Mexico has been experiencing an ongoing violent drug war for years, Cartel groups such as the Los Zetas and Knights Templar, have been fighting one another for regional control and battling state and local forces. At first, the Mexican government and local police were against the vigilantes, and warned against those who were thinking of joining the self-defense groups not to battle with the cartels.
The growing self-defense groups started to rise up last year because they failed to see state officials and local police make any headway in pushing back the drug cartel, and protecting innocent civilians. The vigilante groups have already captured one of the cartel’s top leaders (who was rumored to be dead).
The vigilantes claim that they will not stop until the drug cartels are stopped. The local self-defense militias have been having more success than state authorities, volunteer fighters have been using old hunting rifles, armored trucks, and other items they seize from cartel members. They likely also have an advantage due to their decentralized organization and a lack of central planning or coordination; relying instead of local groups acting autonomously behind the same goals.
The militias were formed by concerned citizens who wanted to protect their communities, despite the impending danger of doing so, many more continue to join the cause. They are also teaching one another how to properly handle firearms, and orchestrating a schedule for their guard duties.
Shortly after the local vigilantes arrested the most senior member of the Knights Templar, Dionisio Loya Plancarte, known as “El Tio”, the federal government announced an agreement with militia fighting the cartel, to register their weapons and form a temporary police force.
“The majority of us want to get into the police,… I never imagined myself dressed as a policeman, but the situation is driving me to put on a uniform.” said Hipolito Mora, a vigilante leader.
The new deal allows the militia to join the police’s Rural Defense Corps as a temporary measure. The vigilante groups are estimated to have around 20,000 members. Even before the new agreement, police and soldiers already largely tolerated, and in some cases even worked with, the vigilantes, many of whom are armed with assault rifles that civilians are not allowed to carry due to Mexico’s strict anti-gun laws.
This represents a turn around since they initially tried to quell any civilian uprising against the cartels. Fortunately, concerned civilians wouldn’t listen and refused to lay down their weapons, opting instead for a form of civil disobedience.
According to the agreement, the military will give the groups all the means necessary for communications, operations and movement. Vigilante leaders will also have to submit a list of their members to the Defense Department, they will be allowed to keep their weapons as long as they register them with the army.