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What's Going on in Michoacán, Mexico?

President Enrique Peña Nieto ordered Mexico's armed forces to enter Michoacán, to reestablish order and fight general lawlessness, in a state besieged by organized crime, the self-defence groups [1] or “ community guards” [es] formed to fight them, and religious fanaticism.

Michoacán de Ocampo is one of the 32 states that make up the United States of Mexico; it consists of 113 municipalities, and is found in the central-west zone of the country. The Michoacán crisis and an armed response from the government is not new; for years organized crime has taken the lives of hundreds of people in the area.

José Gil Olmos [es] commented on this latest armed campaign launched on 20 May 2013:

La obsesión de Felipe Calderón Hinojosa por acabar con la violencia en Michoacán a paso de botas militares ha quedado plenamente transferida a su sucesor en la Presidencia. En una medida desesperada, Enrique Peña Nieto, reprodujo el arranque de la guerra calderonista: el domingo 20 envió más de 6 mil efectivos militares y cientos de policías a esa entidad. Al caos y al desgobierno que han impuesto los cárteles de la droga, Peña Nieto responde con medidas apresuradas y comete sus primeros errores tácticos.

Felipe Calderón's obsession with ending violence in Michoacán by way of the military has been thoroughly passed on to his successor in the Presidency. In a desperate measure, Enrique Peña Nieto reproduced the start of the Calderón war: on Sunday the 20 he sent more than 6 thousand military troops and hundreds of police to that state. To the chaos and lawlessness that the drug cartels have imposed, Peña Nieto responds with hasty measures and commits his first tactical errors.

During the previous six-year presidential term of Felipe Calderón, various operations were carried out with the intention to impose order, but many people doubt they were successful. Like Journalist Joaquín López-Dóriga [es] who writes:

Michoacán está hoy mejor que hace seis años? Desde mi punto de vista, que no tiene importancia alguna, no. Pero desde el de cientos de miles de michoacanos, que son los que cuentan, hoy están peor que entonces en lo que, sin duda, ha influido que en menos de seis años hayan tenido tres gobernadores y un olvido que pasó de la atención volcada al abandono de regiones.

Y aunque pueda molestar a algunos, hay que empezar de nuevo para superar el estado, sin duda fallido, en Michoacán, situación que si no se atiende puede convertirlo en un estado perdido.

Is Michoacán better today than six years ago? From my point of view, which isn't important, no. But from the point of view of hundreds of thousands of Michoacán people, who are the ones that count, they are worse off now than before, undoubtedly influenced by the fact that in less than six years they have had three governors and it's an oversight that went from focused attention to the abandonment of regions.

And although it might offend some people, we'll have to start again to win over the undoubtedly failed state of Michoacán, a situation that if not dealt with will turn it into a lost state.

The description of failed state that López-Dóriga labelled Michoacán with adds to the remark made by the leader of the main left political force in Mexico Jesús Zambrano [es], who recently argued that “from 2015, Michoacán could be a narco-State, in which organized crime could occupy the 113 municipal presidencies'.

The Nuklear [es] portal also refers to the chaotic situation Michoacán finds itself in:

En la entidad impera la violencia y la inseguridad debido a las constantes protestas de normalistas, las agresiones de grupos de autodefensa y enfrentamientos del crimen organizado. Michoacán se ha caracterizado por ser blanco de la delincuencia organizada, pero la inseguridad se ha visto acentuada, luego de que el gobernador, Fausto Vallejo, pidiera licencia para ausentarse tres meses del cargo, a fin de atender sus problemas de salud. Y a pesar de que el secretario de Gobierno, Jesús Reyna, funge como gobernador sustituto, en la entidad impera un estado de ingobernabilidad.

Violence and danger reign supreme in the state because of the ongoing student teacher protests, attacks from self-defence groups and organized crime conflicts. Michoacán has become characterized by being the target of organized crime, but the insecurity has been accentuated since the governor, Fausto Vallejo, asked for a licence for three months absence from his job to attend to his health problems. And despite the Government secretary, Jesús Reyna, acting as substitute governor, a situation of lawlessness rules the state.

Another of the problems that the state faces has to do with religious fanaticism, which is present in a community known as “New Jerusalem [es]”. Events like that told by Zayín Dáleth Villavicencio [es], where the followers of the religious group prevent [es] the State from offering basic education, have become common:

Con el argumento de haber recibido un mensaje de la Virgen del Rosario, alrededor de un centenar de personas del grupo religioso de la Nueva Jerusalén del municipio de Turicato, en Michoacán, bloquearon desde la mañana de este lunes el predio en el que se pretenden reconstruir las aulas de preescolar, primaria y telesecundaria que fueron destruídas el pasado 6 de julio.

Con esto, se vuelve a encender la alerta ya que los pobladores que se apoderaron del terreno para impedir el arribo de material de construcción, se oponen a la impartición de la educación laica dentro y en las inmediaciones de su comunidad. Situación que derivó en un conflicto que a casi cinco meses no se ha logrado dirimir.

On the basis of having received a message from the Virgen del Rosario [Our Lady of the Rosary], since this Monday morning about a hundred people from the Turicato municipality's New Jerusalem religious group in Michoacán have blocked the piece of land on which the reconstruction of the preschool, primary and Telesecundaria [a Mexican TV project launched to expand secondary education] classrooms that were destroyed last 6th July were supposed to be rebuilt.

With this, the alert has been reignited, because the inhabitants took charge of the area to prevent the arrival of construction material, they opposed the secular education within and around the community area. It's a situation that has resulted in a conflict that hasn't been resolved in nearly five months.

On Twitter, the Human Rights defender Jesús Robles Maloof (@roblesmaloof [es]) launched the next conundrum upon discovering that the PAN political party (National Action Party) has mentioned that a removal of powers should be declared in the state in question:

@roblesmaloof: El PAN en el Senado pedirá la desaparición de poderes en #Michoacán ¿En qué estado inició Felipe Calderón su “guerra contra el crimen”?

@roblesmaloof [es]: In the Senate, PAN will demand the removal of powers in#Michoacán [es] In which state did Felipe Calderón start his “war against crime”?

Juan Carlos Pueblita (@jcpueblita [es]) from Michoacán made the following comment about this “new” strategy to Michoacán's recovery:

@jcpueblita: Las medidas militares de contención en #Michoacán son sólo eso, de contención. La verdadera solución es mejorar su gobierno

@jcpueblita [es]: The military containment measures in #Michoacán [es] are just that, containment. The true solution is to improve the government

And in order to better understand the situation exisiting in “New Jerusalem”, the user elissarima (@tlanemani_tlan [es]) shared the following photograph that showed the restrictions to access the school controlled by the group:

@tlanemani_tlan: Las reglas de la escuela en La nueva Jerusalén, Michoacán –> pic.twitter.com/9nzZiUqIma

@tlanemani_tlan [es]: The rules of the new Jerusalem school, Michoacán –> pic.twitter.com/9nzZiUqIma

Las reglas de la escuela en La nueva Jerusalén, Michoacán. Foto compartida por @tlanemani_tlan en Twitter.

The rules of the new Jerusalem school, Michoacán. Photo shared by @tlanemani_tlan en Twitter. Attention. The entry of women with short skirts or low-cut, sleeveless dresses, wearing trousers, make-up, with painted nails or an uncovered head is prohibited. Also men with long hair or those dressed indecently.

Will order be restored in Michoacán? Will the State guarantee the fundamental rights of the Michoacán people, among them that of education? Is militarizing the zone the best option to reduce violence? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, the families besieged by extortion and executions cannot wait any longer for peace to return to this damaged state.

[1] In the absence of law enforcement directed by the State of Mexico, in various states besieged by organized crime, the civil population has organized itself to take up arms to protect its families and take justice into its own hands. These groups have been given different names such as “self-defence groups”, “police” o “community guard”, etc.. But it is feared that some of these informal groups are sponsored by organized crime itself, or worse still, by guerilla organizations. Guerrero, Chiapas and Michoacán are some of the states in which these groups of people that regularly cover their face to avoid being recognized.
Photo by jpazkual on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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