In February 2013, in the villages of Cheran and Tierra Caliente in Michoacan, two separate self-defense militias began pushing back against the Knights Templar Cartel. All signs point to the two autodefensas, or communitarios, arising entirely separately from each other, and in fact, they have followed two very different models.
Cheran is a majority-indigenous town, and is still largely governed by their old traditions and customs. The community policing fit well into their traditions, as City Hall was replaced by a council of 12 elected members in 2011, and so the communitarios became an outgrowth of self-government that was already there. The Cheran communitarios didn’t just push back against the cartels, having also expelled illegal loggers who were moving into the area.
The Tierra Caliente situation is much different, in large part because the population is considerably more mixed. The majority are mestizos, working for larger farm and ranch owners, and the economic character of the area is much more diverse than around Cheran. As a result of these different factors, what has come out of Tierra Caliente is more of a “Self-Defense Militia,” as opposed to “Community Policing.” The difference is that Community Policing is an established part of the legal framework in the area, while a Self-Defense Militia is a temporary force raised to establish security.
There has been considerable concern from the Mexican government about these groups. The Michoacan groups are by no means unique; the central government has admitted recently that there are self defense groups in 13 Mexican states. They have largely been seen as challenges to the government’s authority, with Mexican politicians asking them to lay down their weapons, and the Army actually confronting them more than once. The fact that more than one self-defense group has thrown out the police for corruption has contributed to the distrust of these militias.