Mexican President Pena Nieto Legalizes Vigilantes and Arrests Cartel Leader, Loya Plancarte

| by Jared Keever

Monday, in the Mexcian state of Michoacán, government officials agreed to incorporate local vigilante groups while security forces captured a key figure of the Knight’s Templar drug cartel, Dionisio Loya Plancarte.

The vigilante groups, also known as “self-defense” groups, began forming throughout regions of Michoacán as the Knights Templar grew increasingly violent.  

The Templars grew out of an earlier drug cartel called La Familia. As Templar power spread through southwestern Mexico they evolved from a simple drug trafficking outfit into a group known for extorting money from local avocado and lime growers, hoteliers, and other businesman. The extortion led to a rash of kidnappings and violent murders and the vigilante movement grew quickly in response.

Insitutionalizing the vigilante groups, it is hoped, will bring some order to the region where clashes between the cartel and the groups have grown increasingly violent in the past two weeks forcing President Enrique Pena Nieto to dispatch 9,000 troops to the state.The groups will be formed into old quasi-military units known as the Rural Defense Corps.

"The self-defense forces will become institutionalized, when they are integrated into the Rural Defense Corps," the Interior Department said in a statement.

The agreement will bring some 20,000 armed men under control of the military and area police but the groups have said they will be reluctant to disband until all leaders of the Templars are captured.

The arrest of Loya Plancarte should be a step in the right direction for officials. Plancarte had a $2.25 million bounty on his head and was considered one of Mexico’s three dozen most-wanted drug lords. He was considered a propaganda minister of the cartel and was a suspected of conduit of bribe money to government officials.

The arrest and the institutionalizing of the vigilantes is good news for President Pena Nieto whose policies in the region were coming into question as the violence escalated.  

The groups now will begin fighting in the town of Apatzingán which is considered a stronghold of the Templars. Their subsequent disbanding remains in question though.

"We will take Apatzingán, with the help of the armed forces, but we will never give up our arms," said one commander.

Sources: Wall Street JournalAl Jazeera, Business Week, Business Insider