The militias that emerged a year ago in the western Mexican state of Michoacan to defend communities from a powerful drug cartel are expanding their presence on the Pacific coast, officials said.
Roughly 200 men armed with assault rifles gathered Wednesday on Caleta de Campos beach near the key port of Lazaro Cardenas, a source in the state government told Efe.
Clad in bulletproof vests and carrying walkie-talkies, the men urged area residents to join the struggle against the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) drug cartel, which has used extortion and murder to extend its tentacles into legitimate business.
Some 60 other vigilantes took control of Opopeo, a town in the Purepecha Indian territory, the source said.
Militia members set up late Wednesday a checkpoint on a road running parallel to the Siglo XXI expressway that links Morelia, Michoacan’s capital, with the state’s Pacific coast.
Members and supporters of Michoacan’s self-defense groups organized an event Monday to mark the one-year anniversary of their founding.
Backed by local business interests, the militias filled a vacuum created by the failure of state and municipal authorities to halt the depredations of the Templarios, who co-opted many of Michoacan’s politicians.
Federal Police and army troops have been deployed in Michoacan for the past month as part of a bid by Mexico’s government to crush the Templarios and bring the militias under the formal control of the military.
Many of the Michoacan vigilantes have signed up for an army-controlled Rural Defense Corps.