APATZINGAN, Mexico —
In the city of Apatzingan, hundreds of federal police offices traveling in pickup trucks with machines guns mounted on the top, armored vehicles and buses massed in the city square as residents watched.
“The federal police have been here for years, but they don’t do anything,” said a man sitting on a bench at the plaza who identified himself only as Ivan.
Security analyst Alejandro Hope, who formerly worked for Mexico’s intelligence agency, called the government’s strategy in Michoacan a “disaster.”
After initially arresting the vigilantes months ago, the federal government under Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong appeared to be working with them recently. The army and Federal Police have provided helicopter cover and road patrols while the self-defense groups attacked the cartel, but never intervened in the battles.
“Last week they were protecting the vigilantes,” said Hope, director of security policy at the Mexican Competitiveness Institute. “Secretary Osorio practically said they were useful ... now they’re going to put them down with firepower and bloodshed?”
The government doesn’t agree with that assessment, said an official with the Interior Ministry who was not authorized to speak to the press by name.
“It’s a strategy that’s being adjusted, modified based on the demands of what is happening on the ground,” the official said.
Osorio Chong announced the new strategy Monday following a weekend of firefights as the vigilantes extended their control to the communities of Antunez, Paracuaro and Nueva Italia. Burning trucks and buses blocked highways. Two bodies were found hanging from a bridge.
The deadly confrontation in Antunez started late Monday after townspeople were called to meet a convoy of soldiers, who they were told were coming to disarm the self-defense group. Witnesses said the civilian group did not carry guns, but as they blocked the military convoy, some soldiers fired into the crowd.
“The army is made of people without values or ethics,” self-defense group spokesman Estanislao Beltran said. “The military has no reason to shoot the people.”
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