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Mexico legalizes vigilantes, nabs cartel leader

Mexico Vigilantes

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Mexico essentially legalized the country's growing "self-defense" groups Monday, while also announcing that security forces had captured one of the four top leaders of the Knights Templar drug cartel, which the vigilante groups have been fighting for the last year.

The government said it had reached an agreement with vigilante leaders to incorporate the armed civilian groups into old and largely forgotten quasi-military units called the Rural Defense Corps. Vigilante groups estimate their numbers at 20,000 men under arms.

The twin announcements may help the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto find a way out of an embarrassing situation in the western state of Michoacan, where vigilantes began rising up last February against the Knights Templar reign of terror and extortion after police and troops failed to stop the abuses.

"The self-defense forces will become institutionalized, when they are integrated into the Rural Defense Corps," the Interior Department said in a statement. Police and soldiers already largely tolerate, and in some cases even work with, the vigilantes, many of whom are armed with assault rifles that civilians are not allowed to carry.

Vigilante leaders will have to submit a list of their members to the Defense Department, and the army will apparently oversee the groups, which the government said "will be temporary." They will be allowed to keep their weapons as long as they register them with the army.

The military will give the groups "all the means necessary for communications, operations and movement," according to the agreement.

The vigilante leaders, who include farmers, ranchers and some professionals, gathered Monday to discuss the agreement, but it was not yet clear for them what it would imply. It wasn't known if the army would offer anyone salaries.

Misael Gonzalez, a leader of the self-defense force in the town of Coalcoman, said leaders had accepted the government proposal. But the nuts-and-bolts "are still not well defined," he added. "We won't start working on the mechanisms until tomorrow."

Vigilante leader Hipolito Mora said the agreement also allows those who qualify to join local police forces. "The majority of us want to get into the police ... I never imagined myself dressed as a policeman, but the situation is driving me to put on a uniform."

Latin America has been bruised by experiences with quasi-military forces, with such tolerated or legally recognized groups being blamed for rights abuses in Guatemala and Colombia in the past.

While the cartel may be on its way out, "there shouldn't be abuses by those who come after, there shouldn't be what we would call a witch hunt; there should be reconciliation," said the Rev. Javier Cortes, part of a team of priests in the Roman Catholic diocese of Apatzingan who have publicly denounced abuses by the Knights Templar.

Before dawn on Monday, soldiers and police arrested one of the cartel's top leaders, Dionicio Loya Plancarte, alias "El Tio," or The Uncle. (The Interior Department spells his first name with an "s," but the Attorney General's Office and U.S. authorities spell it with a "c.")

National Public Safety System secretary Monte Rubido said the feared drug lord was arrested without a shot being fired. He said federal forces found Loya Plancarte in Morelia, the capital of Michoacan, "hiding in a closet" and accompanied only by 16-year-old boy.

The 58-year-old Loya Plancarte had a 30-million peso ($2.25 million) reward on his head from the Mexican government for drug, organized crime and money-laundering charges. He was considered one of the country's three dozen most-wanted drug lords in the late 2000s.

The Knights Templar ruled many parts of Michoacan with an iron fist, demanding extortion payments from businesses, farmers and workers, but the self-defense groups have gained ground against the cartel in recent months. Federal police and army troops were dispatched to bring peace to the troubled region, but the vigilantes have demanded the arrest of the cartel's major leaders before they lay down their guns.

Ramon Contreras, an activist in the vigilante movement from the town of La Ruana, which was the first to rise up against the Knights Templar, said the arrest "means a lot" to the vigilantes, but added that they won't rest until they see all the top bosses arrested.

Contreras voiced a common belief that the man who founded the cartel under the name La Familia Michoacana, Nazario Moreno, alias "El Chayo," is still alive, despite the government's statement in 2010 that he had been killed in a shootout with federal forces.

"He's still alive; there's proof he's still alive," Contreras said.

Loya Plancarte got his nickname, "The Uncle," because he is believed to be the uncle of another top Knights Templar leader, Enrique Plancarte Solis.

Loya Plancarte joined Plancarte Solis and Servando Gomez in forming the Knights Templar after the purported death of Nazario Moreno.

A local journalist from Michoacan recounted watching when Loya Plancarte led a sort of pilgrimage to a shrine erected to Nazario Moreno and had his assistants hand out 500-peso ($37) bills to people who attended.

Join the discussion

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Berry January 28 2014 at 3:01 PM

The Mexican Law Enforcement (not all of them but a lot of them) are corrupt, and that corruption is not easy to resist when the drug cartels have so much money they can bride with impunity.
I have seen pictures of drug bust showing millions of dollars stacked in rows upon rows 4 feet high, rooms filled with money. The nation of Mexico has a lot of people poor and under paid for their jobs, so bribery is an easy temptation.
The people of these cities, towns, and villages want what most people want to live a happy safe life, so by all means they should take up arms and defend their families and their right to live in safety and not in fear.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
taintedice444 January 28 2014 at 11:12 AM

As a former ICE agent I wrote a newly released book, corruption and much more!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
taintedice444 January 28 2014 at 11:08 AM

Please visit www.taintedice444.com

Flag Reply +1 rate up
thomashollman19 January 28 2014 at 10:45 AM

more proof no goverment on earth is as effective as determind people with a moral cause .Politics is a game often lost .

Flag Reply +10 rate up
1 reply
diabmang thomashollman19 January 28 2014 at 11:48 AM

Government and people must organize and work together. Otherwise, it would not be in the best interest of all people and would be more of the same.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
John January 28 2014 at 10:42 AM

Sounds alot like our American Revolution against the British !
Good for them, I guess there comes a point in everyones life when you just rise up and say, "enough is enough " and they took steps .
Mexico has a ton of oil and other assets. If they can get a handle on these drug cartels, they can really move up on the worlds economy ladder .
The guns, well, didnt we have a system of sending arms to Mexico a couple years back that back fired, maybe this is the end result .

Flag Reply +6 rate up
ycplum January 28 2014 at 10:25 AM

Such a move has historical precident. When the Roman Empire could not deal with the much more mobile bands of raiders on horseback, they revised their border defense strategy by having local auxilaries (often retired Army veterans) that fended off the raiders long enough for a "rapid deployment" force to arrive.

In this case, they are organizing and arming the local groups to resist the cartels with the ability to call in heavy guns of teh Federal government. These vigilante groups will happen because they are needed and tehre are few viable options for the local people. The best teh government can do is coop them, vet them, train them and organize them so these groups do not become excessive or turn in a gang in their own right.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
chasesea January 28 2014 at 10:10 AM

Vigilante group...I like it.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
gunsnnovas January 28 2014 at 10:06 AM

I'm thinking that the government is dooming many of these valiant people. They have to register as members with the same government that is widely accepted as corrupt. Then, they also have to register their guns with the same group. This way, for a few bucks, the Cartels can have the names of those who oppose them, and their armaments.

What could possibly go wrong there?

Flag Reply +8 rate up
1 reply
Rickey gunsnnovas January 28 2014 at 10:35 AM

These vigilantes are today's saviors an tomorrows death squads. Private militias have sprung up all over South America. How do you root out the the criminals that infiltrate the groups? The Cartels already know the names of the vigilantes but are unable to move against them. I wonder why? The new cartels will control these groups within a short time. Mexico can't solve a problem that the United States has created. Our unending appetite for drugs is the reason for the Drug Cartels.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
tigger55b January 28 2014 at 9:50 AM

There was a mexican freedom fighter that once said " I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees". This is what it takes to defeat those that would enslave a population. Never go quietly!

Flag Reply +8 rate up
1 reply
acmeme tigger55b January 28 2014 at 10:47 AM

Incomtax is a form of slaavery!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
imhhc January 28 2014 at 9:44 AM

They must register their members names...
That doesn't sound very good. Now the corrupt cops will have a list of the members and go after them and their families.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
1 reply
tigger55b imhhc January 28 2014 at 10:00 AM

Don't you think that "they" also have a list of the corrupt cops?

Flag Reply +4 rate up
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