War on Drugs

The Mexican Government Absorbs the Autodefensas—Or Is It Just Recognizing the Power They've Won?

A new twist in Mexico's drug war.


In parts of Mexico ravaged by the drug war, ordinary citizens have formed militias, dubbed autodefensas, to protect themselves against brutal cartels such as the Knights Templar. (No, not those guys. These guys.) The militias haven't been shy about taking on the government either: "In some instances," a sympathetic piece in Dissent notes, "the groups disarmed and arrested the local police before acting against the criminals." Sometimes damned as vigilantes and sometimes hailed as liberators, the autodefensas have represented a grassroots third force in the conflict.

This week the dynamics of that conflict changed. Borderland Beat reports:

The Self-Defense Groups that emerged in Michoacán signed an agreement today along with the federal and state government that will transform them into elements of the Rural Defense Corps, an existing organization under the control of the military. Rurales, groups of armed volunteers who were once used to keep peace in rural areas when security forces were unavailable, once existed between 1861 and 1914, during Mexico's turbulent 19th century.

The signing achieved under the Agreement for the Federal Security Assistance of Michoacán (Acuerdo para el Apoyo Federal a la Seguridad de Michoacán), states that the government of the Republic and the state of Michoacán came to a "conviction of rebuilding peace and public order". The Self-Defense Groups also agreed to provide a list of all of its members.

So: Did the state just formally recognize the power the volunteer forces seized for themselves? Or did it find a clever way to take command—and take names? Discuss in the comments.