MEXICO CITY -- Mexico’s attorney general said Thursday that he has proof that some of the arms being used by the vigilante “self-defense” groups of Michoacan state were supplied by a drug cartel, the Jalisco New Generation, according to news reports.
The self-defense groups sprang up last February to take on a drug cartel called the Knights Templar. Many members are rural landowners and farmworkers fed up with the harassment and extortion by the Knights Templars.
But there has been wide speculation that the groups had some connection to, or support from, the New Generation, a rival of the Knights Templar.
Jesus Murillo Karam, the attorney general, said during a news conference in Merida that the government had detained two members of the self-defense groups, who told authorities that they had obtained weapons from Jalisco New Generation. Murillo Karam said an investigation was ongoing.
The self-defense groups went on the offensive this month, threatening a potentially bloody confrontation with the Knights Templar in the city of Apatzingan, one of its key strongholds. The government sent thousands of troops and federal police to keep the peace, but the vigilantes rejected government demands that they hand over their weapons.
To defuse that situation, the government this week declared that the vigilantes would be converted into temporary units of the Rural Defense Corps, volunteer patrol groups that answer to the Mexican military.
Murillo Karam’s statement raises the possibility that at least some vigilantes are patrolling Michoacan with the imprimatur of the federal government – and weapons supplied by an active drug gang.
The government also announced that it had captured a man believed to be the Jalisco New Generation’s second in command. The suspect, Ruben Oseguera Gonzalez, 23, was captured Thursday morning along with four other men in Zapopan, a sprawling suburb of Guadalajara, in Jalisco state.
Also Thursday, a number of vehicles were hijacked, set on fire and left in the middle of some roads in greater Guadalajara, according to the U.S. Consulate office there. The roadblocks may have been set by Oseguera’s allies to protest his arrest.
Sanchez is a news assistant in The Times’ Mexico City bureau.