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Michoacan and the Economics of Crime

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In southwest Mexico, Michoacan residents have taken up arms and formed a self-defense militia to protect themselves from violent drug cartels, succeeding where state and federal authorities have failed.


"We have about 25,000 members of armed self-defense groups . . . in less than 15 minutes, we have an army of some 140,000 people ready to go to war if necessary, so we will not surrender our weapons . . ." - General Council of Community Self-Defense in Michoacan, Mexico

The situation in the southwestern Mexican state of Michoacan has been in the headlines of national and international media due to the emergence of more than 20,000 armed men and women who call themselves community self-defense groups. These groups are mainly funded by local businessmen and producers who have decided to donate between 50 - 80 percent of their profits instead of paying that money in extortion or quotas to organized crime.

For 12 years, several cartels have disputed this territory. First, there were the Zetas, who were then displaced by la Familia, which later was replaced by the Knights Templar cartel, which currently controls the region.  

"The situation worsened when these men started to rape girls between 11 and 12 years old. . . . We wanted to do something to stop this, but we were afraid," said Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles, leading representative of the Michoacan General Council of Community Self-Defense, in an interview with the media network, Subversiones.

The Michoacan self-defense groups formed as a response to the inability of the Mexican government to stop violence that has claimed more than 80,000 lives in less than a decade. Beginning in 2006, then-president Felipe Calderon, backed by George W. Bush, implemented a series of strategies as part of the so-called Merida Initiative, a security cooperation agreement between the United States, Mexico and Central America.

The goal of the Merida Initiative was to combat drug trafficking, transnational organized crime and money laundering. With the support of more than $1.5 billion from the United States, as well as sophisticated weaponry and technology, war was declared on drug trafficking. The result was an actual increase in organized crime, which infiltrated all three levels of the Mexican government.  


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