Mexico has scored another coup in the narco-insurgency. On February 27—in Morelia, the capital of Michoacan—Servando “La Tuta” Gomez was rolled up by Mexican police. “La Tuta,” also known as “El Profe” (The Professor) because of his past as a teacher, was the “spiritual” and operational leader of the Caballeros Templarios, the Knights Templar Cartel. The other such leader, Nazario “El Mas Loco” Moreno, the author of “Pensamientos,” the Knight’s Templar’s “spiritual manual,” was killed last year, though he had been reported dead twice before that.

After last year’s capture of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, “La Tuta” became the most high-profile capo on Mexico’s wanted list. His high profile came as a result of his own actions; Gomez utilized video and social media a great deal, both to attack his enemies and to justify the Caballeros Templarios’ actions. Many times, he accused the government and rival drug trafficking organizations of doing far worse than what his organization was accused of. But much of this bluster was covering for the fact that his organization was falling apart.

With the rise of the autodefensas, as well as rival criminal groups such as Cartel de Jalisco Nuevo Generacion, the Caballeros Templarios found themselves on the defensive in Michoacan. In the last two years, there has been a flood of desertions from the Templarios, and Gomez has spent much of that time on the run and in hiding.

Violence in Michoacan has not lessened with the crumbling of the Knights Templar, however. Infighting between autodefensas militias, as well as the CJNG moving into the Michoacan “plaza,” has kept the homicide levels quite high. Insight Crime suggests that there may be three reasons for rising violence in the state:

  1. The loss of Templar control over everyday crime. In places where organized crime has the level of control that the Templarios had in Michoacan, any crimes must be sanctioned by the controlling organization; the homicide levels in Bogota dropped after Pablo Escobar’s death not so much because he was gone, but because the mafia established a council to regulate assassinations.
  2. The power vacuum created by the Templar’s disintegration.
  3. The refusal of both the government and the autodefensas to address drug trafficking.

It may be that the capture of La Tuta turns out to be more symbolic than substantive. In fact, many analysts are already saying just that. While the Peña-Nieto administration is holding up high-profile arrests such as “El Chapo’s” and “La Tuta’s” as proof that they are making progress in the drug war, the violence and disappearances are growing worse. The cartels are atomizing, forming smaller, more cellular structures, making high-profile capos obsolete.

More insidiously, government and law enforcement officials in Mexico are often intimately entwined in the very violence they are in place to prevent or stop; accusations have been made that not only was the mayor of Iguala’s wife involved in the Guerreros Unidos group, but was actually running it. The violence and corruption of the narco organizations has become, to many, a damning indictment of the PRI—which ruled Mexico with an iron fist for 70 years until Vicente Fox was elected president in 2000.

The PRI was a dictatorship that ruled through corruption. Webs of influence and kickbacks were how they controlled the country. That kind of structure has lent itself well to the very drug organizations the government is supposed to be fighting.

(Featured image courtesy lajornadamichoacan.com.mx)

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