Mexico's citizen militias infected by the rot they hoped to cut out

Infighting and corruption by the drugs cartels have turned a movement of hope into just another facet of the problem

MEXICO CITY

The boys on a dirt lot outside a corral in the Mexican state of Michoacán could barely see over the dashboard of the red truck they were driving. And yet José Santiago Perez, 16, and Bernabe Perez, 14, were the emissaries of a former drugs cartel henchman.

Their father, José Santiago Valencia Sandoval, had experienced both sides of the conflict between a citizen militia and the drug gang it was formed to drive out. He had worked for the Knights Templar cartel, then defected to join the militia when it started in the little hillside town of Tepalcatepec more than a year ago.

After so many years and tens of thousands of deaths, the drug war still casts a long shadow over Mexico. Whole swaths of the country – the states of Michoacán and Tamaulipas, the cities along the US border – live by the rules of cartels that now do far more than transport drugs. There is an anxiety of random violence, the frustration of forced cartel taxes, and the fear of kidnapping or worse.

In his first year in office, the new President, Enrique Peña Nieto, wanted to change Mexico's image from a country at war to a rising economic power. But it was not long before he reverted to deploying soldiers to patrol streets where the main authority had been the cartels' teenage spotters with their two-way radios.

In these places, the police can be more dangerous than the outlaws, and politics and crime go hand in hand. There appears little hope that Mexico's enduring curse is ending. In a world of shifting alliances, it is hard to know what to believe or whom to trust.

Valencia was training a prancing horse and listened to ranchero music in his yard. In his living room, decorated with his hunting trophies, he cracked open beers and told tall tales in his breezy manner: how he faked his own death by pouring red paint down his neck; how he recorded himself in a video tell-all he planned to have sent to the Drug Enforcement Administration in the event of his murder. Last week, that day arrived.

Valencia and his wife, Blanca, the two boys, and his 11-year-old daughter, Bianca, were stopped while they were driving in their red truck in the neighbouring state of Jalisco. Videos later showed the vehicle peppered with bullet holes. The Attorney General's office reported that there were signs of torture on the corpses. Nobody survived.

Before his death, Valencia had not seemed fazed by the dangers he faced, but he was serious about the problems in his home town. He felt that the militia movement that has spread across Michoacan – supported by the government – was being corrupted by the out-of-state New Generation drug cartel based in Jalisco.

The group he had joined, he said in May, was becoming a front for criminals and could end up as rotten and abusive as the cartel he had left. "We feel threatened by certain people within the movement," he said.

Three weeks later, Valencia said he had "good" news. Over the following days, he mentioned he had a recording that showed all the "trash and corruption of the government". Soon after, he was dead.

Many of the former gangsters who had switched to become vigilantes were simply fair-weather gunmen. And at the movement's higher levels, personal rivalries and power grabs became so intense there were fears they would provoke a new round of violence.

Dr José Manuel Mireles, the mustachioed surgeon who was once the militia movement's most respected figure, has been disowned by several of his former comrades. Dr Mireles accused them of being paid off by the New Generation.

On Friday, soldiers and police arrested 83 suspected vigilantes, including Dr Mireles, on charges of carrying unauthorised weapons in the villages of La Mira and Acalpican.

The federal envoy to Michoacán, Alfredo Castillo, told Milenio Television that Dr Mireles held an assembly with about 500 people to start a new "self-defence" group in the area near the port city of Lazaro Cardenas. By Friday about 150 of the vigilantes had set up roadblocks, he said.

Dr Mireles was the only founding member of the movement who had not joined a new rural police force set up by the federal government to regain control of Michoacán from the Knights Templar cartel. He became the public face of the "self-defence" crusade, appearing in dozens of interviews, but he was dismissed as the movement's spokesman in May when the government began demobilising vigilante groups.

Against this backdrop, the killing of Valencia and his family merited barely a mention in the news. Most murder cases in Mexico are not solved.

A little over a month ago, Valencia had said he hoped speaking out would make people "correct their ways". If they did not, he said: "I'm going to call you and give you first and last names, to send into the light of the world."

Washington Post

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicHunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original  manuscripts
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
lifeAiming to show breasts in a non-sexual way for cancer awareness
New Articles
i100... while following the referendum
New Articles
i100... with this review
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special
tvNick Frost, Natalie Gumede and Michael Troughton step up
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Beard, Ben Schnetzer, Douglas Booth and Jack Farthing in ‘The Riot Club’
filmReview: Sheer nastiness of Riot Club takes you aback
Arts and Entertainment
tvBut something’s not quite right
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week