Uniforms and assault rifles were given to hundreds of vigilantes in Mexico, according to multiple reports. The armed civilians will be transformed into Mexico’s new rural police force. The Telegraph reported that Mexican authorities made the decision in response to the increasingly menacing drug cartels in the country.
Over 450 farmers reportedly lined up at a cattle ranch in Tepalcatepec, a rural town in Michoacan, Mexico, on May 10 to receive the equipment from government officials.
Federal official Alfredo Castillo reportedly told the new rural police force, “From now on, you are in charge of defending your brothers, your families, your neighbors and anybody who can be harmed by organized crime.”
Vigilante leader Estanislao Beltran allegedly said, “With this, we become legal. We are part of the government.”
May 10 was apparently the deadline to join the new force. An estimated 20,000 vigilantes are said to have a significant presence in more than 30 Mexican towns. Police told reporters that 3,300 individuals signed up to join the rural police force. Due to the high interest in the newly-created force, the deadline to receive weapons and uniforms might be extended, according to The Telegraph.
At this point, many logistics related to the new force have yet to be determined. For instance, it is unknown how much the new members will be paid.
The Telegraph reported that while the Mexican officials previously turned a blind eye to citizen-formed defense groups, from now on civilians carrying weapons illegally will be arrested on the spot.
The Mexican government has had an increasingly difficult time controlling gang violence in the country and protecting its citizens. Although Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto previously deployed thousands of troops to control gang and cartel violence, vigilantes were credited for successfully forcing many gang members out of communities. Some have alleged that Mexican troops are ineffective because they have been infiltrated by cartels.
In 2013, vigilante groups became prominent when they fought against the violent Knights Templars; they did so because Mexican authorities failed to protect citizens. More recently, deadly gun battles between cartel members and government forces have been plaguing the Mexican state of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, near the Texas border.
Although vigilantes have helped protect some Mexican civilians, there have been accusations of corruption within the movement including reports that cartels have infiltrated the vigilante movement. Observers also point out that there is nothing preventing cartel members from posing as vigilantes. The Telegraph reported that 155 suspects were discovered dressed as vigilantes.
As Mexico continues to deal with violence brought on by cartels and gangs, the country has also decided to form its own border patrol.
Breitbart Texas recently reported that the Mexican government plans to use border patrol on both its northern and southern borders. Advocates claim that this measure will help to curb illegal immigration and drug smuggling, both of which can ultimately exacerbate violent cartel activity.
Follow Kristin Tate on Twitter @KristinBTate.