May 7, 2013 | 21:28 GMT

3 mins read

Mexico Security Memo: Challenges to the Knights Templar in Michoacan


The conflict between the Knights Templar and the self-defense groups, also commonly referred to as community police, continues to escalate with violent acts and Knights Templar propaganda in Michoacan state near the border with Jalisco state. The Buenavista Tomatlan and Tepalcatepec municipalities have experienced the quickest increases in violence, extortion and embargos on local industries due to the ongoing conflict between Knights Templar and the self-defense groups.

On May 5, authorities discovered several narcomantas in Apatzingan, which is connected to both aforementioned municipalities by Highway 120 to the east. The messages denounced the self-defense groups, claiming they are associated with Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, the now-principal rival of the Knights Templar in states such as Jalisco, Michoacan, Guanajuato and Guerrero. Regardless of any validity behind the messages, the focus on connecting the self-defense groups to the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion shows an increasing urgency for the Knights Templar to defend their stronghold state from Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and the expanding self-defense groups in Mexican communities.

The self-defense groups emerged in Buenavista Tomatlan in February as a response to escalating conflict between the Knights Templar and Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion. Since then, Knights Templar propaganda has shifted its focus from targeting Los Zetas to targeting the self-defense groups. During 2012, Los Zetas were the primary rival for the Knights Templar because they continually threatened Knights Templar routes to the United States through northeastern Mexico. But the conflict with Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion is a more immediate threat to the Knights Templar because of the former's proximity to the Knight's Templar stronghold in Michoacan. Moreover, the appearance of the self-defense groups brought additional challenges for the group.

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In addition to propaganda and violent assaults, the Knights Templar have attempted to impose embargos on the municipalities that host self-defense groups in Michoacan. On April 15, unidentified individuals distributed pamphlets, ostensibly signed by the Knights Templar, in various areas of Apatzingan, Michoacan state. The message on the pamphlets warned vendors in general and some companies in particular to stop delivering goods to Buenavista Tomatlan and Tepalcatepec.

Regardless of the validity of the claims that self-defense groups are colluding with the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, the groups augment the threat that the neighboring cartel poses to the Knights Templar. Additionally, the self-defense groups' ability to police their respective communities competes with the publicly stated intent of the Knights Templar to provide public services in the communities in which they operate. Should more self-defense groups also countering Knights Templar interests emerge in Michoacan, the cartel could expect to lose some freedom to maneuver in its local criminal enterprises within its stronghold.

It does not appear that the Knights Templar are in immediate danger of losing significant territory. However, it is likely the operations of self-defense groups in Michoacan state have favored the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion in their current conflict with Knights Templar. Because of this, violence in Michoacan state, particularly west of Apatzingan, will likely continue at current levels and could further escalate if more self-defense groups emerge or if existing ones improve in their tactical capabilities.

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