Michoacán is pacified? An update

It seems that a lot is currently happening in the Mexican state of Michoacán that mainstream media responsive to the federal and state governments are not reporting. Recent violent incidents reflect struggles to control drug trafficking in what is now a more fragmented scenario of competing groups. But the patterns of violence and the specific targets of armed attacks also tend confirm the view that the security operation commanded by former federal special commissioner Alfredo Castillo was a sham that involved a great deal of backstage deal-making with local notables who were themselves involved in criminal activities. Recent events also suggest that while the Jalisco New Generation cartel may have been the principal beneficiary of the government’s interventions, the fragments of the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) cartel that the federal intervention was supposed to have disarticulated remain more organized and dangerous than the federal and state governments would have us believe.

The recent state elections for governor were won by the PRD candidate, a defeat for the PRI that was apparently not unwelcome to the federal government in this case. The governor elect, Silvano Aureoles Conejo, who was himself accused of links with organized crime by his National Action Party opponent, sister of former national president Felipe Calderón, is promising new initiatives to foster development with security. Michoacanos seem more sceptical. 

The latest rumour is that Nazario “El Chayo” Moreno, a founder of the Familia Michoacana and Caballeros Templarios cartels, is still alive. Revered as a saint by some of his local followers, Moreno was supposed to have been killed in a combined operation by by federal security forces in March 2014. This was the second time a Mexican government had claimed that security forces had killed him, since his death in an armed action had been reported by the Calderón administration in 2010. But this time the government had a body to display. It looked like the former capo, but this corpse had a fine head of hair, whereas El Chayo was balding, according to  autodefensa leader Jorge Vázquez Valencia in this YouTube interview that offers various other interesting details about Michoacán’s “New War”. 

Despite the fact that the rumour El Chayo was still alive really was true the first time around, it has to be said that disputes over the authenticity of bodies of dead drug lords displayed by government have arisen in several other cases. But the revival of the rumour would also be a plausible metaphorical expression of something less open to debate. For what seems beyond any doubt is that much of what government has claimed about improvements in security and victories against organized crime in Michoacán is not true, raising major questions not simply about the effectiveness of the official strategy taken at face value, but also about the aims, objectives and backstage power relations that shaped its implementation.