Monday 18 June 2018

Twelve years ago Felipe Calderón called the army into Michoacán, and it's still there

La politica es la politica has posted 32 articles - one for each state in Mexico, including Mexico City - in advance of the July 1, 2018, presidential election. For links to all 32 articles, scroll to the bottom of this post.

The Mexican state of Michoacán is located in Western Mexico, with a population of about 4.6 million. The state has an extensive coastline on the Pacific, and extends inland to the Tierra Caliente and up over the Sierras to the capital city, Morelia.

It was in Michoacán where President Felipe Calderón first militarized the war on drugs. Only days into his administration, in December of 2006, he sent the army to his home state. Twelve years later, the army is still there, and Michoacán remains a hotbed of cartel activity.

From a political perspective, the governor of Michoacán is a member of the left of center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Two federal senators belong to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico for the better part of the 20th century, and is also the party of the sitting president, Enrique Peña Nieto.

The state has not been a stranger to violence during this election cycle. 

In April a Green Party candidate for deputy, Maribel Barajas, was found beaten to death on a ranch, only ten days after announcing her campaign. The police claim that she was part of a love triangle, and that the murder was not politically motivated.

In May, María de Lourdes Torres Díaz, candidate for the Together We’ll Make History coalition for mayor of Álvaro Obregón, was kidnapped from her campaign headquarters by two armed men. She was subsequently rescued by police in Morelia, who killed one of her captors in a gunfight.

On June 14 Alejandro Chávez Zavala, who was running for re-election as mayor of Taretan as part of a National Action Party (PAN) coalition with the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and Citizens' Movement (MC), was shot to death. State police showed up to investigate, as they were suspicious that the local cops were linked to organized crime. They were probably right, given that the municipal force greeted them with a hail of bullets. The state forces prevailed and the entire local force and the chief – 28 officers in total – were taken into custody. An arrest has since been made in the killing of Chávez Zavala.

Michoacán is bordered by the states of Colima and Jalisco to the west and northwest. This an area that is seeing significant conflict between warring cartels. In the middle of May this year 15 bodies were found in a truck with fake insignia of the Mexican Navy at the side of federal highway 200. The state Attorney General’s office said the men were killed by gunfire in the municipality of Aquila, with the killings attributed to a settling of scores between criminal gangs near the border with Colima.

The horrific violence between warring gangs is one thing, but when the state dares assert itself it can also expect a strong response. On March 1 an attempt to arrest the Viagras criminal gang’s plaza chief, Gabino Sierra Santana, triggered over 10 hours of narco-blockades. Though the arrest attempt in Apatzingán failed, apparently due to the “complex geography”, Viagras members were so incensed by the effort that they set up 12 roadblocks and hijacked 29 vehicles, setting them on fire.

As well, on May 27 former self-defense leader Juan José Farías Álvarez, known as El Abuelo (The Grandfather), was detained by military personnel in the municipality of Tepalcatepec, Michoacan, for alleged links to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG). Residents from six communities in the Tierra Caliente, Sierra-Costa and Costa regions had a different view of him: they set up roadblocks and prevented military and police from entering their towns.

Another cause for concern is the intense pressure being brought to bear on the press in Michoacán. From the late 19th century until the beginning of the drug war in December, 2006, it is estimated that seven journalists were killed in the state. Now, in the past 12 years alone there have been 13 journalists murdered in Michoacán.

Is there any good news in Michoacán? Well, at the end of February federal officials announced that they had successfully concluded three highway upgrades and marine terminal construction, representing a total investment of nearly 2.7 billion pesos (almost US $142 million).

But that’s about it. Meanwhile, at times the insecurity has been so bad that criminal organizations have extorted from avocado and lime producers, thus raising the prices in grocery stores in Canada and the US. They are also engaged in illegal logging, which has even exacerbated the threat to the habitat of the monarch butterflies.

Where, then, do voters place their X on the July 1 election for president? Almost certainly not for Ricardo Anaya, who is leading the cynical coalition of the right-of-center PAN and the left-of-centre Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). This is not PAN country, and the PRD, despite being the party of the sitting governor and one senator, effectively signed its death warrant when it allied itself with the PAN. The reason it did so was because Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) abandoned the party to create the National Regeneration Movement, known as Morena, and without AMLO the party support cratered.

Now AMLO is leading in the national polls. He should also do well in Michoacán.

As for the PRI candidate, José Antonio Meade, his patrician qualities won’t have much appeal in Michoacán, nor will his association with the failed policies of Enrique Peña Nieto. That said, there are large sections of the state where the PRI has a solid ground game – both for getting out the vote, and for rigging the results.

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