For three years, beginning in the winter of 2010-2011, the Knights Templar drug cartel has terrorized people living in the western Mexican state of Michoacán. The cartel has extorted payments from the state’s people on everything from the limes and avocados plucked from local orchards to the tortillas at the grocery stores. Those who refuse to pay put themselves and their families at risk of kidnapping, rape, and murder.
The Knights Templar are only the latest in a succession of cartels that has menaced Michoacán and its populace. Attempting to coexist with organized crime has been a part of life here since 2001, when the ultra-violent Zetas moved into the region.
After more than a decade under the thumbs of these various groups, people in the towns of Tepalcatepec, Buenavista, and La Ruana began to resist. Men who grew avocados or worked as physicians took up arms to protect their communities from the Knights Templar. These vigilantes felt that they had no choice but to rise up, as they realized that municipal governments and local police were powerless to—or worse, in the pockets of—the cartel.
Many of the people who joined these so-called self-defense forces have been personally touched by the violent tactics of the cartel. They fight on behalf of sons, brothers, and other family members who have been killed or have disappeared. Others sought to expel the cartels to protect their businesses, which are losing money to the cartel’s extortion payments.
For each individual, the reasons for taking up the fight are different. In the town of Los Reyes in western Michoacán, the Fault Lines team met five members of a local self-defense force. Here are their stories.
Tune in to the latest episode of Fault Lines, “Mexico's Vigilante State” premiering Saturday, May 3, at 7p ET. It will air again on Al Jazeera America Saturday, May 3, at 10p ET and Sunday, May 4, at 2a ET.
Thanks to Publet for providing the publishing platform for this piece.