Michoacán, a failed state?

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The murder of Vice Admiral Carlos Salazar Ramonet, occurred on July 28th nearby the La Noria community in Michoacán, is the first attack against a highly ranked officer on the current administration. This assassination is specially relevant given that it involved a commander of the Eight Navy Zone, established in Puerto Vallarta, a delicate point on the fight against drug trafficking in the Pacific. The execution can be a tipping point, one that makes the government reflect about the current security strategy.

Michoacán has been, for quite some time, a challenge for the government in turn; its problems began way before former President Calderón chose it as the first target on his war against organized crime. But, why Michoacán? The state has particular traits that turn it vulnerable; this article deals with four of them. Number one, there is a serious institutional weakness problem, in which local authorities have been co-opted by crime organizations. Number two, it is a place with comparative advantages for drug production and trafficking, particularly for synthetic drugs – without mentioning the transfer of cocaine and marijuana, as well as poppy cultivation. This is due that, on one hand the state has areas of difficult access in which underground laboratories can be easily hidden and, on the other hand, it’s close to havens such as Lázaro Cárdenas and Manzanillo, which are points of entry for large quantities of chemical precursors from China and India, which is in turn aggravated by the global expansion of the metamphetamine market (Mexico is the country with the largest meth seizures worldeide, doubling from 13 to 31 tons in one year and, for the first time, surpassing the U.S.)

Thirdly, criminal groups that operate in Michoacán, such as the “Caballeros Templarios”, possess particularities that not other cartels do, especially regarding their linking to society. The Knights have a pseudo-religious doctrine, which pursues “social justice”. In the process, not only have they built a strong social basis, but also have assumed some State functions, such as a tax recollection and justice procurement. Finally, the emergence of self-defence groups shows another aspect of a socio-criminal entanglement which, in turn, exhibits symptoms of social unrest with the infiltration of criminal groups inside these “civic militias”.

Regardless that the federal government’s communication strategy has changed, its actions in Michoacán are no different from the ones carried out by Calderón; they rather seem as a sort of inertial politics and reactive answers from federal forces. Unavoidably, the repetition of the same formulas will bring the same results. Even though, the Interior Secretary, Osorio Chang, claimed that the main difference in the security strategy is that there is a better coordination between the different levels of government and assuming he’s saying the truth, to what point is it positive, for example, to work alongside municipal administration that have been co-opted by organized crime? Michoacán is a challenge for President Peña since it will be the test to show if his government’s security strategy will bring results – if it’s different or not from Calderón could prove to be the least relevant. The consolidation of the presence of the State within Michoacán’s risk zones cannot be delayed any further, not with the ephemeral and unstable of soldiers, but with viable and long-term policies that pursuit the integral reconstruction of the complex social fabric. Currently, it seems that in some Michoacán areas, the crime has the bull by its horns.


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