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Conflict in Michoacán: Vigilante Groups Present Challenges and Opportunities for the Mexican Government

In January 2014, vigilante groups in the Mexican state of Michoacán made international headlines for their armed opposition to drug traffickers. As the vigilantes have grown in strength and numbers, the Federal Government has taken initial steps towards legalizing and regulating the vigilantes, renaming them “Rural Defense Corps.” However, after according the autodefensas some degree of legitimacy, the government must now address the political and legal gray areas surrounding the vigilantes, as well as the claims that acceptance of these groups constitutes tacit admission of its failure to protect its citizens. In addition, the government will need to recognize the spectacular failures that have resulted from the use of self-defense groups elsewhere in Latin America, and take steps to properly regulate the autodefensas and promptly disarm their members once the groups are no longer necessary. The situation is complex, and the government’s response to the conflict will have a far-reaching impact on the rule of law in Mexico. 


About the Author

Gillian Horton

Expert in organized crime, security, and rule of law in Mexico
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Mexico Institute

The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute.   Read more