Saturday, February 15, 2014

Maldito If They Do, Or Don't

Maldito means something like "accursed." If you ever see a film with Spanish subtitles, you'll recognize it as the pallid stand-in for whatever filthy four-letter expletive is being uttered on screen.

But it seems like the right word to describe the sorry plight of anybody responsible for maintaining public safety in the truly maldito Mexican state of Michoacan, next door neighbor to the east and south of Jalisco where we live.

We were planning to go there next month so I could go shopping in Paracho, where all they've done for centuries is make guitars.

Unfortunately, the town lies in the middle of Michoacan (mitch-wah-CAN) just north of a region known as Tierra Caliente. Long known as the fertile source of a good part of Mexico's avocado and lime production, it's now notorious as the festering center of turf controlled by a barbaric drug cartel that calls itself the Knights Templar.

Farmers and small businessmen or anyone who might have something the "Knights" want lives under the constant threat of extortion, kidnaping, rape or murder.

Honest citizens got tired of waiting for their listless and corrupt authorities to do something about it. They organized into vigilante groups, armed themselves with shotguns and black market AK-47s, and started fighting back.

We began seeing news and photos of firefights on small town streets. That was more than enough to make us decide my old guitar would have to do for now.

It also either shamed or alarmed the federal police. They sent troops and took over state law enforcement, but instead of rooting out the narco-terrorists the troops targeted the self-defense groups, who were certainly easier to find.

Ugly headlines ensued, so the government made a deal last month with the vigilantes under which they would be deputized and allowed to continue fighting in exchange for registering and cooperating with the federales.

There was some applause for what seemed like good news. The deal certainly made sense to me.

Then last week I saw a story in the New York Daily News, which for some reason has been all over the Michoacan tragedy for many months. The story said the vigilante-federale alliance was doomed because the police were demanding that self-defense forces surrender their large-caliber weapons.

The piece invited readers to conclude that the feds are up to their old tricks, trying to co-opt and control a people's movement they regard as a more serious threat to them than the cartel. I almost took the bait myself.

This week, however, the New York Times ran an essay by a writer in Colombia who warned that his country tried working with self-defense forces against the drug lords too. It seemed to work at first, but in the end the vigilantes broke bad, and the government had another evil criminal army on its hands. He said Mexico better be more careful in dealing with self-defense forces.

Along those lines, other reports suggest that at least some of the large caliber weapons the government wants the vigilantes to give up are being provided by rival drug gangs in Jalisco eager to see the Knights Templar taken down a notch.

Hijos de perras! That's another way of saying maldito, no need to look it up.

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