An intelligence report has revealed that the armed group the Viagras, which forms part of Mexico's government-backed vigilante force, is actually a criminal enterprise operating under the façade of the self-defense movement, highlighting how authorities are unwittingly legitimizing criminal groups.
According to an intelligence report from Mexico's national security cabinet accessed by Milenio, the Viagras are an armed group involved in drug trafficking as part of a criminal collective in Michoacan state known as the H-3 Cartel.
The report states that the Viagras have strong ties to Familia Michoacana founder Jesus Mendez, alias "El Chango," and worked for his criminal group before joining forces with the Knights Templar cartel. The Viagras have since moved on to ally themselves with the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG), reported Milenio.
In addition, the intelligence report states that the Viagras engage in hired assassinations, extortion, and marijuana and synthetic drug trafficking. The Viagra's leaders have met with Knights Templar leader Servando Gomez, alias "La Tuta," on numerous occasions to coordinate extortions targeting ranchers and lime farmers, according to the report.
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This is not the first time suspicions have been raised about the Viagras, who according to Milenio form part of the state-backed Rural Defense Force launched in May 2014. However, whereas the group previously appeared to land somewhere in the middle of the continuum between self-defense force and criminal group, the security cabinet intelligence report plants the Viagras squarely on the side of drug traffickers.
Considering the legitimacy granted to the Viagras by their incorporation into the Rural Defense Force, it is unsurprising that the criminal group would want to join a government sanctioned self-defense unit. The vigilante designation has likely helped the criminal organization win the support of the local population as well as increase their territorial control, which are both major advantages for a drug trafficking group. Their case indicates that the government's policy towards vigilantes could be serving to strengthen some pre-existing criminal organizations -- or self-defense groups that have since criminalized -- in Michoacan.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Mexico Vigilantes
Mexico's legitimization of shady armed groups draws parallels to Colombia's establishment of vigilante groups in the mid-1990s that would later turn into paramilitary organizations, as well as the legalization of the "Rondas Campesinas" in Peru during the 1980s to combat the Shining Path guerrillas. Both groups committed human rights violations while under the auspices of their respective governments.
According to Milenio, the Viagras were founded by the Sierra Santana brothers in Buenavista Tomatlan, Michoacan and are led by Carlos Sierra Santana, alias "El Viagra," with his brother Nicolas Sierra Santana, alias "El Coruco," serving as the group's spokesman.