Mexico's Military Intervenes in Michoacan

3 MINS READJul 31, 2013 | 19:52 GMT

A vice admiral of the Mexican navy, Carlos Miguel Salazar, was killed in an ambush on July 27 in northern Michoacan state. Just two days later on July 29, the police chief of the Lazaro Cardenas municipality in southern Michoacan was also found executed. It is still unclear at this point whether the two assassinations are part of an intensifying campaign to target higher-level officials, but it nonetheless does signal an increasingly precarious security environment. Unlike other places in Mexico currently experiencing high levels of violence, something in Michoacan has struck a nerve with the government and is compelling a more concerted military intervention. In the days and weeks to come, we can expect to see increased violence in Michoacan as local vigilante groups press for protection, organized crime groups entrench their positions, and the federal government attempts to restore order to this notoriously lawless region. Ultimately however, the military deployment will prove to only be a temporary solution to a much more deeply rooted problem. Two main developments led to the militarily intervention in Michoacan: • Self-defense militias have emerged, threatening to further destabilize an already explosive region. These militias formed to provide protection against the leading organized crime group in the region — the pseudo-religious Knights Templar. There are also claims that the vigilante groups are supported by the Knights Templar rival Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion as a means to make inroads into the strategic trafficking corridor. Regardless of how these groups emerged, or by whom they are supported, they have caused violence to spike and compelled the military to come in and prevent a further escalation. • Michoacan is important because it is home to the strategic port of Lazaro Cardenas and it lies in close proximity to Mexico’s political and economic core. In terms of non-oil volume, Lazaro Cardenas is Mexico’s largest port. It is also North America’s fastest-growing port, and Mexico’s only port capable of handling post-Panamax sized vessels. The port is connected by modern, efficient road and rail infrastructure to the country’s emerging manufacturing core in the states of Guanajuato, Queretaro and Mexico State. It also lies between Mexico’s two largest cities, Mexico City and Guadalajara. Increasing violence in Michoacan has the ability to seriously affect commerce and economic activity. As the flow of illicit goods often follows regular commercial routes, this transportation artery from the port to the core is essential territory for both the organized crime groups and the national government. Neither side can allow the other to make considerable inroads. But why is the government leaning on the military and not the local public security officials? While many states in Mexico suffer from wide-scale political corruption, Michoacan is among the worst. Some seven out of 10 municipalities are reportedly infiltrated by organized crime. As a result, relying on the state-controlled law enforcement bodies has become problematic. Michoacan’s mixture of vigilante militias, organized crime and corruption has led to some concern that the state is spiraling out of control. Because of the port and the close proximity to Mexico’s core, this is not an option for the government, which will do everything in its power to prevent an already unstable region from further deteriorating. However, there are no easy fixes in Michoacan, and the military’s presence will likely only be a temporary solution to a deeper, more fundamental problem.

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