Exasperated at failed attempts by the Mexican government to neutralize the drug cartel that virtually owns the Michoacán state and especially its principal city, Apatzingán, farmers and lime growers and other citizens are banding together into fuerzas autodefensas — self-defense forces — to accomplish the task. Recruiting for those forces has accelerated thanks to the attacks by the cartel, called the Caballeros Templarios (the Knights Templar), which torched half a dozen service stations and a power plant in Apatzingán in late October and kidnapped, tortured, and murdered the mayor of Santa Ana Maya two weeks later.
The tipping point for each member of the self-defense forces — now numbering in the dozens in towns in the southwest corner of Mexico, whose membership has soared into the thousands — was different. Hipolito Mora, a lime grower, joined when a packing company controlled by the cartel would not buy his fruit after he refused extortion demands to pay 10 percent of his revenues to the cartel. For Miguel Patino Velaquez, it was the sight of others in his town taking up arms and joining forces to fight the cartel. For Leticia, a lime picker, her revelation came when she and her two children witnessed the kidnapping of a taxi driver by the cartel in broad daylight with nary a policeman in sight. Leticia told an Associated Press reporter: “We live in bondage. [The cartel] treats people like animals.”
The Knights Templar, the third largest drug cartel in Mexico, is an outgrowth of the La Familia cartel that was emasculated by government raids in the summer of 2011. It is headed up by Servando Gómez Martínez,.....
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Photo of villagers belonging to the self-defense force in Michoacán, Mexico: AP Images