Snapshots

In the hills of Michoacan, self-defense groups battle a Mexican drug cartel – The Washington Post

An audacious band of citizen militias battling a brutal drug cartel in the hills of central Mexico is becoming increasingly well-armed and coordinated in an attempt to end years of violence, extortion and humiliation.

What began as a few scattered self-defense groups has spread in recent months to dozens of towns across Michoacan, a volatile state gripped by the cultlike Knights Templar, a drug gang known for taxing locals on everything from cows to tortillas and executing those who do not comply.

What began as a lone self-defense force of citizens banding against the drug cartel, Knights Templar, has now spread to dozens of towns across the southern Mexican state of Michoacan.

What began as a lone self-defense force of citizens banding against the drug cartel, Knights Templar, has now spread to dozens of towns across the southern Mexican state of Michoacan.

The army deployed to the area in May, but the soldiers are mostly manning checkpoints. Instead, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is facing the awkward fact that a group of scrappy locals appears to be chasing the gangsters away, something that federal security forces have not managed in a decade.

They include a 63-year-old pot-bellied farmer mindful that he can run only 30 yards; a skinny 23-year-old raised in Oregon who said he had never used a gun before; and a man who wears a metal bowl stuffed with newspaper as a helmet. A 47-year-old bureaucrat, who is sure that she will be killed if the gang retakes her town, said of her decision to join the cause: “I may live one year or 15, but I will live free.”

Volunteer fighters who have been using old hunting rifles and even slingshots are increasingly armed with silver-plated AK-47s, armored trucks and other bounty that they said they have seized from the cartel. And although the self-defense groups had been operating independently, they are coalescing under the leadership of a tall, white-haired surgeon who once worked for the Red Cross in California.

“We are coming together with only one thing in mind: Kill or be killed,” said the doctor, JoséManuel Mireles, 55, who described what is happening as an armed social movement and estimated that thousands of citizen-fighters are pursuing the gangsters into the hills. “The only training we have is the courage we have inside.”

The rise of the self-defense movement in Michoacan is a desperate reaction to an increasingly oppressive drug cartel and to the security vacuum created as Peña Nieto took office last year seeking to avoid a direct confrontation with the cartels.

READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: In the hills of Michoacan, self-defense groups battle a Mexican drug cartel – The Washington Post.

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