Reports that a new cartel made up of disparate criminal elements and vigilantes is intent on dominating Michoacan appear to validate fears of Mexico's self-defense forces criminalizing, as well as demonstrating the fluid nature of criminal associations.
According to Excelsior, the group known as "La Tercera Hermandad" (The Third Brotherhood), or "H3," includes elements of rival criminal groups the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG) and the Knights Templar, as well as leaders and members from some of the region's self-defense forces.
Among the group's leaders (click on Excelsior's organigram to enlarge) appear self-defense force leader Miguel Angel Gallegos, alias "El Migueladas" and fugitive Knights Templar boss Servando Gomez, alias "La Tuta." The group's second tier includes leaders of a criminal group known as "Los Viagras" and another vigilante commander, Luis Antonio Torres Gonzalez, alias "El Americano."
The investigation by Excelsior builds on previous reports regarding H3, with local citizen media denouncing the group in March. Excelsior also connects some dots, stating that Gallegos was previously an ally of recently killed Knights leader Enrique "Kike" Plancarte, until a dispute and split in late 2012 that allegedly provoked Gallegos to start a vigilante group in La Huacana, central Michoacan.
In another indication of these ties, a report from Proceso into the infiltration of self-defense groups by criminal elements refers to Gallego as "the true leader of the Templars."
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While accusations of former Knights joining the self-defense groups are nothing new, the association of cartel leaders and vigilante commanders under the same umbrella appears to validate fears expressed over the past year about the criminalization of the civilian militias that have sprung up across Michoacan (click on Excelsior's map to enlarge).
Based on the previous criminal ties of Gallego, it also appears this is not merely a case of certain preexisting vigilante groups criminalizing to fill an underworld vacuum, but has in fact been in the works since before the emergence of the militias.
The monicker H3 has previously been reported as a new name for the militia in Buenavista Tomatlan, led by El Americano. Excelsior says security documents show that H3 is working to replace the weakened Knights Templar and dominate the state's illicit incomes. If the organization also encompasses various vigilante groups, this would indicate criminalization by these militias -- the supposed champions against the Knights -- was indeed premeditated.