The assault against the Knights Templar led by vigilante groups and security forces is creating a criminal power vacuum in Mexico's Michoacan state, which authorities believe some of the country's leading criminal groups, as well as rogue self-defense militias, are now looking to fill.
Confidential Mexican federal government documents obtained by Proceso warn Michoacan is now being contested by factions of the self-defense movement that have been infiltrated by criminals, and by cartels including the Zetas, the remains of the Familia Michoacana, the Gulf Cartel and the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO).
According to Proceso, among the most powerful criminalized self-defense militias is the group Los Gallegos, which is allied with the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG). The latter group, in turn, is reportedly backed by Mexico's dominant criminal force, the Sinaloa Cartel.
Also of concern are the vigilantes of Buenavista Tomatlan, led by Luis Antonio Torres, alias "Simon" or "El Americano." Now 1,200 people strong, the militia is operating under the name the H-3 (Hermandad 3 -- Brotherhood 3) Self-Defense Operation.
The implosion of the Knights Templar has also alerted outside cartels to the opportunities available in the state. According to the documents, the Zetas are looking to return to the region they were once driven out of, while the Gulf Cartel has made an alliance with Knights leader Servando Gomez Martinez, alias "La Tuta," and the BLO had joined forces with recently killed Knights number two, Enrique "El Kike" Plancarte.
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Until recently, the Knights Templar enjoyed extensive control over Michoacan, not only trafficking and manufacturing drugs but also exploiting sectors including avocado production and iron mining, as well as engaging in widespread extortion of businesses and controlling local government.
However, the group has been left reeling from attacks launched by self-defense militias and the security forces, and from the death of their leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, alias" El Chayo." If the government documents are accurate, they may also be fragmenting -- the reports suggest the Knights' new main leader, La Tuta, and the man believed to be his deputy prior to his recent death, El Kike, had been seeking out alliances with different groups.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Mexico Vigilantes
It is unsurprising other criminal groups are seeking to capitalize on the collapse of the Knights in Michoacan. On offer are not only the criminal networks they established, but also control of Mexico's largest container port, Lazaro Cardenas, which is a major entry point for drugs and precursor chemicals used in synthetic drug production.
The documents also seem to confirm the worst suspicions about the region's vigilante movement, which from the very beginning has aroused concerns the groups could be infiltrated and manipulated for criminal purposes.