Mexico deployed thousands of extra troops to the western state of Michoacan on Monday in a bid to tamp down drug cartel violence amid the emergence of vigilante groups, officials said.
About 2,000 army soldiers, 2,000 marines and 1,000 police officers were sent to the crime-wracked state, sources close to the defense ministry and federal police said.
The government had already deployed 1,000 police and named an army brigadier general last week to take charge of public security in Michoacan, one of the country’s poorest states and home to traditional drug running routes.
Michoacan was the first state to see troops when former Mexican president Felipe Calderon decided to deploy tens of thousands of soldiers across the country to crack down on drug cartels in 2006. By the time he left office last year, an estimated 70,000 people had been killed in gang turf wars nationwide.
His successor, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, is shifting the strategy toward crime prevention and reducing murders, but says troops will remain in the streets until violence comes down.
The new deployment will focus on the southeastern edge of the state known as Tierra Caliente, where businesses and residents endure extortion, kidnappings and murders committed by gangs.
The dominant cartel in the region is the Knights Templar, a religion-inspired offshoot of the crime syndicate La Familia.
In February, armed vigilante groups emerged in the towns of Buenavista and Tepalcatepec to fend off gangsters, compounding the state’s security challenge.
Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong was to visit the state of 4.3 million people yesterday to hold a meeting on security with local authorities.
“Today, you can see in the state that federal forces are already coordinating with state forces in municipalities,” Osorio Chong said.
Dozens of residents of Coalcoman, a town in Tierra Caliente, took to the streets on Monday to demand the delivery of basic goods after several firms stopped distributing products to the area due to crime.
Interim Michoacan Governor Jesus Reyna told Milenio television that the state was going through tough times, but that it did not need to be rescued.