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Feature 110413 Cawley

Monday, November 4, 2013

Attacks in Michoacan, Mexico: A Sign of 'Narco-Insurgency'?

By Marguerite Cawley, InSight Crime

A series of coordinated attacks on electrical plants and gas stations in Michoacan, Mexico have taken the state's conflict between drug cartels and vigilantes to the next level, and once again raised the specter of a "narco-insurgency."

Homemade bombs were launched and shots fired at 18 electrical plants and six gas stations in various towns across Michoacan state on October 27, causing over 420,000 residents to lose electricity, reported Animal Politico. Selene Vazquez, president of the Michoacan Congress Justice Commission, blamed the criminal group Knights Templar for the attacks.

On the same day, a shootout in the town of Apatzingan resulted in the deaths of six people, with conflicting reports about who the victims were. While Milenio reported five of them were believed to be drug traffickers and one a member of a vigilante group, according to Sin Embargo reports all the dead were vigilantes.

The attacks and shootout occurred a day after hundreds of vigilantes from towns in the violence-riddled "Tierra Caliente" region of Michoacan entered Apatzingan to try to expel the Knights Templar from the area, reported EFE.

See also: Knights Templar Profile

According to El Universal, the vigilantes intended to force out the municipal police. An armed confrontation ensued in which at least two members were injured, before security forces intervened to prevent an all-out battle, according to Milenio.

Following the infrastructure attacks, hundreds of Apatzingan residents protested the incursion of the self-defense force -- a protest they denied had been incited by the Knights Templar.

InSight Crime Analysis

While drug trafficking organizations have in the past attacked the infrastructure of multinational companies in Mexico, targeting state-provided services is something new. Given the Knights Templar claim to defend the interests of local communities, the idea of them carrying out an action that so negatively affects those communities seems counter-intuitive -- unless it was a revenge attack against the self-defense groups and people perceived to support them.

It has been suggested that Mexico is experiencing a so-called narco-insurgency, in which criminal groups seek to attack the state in order to gain total autonomy and control over the territory. The Knights Templar in particular position themselves as a popular social movement, and if it is true that they were behind the attacks then the use of such tactics echoes methods used by insurgencies like Colombia's leftist guerrillas.

However other than attacks against security forces, Mexico's criminal groups do not typically target the state and do not offer a coherent alternative to traditional government, and so while they may employ tactics similar to those used by rebel groups, they fail to meet the most basic criteria of an insurgency -- wanting to overthrow the state.

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This commentary, "Attacks on Electrical Plants: A Sign of Mexico 'Narco-Insurgency'?" was first published in InSight Crime, on Oct. 28, 2013 and reposted per a Creative Commons authorization.  InSight Crime's objective is to increase the level of research, analysis and investigation on organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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