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Mexico Legalizes Vigilante Groups: Government Employs 'Fuerzas Autodefensas' to Curb Drug Cartel Violence

First Posted: May 11, 2014 02:42 PM EDT

A year since the formation of the extralegal militias, the Mexican government has begun incorporating them into their ranks. Drug cartels have ravaged the Mexican countryside as they fight for control of drug routes and communities.

Since the drug cartels' rise around 2007, the Mexican government has struggled to fight back and has lost control of various parts of the country, particularly in the north. According to Foreign Affairs magazine, the fuerzas autodefensas (self-defense forces), as they are known, began forming because of the government's inability to curb attacks on their communities as well as the distrust of the local police force.

At the beginning of 2013, the vigilante groups appeared in Michoacan, Jalisco, Chihuahua, Veracruz and Tabasco states and have continued to expand to other states. Foreign Affairs reported that at the beginning of last year there were 68 municipalities with vigilante groups. The groups usually seek justice for local crimes like robberies, murders, rapes and kidnappings, which tend to affect the local communities.

However, the groups in the last year have also begun to pose a threat against the federal government. Since Mexico City cannot control the vigilante groups, they have had free reign in various rural areas. There have also been reports of the drug cartels infiltrating or posing as vigilantes in order to evade authorities or abuse the authority of the militias.

According to the Buenos Aires Herald, Mexican police arrested 46 men suspected of belonging to a drug cartel in late April. The men had been dressed as vigilante members, wearing white shirts with slogans against violence from the drug cartels. The police found 23 guns, three grenades and grenade launcher when they arrested the men.

The government announced that vigilante groups had until May 10 to disband. Those who chose to could join a new rural police force composed of militia, according to The Associated Press. In a ceremony in the town of Tepalcatepec, officials handed new weapons and uniforms to 120 self-defense group members. The government hopes that the militias' inclusion into the security forces will curb some of the lawlessness witnessed in rural regions with civilians setting up roadblocks and battling drug traffickers in the streets.

There have been divisions, however, within the vigilante movement. Two of the movement's founders have been dismissed. One, Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles, was removed from the position of spokesman after releasing an unauthorized video addressed to President Pena Nieto. The other, Hipolito Mora, was arrested for the murder of two alleged rivals.

Some vigilantes will defy the government's deadline and continue acting independently, according to AP.

"We don't want them to come. We don't recognize them," vigilante Melquir Sauceda said of the government and the new rural police forces. "Here we can maintain our own security. We don't need anyone bringing it from outside."

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