Mexico's citizen self-defense or vigilante groups have made major shows of strength as the year has begun, indicating that last year's surge of power and growth may increase during 2014.
In Guerrero, the two major, and formerly rival, vigilante groups, the Union of Peoples and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (Upoeg) and the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities (CRAC), announced they were now united, reported Milenio. More than 10,000 members of both groups were applauded by local people as they marched together in the town of Ayutla de los Libres.
The groups now have "one solo voice, one solo strength, one solo integral agenda," said Felix Ramirez, one of the regional representatives.
Meanwhile in the state of Michoacan, dozens of armed members of self-defense groups took control of the town of Paracuaro over the weekend and detained more than 15 police officers, reported Animal Politico.
The action followed a statement by the secretary of the Michoacan state government, Jesus Reyna, in which he refused to enter into dialogue with self-defense group leaders and said his priority would be restoring "institutional normality," reported Milenio.
A week earlier, more than 250 armed vigilantes marched into the town of Churumuco, where the leader of the Michoacan Self-Defense Groups Council Jose Manuel Mireles told EFE that "nothing and no one" would be able to stop the groups' advance -- they would liberate the people from the drug gang of the Knights Templar, he said. Mireles was seriously injured last week when a plane he was traveling in crashed, reported Proceso.
InSight Crime Analysis
The self-defense movement exploded in Mexico during 2012 and 2013, particularly in Guerrero and Michoacan, where the groups have been received very differently by their respective regional governments. It is no coincidence that Guerrero and Michoacan are two of Mexico's most violent states; the self-defense groups say citizens have no choice but to take up arms themselves in the face of the state's complete inability to provide security.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Vigilantes
Upoeg came into existence as a splinter and rival group of the CRAC, and the two umbrella organizations have had acrimonious disputes ever since. Together and united, the two groups will make what was already a major presence in Guerrero's security landscape a very powerful force -- 10,000 members in a population of around 3.4 million. Meanwhile Michoacan vigilantes' aggressive start to the year indicates a movement that is determined, strong and set to continue its offensives against criminal groups.
There are serious concerns the self-defense groups will follow the Latin American trend of morphing into paramilitary outfits, which then get involved in criminal activities, a scenario played out most powerfully in Colombia during the 1980s and 1990s. How the vigilante movement progresses in 2014 could determine whether Mexico follows a similar path.