How a Cartel Dominated a Mexican Town

PHOTO: Doctor Jose Manuel Mireles is now a member of a self defence groups in Tepalcatepec, a town in Michoacan state. In a recent video he narrates how organized crime evolved in this town, a story that plays out across much of Mexico.

screenshot/youtube.com

A video published recently on YouTube provides a chilling account of how organized crime has evolved in Mexico. And it's getting a lot of play in the media, given the recent surge of violence in the western state of Michoacan.

In the video, a local doctor narrates the recent history of Tepalcatepec, a town in the Michoacan lowlands that has been hounded by drug cartels for the past 12 years.

The doctor, Jose Manuel Mireles, is now a member of a self-defense squad that has taken up arms to defend the town. He says that, initially, cartels in the region just fought each other over drug smuggling routes, and left civilians to their own devices.

That changed about four years ago, when a cartel called the Knights Templar won the local drug war, and forced smaller drug dealers to flee from the area.

The Knights Templar achieved territorial control, but found that with local drug dealers gone, it was difficult to run the drug business on their own. So they turned to taxing local businesses.

"Cattle ranchers had to pay 1,000 pesos [$80] for every cow they sold. And butchers had to pay 15 pesos [$1] for every kilo of beef they sold," Mireles recalls in the video.

"There were families that had to pay between ten to 20 thousand pesos per month, and we were also told to pay 500 pesos for every car we owned. Even children, from kindergarten to high school, had to pay 20 pesos every Monday."

Mireles said that local law enforcement officers didn't do anything to stop such abuses, because they were possibly allied with the cartel. But he said that the local population still found ways to endure the cartel's squeeze on the local economy.

"The cattle rancher and the butcher would simply raise the prices of their goods; they never lost out," Mireles said.

According to this doctor, armed rebellion against the Knights Templar cartel only began when this group started to rape local children, and abduct peoples' wives.

"The problem exploded when they began to come to our home, and tell us things like, 'I like your wife, I'll bring her back in a while...and while I'm gone, give your daughter a shower because she'll have to spend a few days with me, too."

Mireles said the reign of terror drove residents to action. The cartels would target the wealthy as well as the poor.

"That was what sparked the problems in Tepalcatepec. Because just as they'd approach a poor family, they'd also do the same to the richest cattle ranchers," Mireles says in the video.

Michoacan has been in the media spotlight since February, when several towns in the state took up arms and formed vigilante groups to defend themselves against cartels.

Local media was all over the story, calling on the Mexican government to do something to stop "anarchy" in this part of the country.

The government of Mexico responded by sending some 2,500 soldiers into the state. They've occupied Tepalcatepec and some surrounding towns, and gotten self-defense groups to agree to put their weapons away while the army is around.

But Mireles claims that this military surge has not been ambitious enough, with soldiers only occupying towns where the self-defense groups have already expelled cartels.

In his YouTube video, Mireles claims that Mexican soldiers are doing nothing to root out criminals that still dominate nearby towns.

"We've told the soldiers thousands of times, 'Look, the Knights Templar are in Apatzingan and Aguililla, why don't you go get them?" Mireles said. "And they tell us that their mission is only to protect our town."

"I think that they sent the soldiers here to take our weapons away," Mireles opined. "But not to defend us from those who've been attacking this area for the past 12 years."

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