Why is Mexico's Knights Templar reaching out to rival cartels?(Read article summary)
Authorities in Mexico found evidence of a budding alliance between the Knights Templar and Beltran Leyva drug cartels. Some say it's a sign that vigilante groups in Michoacán are 'working.'
Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters/File
• InSight Crime researches, analyzes, and investigates organized crime in the Americas.
As reported by El Universal, agents of the two groups met in Mexico City in January, and were arrested by Mexican Marines. The meetings were aimed at consolidating an agreement in which the BLO would help the Knights remain in control of Michoacán.
The meetings come at a particularly dangerous moment for the Knights. Their ongoing conflict with local self-defense groups, in which the Knights have resorted to insurgent-style attacks, has turned the group into the principal public security focus in the country. The federal government has flooded the area with troops, both in an effort to reverse the state decay that led to the self-defense groups and to crack down on the Knights' operations.
A move into Michoacán would mark a shift in the pattern of operations of the BLO. Since its 2008 split from the Sinaloa Cartel, the group has built an archipelago of territories in Mexico's southern and western regions. But while it has remained active in Morelos, Guerrero, and parts of Sinaloa, Michoacán represents a new frontier.
The Knights' willingness to reach out to an organization from outside Michoacán – when the Knights' basic ethos is based on them being a gang of and for Michoacan – suggests that the recent occurrences in their home region have rattled them. This conclusion fits with the idea that the group has resorted to bombing power stations and essentially attacking the quality of life of the population en masse only because it finds itself in desperate straits. That is, extreme measures that have no direct profit motive are the mark of a gang lurching around without a clear strategic purpose.
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As noted above, Mexican authorities report that, for the Knights, the aim of the agreement is to import enough manpower to allow them to maintain some semblance of control over Michoacán, where they are coming under pressure from both the vigilante groups and the influx of federal troops. If this is a correct assessment of the group's aims, it is a dubious enterprise for two related reasons. First, the BLO is not a major holder of territory, nor is it known for a huge cadre of foot soldiers. If the Knights see an influx of manpower as a way out of their current predicament, they could have picked a better ally.
Second, regardless of any new ally, the numbers are aligned against the Knights. As self-defense leader Jose Manuel Mireles recently said in an interview, "[The locals in an unnamed town] figured that 25,000 residents of the city could confront 90 well-armed narcos that held them under their thumb." The numerical superiority is so overwhelming that whether the figure is 90 or 200, it doesn't matter all that much; the key factor is that the locals have decided to confront the criminal group en masse using force.
That is, any citizenry united with the government and determined to push out criminal elements is essentially capable of doing so. The agents of organized crime are always a numerical minority who trade on fear (of the civilian population) and corruption (of the state) to impose their will. A few extra gunmen may make a marginal difference in helping the Knights hold on to their fiefdoms, but any alliance is unlikely to, on its own, change the current calculus and push back against the forces arrayed against them.
The latest report is also interesting in what it demonstrates about the BLO's modus operandi over the past several years, in the aftermath of its split with the Sinaloa Cartel and the 2009 death of its longtime leader, Arturo Beltran Leyva. These events have eaten into the group's strength, and caused a seemingly endless number of splinter groups to break off from the BLO.
However, under the leadership of Arturo's brother, Hector Beltran Levya, alias "el H," the group has retained relevance in much of the country. It has often done so by allying itself with other groups that are either on the ropes, or enemies of the Sinaloa Cartel, or both. It is partially as a result of this strategy that the gang retains a presence in so many valuable regions of the country. Most notably, their alliance with the Zetas and the Juarez Cartel has allowed the BLO to operate in and even control significant portions of Sinaloa, despite this being the home state of their principal rival. Indeed, according to a recent report from the US government, the BLO is not only surviving, but is actually growing.
It's worth noting that the BLO strategy is available to any gang that is facing a period of decline; indeed, it is precisely what the Knights Templar are doing now, and what other gangs have done in the past. This helps explain why the final extinction of any powerful group, even with the steadfast opposition of their various enemies in the government and in the criminal underworld, is so difficult. As long as a group has connections, arms, money, and some manpower, it can find a lifeline somewhere.
– Insight Crime researches, analyzes, and investigates organized crime in the Americas. Find all of Patrick Corcoran's research here.