Mexico's federal government special envoy to Michoacan state has said self-defense militias are no longer needed, in the latest development in a dangerous balancing act officials are engaged in with these powerful groups that is not likely to end well.
Security envoy Alfredo Castillo told listeners of the Denise Maerker show on nationally broadcast Radio Formula that "the original argument [for the self-defense militias] in some places is no longer justified," according to Animal Politico.
His comments were made in response to claims by vigilante leaders and church leaders that residents of Buenavista -- a municipality that includes the vigilante stronghold of La Ruana -- had no way to report crimes.
Castillo said he felt authorities were capable of effective action when residents "make allegations of crimes that hold up."
The envoy said he acknowledged the courage of people who genuinely wanted to stop crime, but suggested the self-defense militias had been "infiltrated" and had become uncontrollable after growing to a size their leaders never expected.
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Castillo’s comments that the self-defense militias are out of control should come as no surprise, as they were made shortly after he announced the indictment of a vigilante leader for allegedly ordering the murder of a mayor opposed to the militias in his town.
However, Castillo failed to mention the Mexican government's role in the growth and power of the militias: in January, the Mexican government created a legal framework that made the vigilantes pseudo-legitimate and allowed them to accompany Mexican security forces on a number of operations.
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Authorities appear to be making an about-face, now that the militias' sworn enemy -- the Knights Templar criminal organization -- has been severely weakened with the killing of two top leaders.
The government's inconsistent attitude towards the self-defense militias has contributed to an already complicated situation within the vigilante movement. The militias have experienced serious divisions, with leaders accusing one another of criminal ties. While some want to work with authorities, others want to take justice in their own hands and "clean the state of crime."
By engaging in this kind of political maneuvering and alienating the movement they recently gave a semblance of formality to, Mexican officials run the risk that the vigilantes will refuse to even negotiate laying down their arms in the future. This could see elements of the groups formally criminalize and turn against the authorities many seek to work alongside.