment we entered the council, the first day, they explained to us they were going to deduct $1,530 from us monthly," representing over a third of their $4,290 monthly pay.
The councilors protested, and were taken to meet with the Knights Templar in a remote area. There, accompanied by men with guns and a municipal police patrol, Mendoza introduced Rigo Diaz Soto -- the Templar boss for the local plaza -- saying, "He is my friend, but more than my friend, he is my brother."
Rigo explained to the councilors business was bad and they would have to comply with a temporary salary deduction. However, anyone with economic problems could write a letter to recently killed Knights leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, alias "El Chayo," who Rigo said had a good heart and would support them if their concerns were legitimate.
SEE ALSO: Knights Templar News and Profiles
For the next two years Ramirez said they were indoctrinated with fear, with the Knights Templar and municipal officials threatening his family members and all those "not supporting the movement." In February 2012, the municipal council even held a meeting with the Templar leadership, shaking hands with El Chayo, Enrique "El Kike" Plancarte, and Dionisio Loya Plancarte, alias "El Tio."
InSight Crime Analysis
The corruption and intimidation of local politicians is a standard strategy used by criminal organizations to gain influence in their areas of operation, not only in Mexico but throughout the region.
Over recent weeks, the level of corruption in Michoacan was highlighted by the investigation and arrest of two high-profile politicians, Jesus Reyna Garcia and Jose Trinidad Martinez Pasalagua, for links to the Knights. This new report highlights just how effective the Knights have been at infiltrating local corridors of power, a tactic that goes hand in hand with the direct threats against politicians the group has also been known for. It also underscores the pressure local and regional politicians commonly find themselves under to comply with criminal groups.