Mexican federal police arrested 38 people across violence-torn Michoacán state on Jan. 20, claiming a blow against the notorious Knights Templar drug cartel. Among those detained was Jesús Vázquez Macías AKA "El Toro"—claimed to be a top kingpin of the blood-drenched narco network. "El Toro" was apprehended in the port city of Lázaro Cárdenas, and flown to a prison in Veracruz state, far from his home turf. But Lázaro Cárdenas, one of Mexico's key Pacific ports and industrial hubs, was actually taken over by federal security forces back in November, ostensibly to protect it from the warring narco gangs. That El Toro apparently managed to remain at large in the city until now loans credence to the claims of Michoacán's vigilante network that the government is turning a blind eye to the drug lords. (AFP, BBC News, Milenio, Jan. 20; BN Americas, Jan. 10; Reuters, Jan. 1)
It can hardly be coincidence that the federales finally moved against the Templarios mere days after the "Community Police" vigilante network declared war on the cartel and seized several pueblos that had been under the control of cartel-co-opted authorities. Mexico's government clearly fears losing control of Michoacán to the vigilante movement. The belated move against the Templarios came just as Mexican army troops were facing off with Community Police forces at many of the positions the vigilantes seized when they launched their offensive days earlier.
Two days before the 38 were arrested, Community Police forces in the town of Antúnez seized four houses said to belong to Templar kingpins, and declared them as "confiscated." One was a luxury property—complete with jacuzzi, stables full of rare-breed horses, and wardrobes stocked with designer clothes—belonging to Efraín Isak Rosales AKA "El Tucán," named as another top leader of the Templars and currently whereabouts unknown. Among items found at the property and displayed before reporters was much mystical and pseudo-religious regalia—robes, idols and so forth—said to belong to Nazario Moreno González AKA "El Chayo." One of Mexico's most-wanted drug lords, El Chayo had been named by authorities as a leader of La Familia Michoacana, but apparently flipped to the Templars when they beat out La Familia as the state's reigning crime machine following a bloody turf war last year. Both groups have posed as religious cults and used mystical imagery to impress their followers and intimidate their rivals. (La Jornada San Luis, Jan. 21; Excelsior, AFP, Jan. 19; Cronica de Hoy, El Universal, Jan. 18)
The Community Police have clearly forced the Mexican feds into acting against the Knights Templar. Whether this will be sufficient to restore government rule in Michoacán remains to be seen.