Mexico's Pacific coastal state of Guerrero is the site of escalating chaos, a problem partly hidden by the federal government's single-minded focus on the neighboring state of Michoacan.
As the state with Mexico's highest homicide rate in 2013, Guerrero's deteriorating security situation was the focus of a February 16 Los Angeles Times report. In the report, a professor from the Center for Economic Research and Teaching, Jorge Chabat, said Guerrero posed a significant challenge for federal authorities and "could create a sense that [President Enrique] Peña Nieto doesn't control anything."
Throughout 2013, local businesses suffered heavily from extortion at the hands of "Los Rojos" -- a gang composed of remnants of the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) -- while locals have also complained of collusion between public officials and criminal elements. Recently, a prominent civic leader was attacked after publicly accusing a local mayor of organized crime ties.
In the face of insecurity and rampant organized crime activity, Guerrero and Michoacan have become key centers for Mexico's controversial vigilante or "self defense" movement. In recent weeks, as the government has failed to adequately address the violence, Guerrero's vigilantes -- now present in 47 of the state's 81 municipalities -- have taken over several towns outside the state capital of Chilpancingo.
InSight Crime Analysis
Guerrero's situation is at least as worrying as that of its neighbor, Michoacan, where Mexico's security forces have recently focused resources amid spiraling drug violence. Guerrero was home to three of Mexico's 20 most violent municipalities in 2013, according to the Citizens' Council for Public Security, with the faded resort town Acapulco particularly hard hit.
Guerrero's long coastline and south Pacific location make it attractive to drug traffickers, and the presence of drug gangs has surged in recent years. Once the site of a turf war between the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel, it is now home to various gangs formed from BLO remnants. The Knights Templar and rival Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG), also appear to have established a presence.
In Michoacan, violence generated largely by the Knights Templar has led the federal government to send in troops and place vigilante forces under a legal framework allowing them to conduct joint operations with security forces.
SEE ALSO: Knights Templar News and Profile
Guerrero, meanwhile, has been largely ignored, and the federal government has moved to hinder, rather than support, the state's vigilantes. As previously noted, this divergent approach appears based on both the profile of criminal groups operating in the two states -- with Guerrero's criminal elements often smaller and more localized -- and the political will in each to countenance the vigilantes as a response to the criminal challenge posed. This approach could prove dangerous, though, as crackdowns often result in a "cockroach effect," whereby security force pressure in one location pushes criminal groups to migrate.