Mexico’s self-defense forces, which have been gaining strength since early last year, have taken over another municipality in Michoacán state. After a two-hour shoot out, the vigilantes took control of Múgica, a city of about 30,000 residents that is commonly known as Nueva Italia.
Múgica is located in the state’s Tierra Caliente region, an important agricultural area about a six-hour drive from Mexico City and one of the most restless places in the country.
The armed men and women called together the city’s residents in the main square to inform them that they were there to expel Los Caballeros Templarios, the notorious drug cartel that has been terrorizing and extorting Mexicans who live in the dangerous southwestern state.
The self-defense forces, who claim they are an armed group of citizens fed up with the drug trafficking and abuses in their areas, have taken over dozens of towns, and kicked out local authorities who they claim are in cahoots with the drug traffickers.
On Saturday, masked gunmen torched the Apatzingán
But there are indications that the self-defense forces may have splintered. Hipólito Mora, leader of the so-called La Ruana vigilante group, told La Jornada Michocán that he didn’t recognize any of the members who entered Nueva Italia on Sunday. Nevertheless, he said that he didn’t think they were an illegitimate force.
Mora, along with José Manuel Mireles, leader of the Tepalcatepec vigilante group, is one of the well-known leaders of the self-defense forces.
Mireles is recovering in a Mexico City hospital after he was injured in a plane crash on January 5. The federal government ordered tight security at the hospital – a move that had been criticized by many sectors of the society.
On Sunday, the federal police took him to an unknown location, according to the Mexico City daily Reforma.
What occurred in Nueva Italia is no different to what has taken place in other towns over the past few months. But the takeover is significant because the city is the second most important municipality in the state after Apatzingán, which is the economic seat of Michoacán and is still controlled by Los Caballeros Templarios.
On Saturday, masked gunmen torched the Apatzingán city hall building, several food stores and other local businesses. Life in the city has come to a complete standstill as schools and businesses remained closed and public transportation was suspended.
Federal police officers closed off an important section of the Siglo XXI highway, which crosses the entire state and links the city with Lázaro Cárdenas, a major port on the Pacific coast.
Michoacán’s governor, Fausto Vallejo, told a news conference that local authorities would not tolerate any more violence. “We are going after them,” he said, adding that he was meeting with federal government officials on Monday to coordinate strategy.
Michoacán is an important hub for marijuana and meth production and is considered a major transshipment point for cocaine entering the United States. The state was used as a launching pad for former President Felipe Calderón’s war on drug trafficking, which he declared in 2006.
Since the offensive began, more than 80,000 people have died and some 30,000 others have been reported missing throughout Mexico.