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The rise of the autodefensas, the armed community groups who have mobilized throughout southwestern Mexico against narcotrafficking rings as well as corrupt government officials and police, has caught the attention of many Westerners in the past weeks. In particular, the self-defense groups of Michoacán state have seen a significant jump in press after they successfully seized various towns in the southwestern Tierra Caliente region from local authorities, figures who have shown themselves either incapable or unwilling—or both—to deal decisively with the reign of violence imposed by the Knights Templar drug cartel.
Recently, I had a chance to speak briefly with a comrade from the Communist Party of Mexico (marxist-leninist) about some of the recent events in the state, and the significance of the self-defense groups in light of the broader national situation: the return of the former ruling PRI to power after a 12 year hiatus, and an increased offensive by Mexico's oligarchy against historic popular gains and institutions. What follows is a quick translation of that Q&A.
The presence of narcotrafficking in Michoacan is not a recent thing. When was it that organized crime began to arise in the state? What were the socioeconomic and structural causes in the state and the country that allowed the Knight’s Templar—and previously the Michoacan Family—to consolidate themselves in so many towns of Michoacan?
It has always been there, only in a secret and hidden way. Before the rise of the new world capitalist crisis they began to engage in extortion, kidnappings, asking quotas from each vendor or worker with any more-or-less disposable income.
Through that, along with the rapes of women and the kickbacks received by the municipal presidents of the 113 municipalities of Michoacan, they were able to consolidate themselves in all spheres, from the economic all the way to the political and military through the arrival of the PRI to power in Michoacan and at the federal level.
There is evidence in the official newspapers of the state like La Voz de Michoacan, as well as videos on YouTube, which indicate that the current secretary of the state government, Jesus Reyna Garcia (brother-in-law of “La Tuta,” the proclaimed representative of the Knights Templar) had made agreements before the elections to buy votes, to ferry people to voting locations, to threaten or kidnap those who wouldn’t comply, like what happened in the Purepechan Plateau and particularly in Tierra Caliente. All of this is within the logic of the PRI’s structures which can guarantee their victory.
From there the Knight’s Templar, two months after the PRI rose to power, convoked the municipal presidents to establish monthly quotas and to open new avenues for the sale of narcotic products.
The so-called war against narcotrafficking in Mexico has been going on for seven years now since it was started by ex-President Felipe Calderon. In this time, what changes, if any, have taken place in Michoacan? What does this ‘war’ mean in light of the growing neoliberal domination of Mexico?
None, there hasn’t been any change, and unemployment, insecurity, forced disappearances, kidnappings, imprisonment and assassinations of social fighters have increased during this period.
According to Human Rights Watch, there were 26,121 disappearances during the six-year term of Calderon, and at the state level according to the Human Rights Commission there are more than 600 disappearances. And this is happening without the Attorney General of Justice of the State, the Attorney General of the Republic, the the State Commission on Human Rights, or the National Commission on Human Rights paying any attention or giving any favorable response to the families of the disappeared--or to the people of Michoacan and Mexico more broadly--in light of their demands for justice and freedom.
This all has to do with the fact that the present character of the international bourgeoisie is the hegemony of the large international monopolies, the financial oligarchy, and of course narcotrafficking which, as a capitalist enterprise that produces, markets, and creates value, has generated direct clashes with communities. It is a class struggle to the death for the market, the sites of circulation and territorial control of some regions of the state.
In the United States’ media, the self-defense groups are referred to as “vigilantes,” a term that in English has negative connotations. Even the concept of “self-defense” can be confusing, given that the so-called “self-defense groups” of Colombia exist precisely to defend the narco-state and terrorize the Colombian people and their popular organizations. Could you offer us a short summary of how the Mexican self-defense movement arose, and what they represent within the social context of Michoacan and the country? In what way are they organized on a national and state level, and in what ways are they independent of each other?
The self-defense groups are the people who have organized as a result of the crimes that I spoke to earlier. They are also a result of the government’s absence in imposing justice, and due to the agreements between the government and the narcotraffickers, since they won’t imprison those who gave them electoral support.
In each state there are distinct forms of organization and struggle, since the conditions are different in each state. For example, in Guerrero the communitarian police has its roots in the indigenous communities where they are organized, and they organize and elect through a popular assembly; that is to say, they are organized by those who make up their ranks and the people watch to make sure that decisions are fulfilled. In Michoacan, the armed self-defense groups are not necessarily communards nor do they necessarily belong to any indigenous community. There aren’t elections, and this is a more dangerous approach because it can divert the struggle’s perspective.
If there aren’t elections, then they don’t have to respond to the people, they don’t make decisions which arise from the people, and they could possibly end up at the very service of the narcotraffickers, fall into paramilitarism, or end up at the service of the state—which is what happened in recent days during the meetings between the state and the self-defense groups.
In the past week, the situation in Michoacan became known to the whole world, after the state government of Fausto Vallejo (PRI) decided to send troops to the western part of the state to retake towns under the control of the community police forces. Why now? What are the stakes for the government at this time, and why does the government of Michoacan feel obligated to disarm the self-defense organizations but leaves a large amount of Tierra Caliente under the control of the Knight’s Templar?
Mostly this is a result of the advance of the self-defense groups in different localities and important municipalities. The state government was obliged to retake control with the assistance of the federal government, specifically to disarm the self-defense groups and not to fight the templarios. Like I said earlier, the military-government and the templarios are a triple alliance behind narcotrafficking, and it feels obligated to act because the situation could unravel into a social uprising due to all the suffering people are experiencing in the state and in the Mexican republic.
Representatives of the self-defense groups have stated that their fight is not with the Mexican government, and they even appear ready to disarm if and when the Knight’s Templar and other criminal groups are defeated. Is this a view that is more or less universal among the ranks of the self-defense groups, or is it the case that there is a desire for new forms of communitarian government—like those in Cheran—or even a desire to mobilize for deeper structural changes? How do you think that the class contradictions within the ranks of the communitarian police, given that their composition is very broad, influence the strategic thinking of the movement? What role do communists play in all this?
That’s how it is, they are fighting only against narcotrafficking, not for revolutionary or democratic changes but rather to defend their families from extortion and all the bad that comes along with that. And these opinions are prominent because there is no organization to lead the seizure of power, one which understands that narcotrafficking is one of the evils of capitalism itself and in order to end it necessarily requires revolutionary struggle and the seizure of power by the proletariat, the poor campesinos, and the popular masses to install their own government, their own laws, their own economy, etc.
In this sense, revolutionaries and communists are obliged to educate the movement in tactics and strategy to advance along the revolutionary path. Because of this, the essential task of the Communist Party of Mexico (marxist-leninist) which came out of the National General Congress in 2013, is to grow our ranks numerically but to also strengthen qualitatively. We are for the revolutionary accumulation of forces, to strengthen our newspaper Proletarian Vanguard and other media to spread and agitate for the necessity of a new revolution of a proletarian character, and to lead all the clashes of the class struggle that are emerging at the national level in order to be in the best conditions to prepare for the strategic objective.
Beyond the struggle against organized crime, what are some of the social and economic struggles of the region, and in what way does your party try to connect these fights with communist ideas and organization?
There’s the proletarian struggle against unemployment, unjustified dismissal, for fair salaries and the right to unionization, like the struggle happening right now in the region of Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan.
There is also the teacher’s struggle against the educational and labor reforms, along with that of the students for higher budgets in public education, higher enrollment and against the curricular reforms in the rural Normal schools, not to mention against the closing of the student houses of the Coordinator of University Students in Struggle.
And we have related these struggles to the ongoing structural reforms. Our party has upheld the tactic of the period to be a large singular front to fight and unite all the anti-imperialist, anti-fascist, anti-capitalist, and progressive forces against the structural reforms and against the capitalist regime, holding as the central slogan “Mexico Has No President” because the current president is the result of an imposition.
Is there anything else we North Americans should know about what’s happening in Michoacan?
That here we are, in the trenches of class struggle, that in the Communist Party of Mexico (marxist-leninist) and the Revolutionary Popular Front you’ll find a vanguard loyal to the just causes of the proletariat, the poor campesinos and the broad popular masses.