Autodefense Movement: A Double-Edged Sword for the CJNG

mireles_08-114_g para1-440x293 autodefensas_michoacan_js9

Autodefensas: Who are they?

Many popular media outlets portray the autodefense movement as a loosely organized network of groups comprised of ordinary Mexican citizenry who have self-organized to forcefully confront the criminal organizations that progressively degrade Mexico’s public life.

There is some truth to this perception insofar as many sincere individuals are involved with these movements. This view is also rooted partly in precedence of periods in Mexico’s history where communal vigilance emerged against excessive lawlessness. However, the present autodefense movement is much more complicated than what some popular media outlets would lead consumers to believe. It is not simply a network of sincere vigilante groups.


How this relates to the CJNG (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion):

In reality, the autodefense movment is a potpourri of community leaders and representatives from various entities with their own agendas, including several of Mexico’s most ruthless cartels. Naturally, Mexico’s federal and state authorities are also working to infiltrate the movement to influence it from within. However, the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG) exercises more control over the autodefense movement than does any other entity, criminal, federal, or otherwise.


The challenges (and dilemma) facing the CJNG:

Since 2013, the CJNG (based in Jalisco) has been at war against a rival cartel, the Knights Templar (based in Michoacan), related to expansionistic aspirations of both organizations (whose territories border one another). The CJNG has infiltrated the autodefense movement and manipulates it through intelligence, finanancing, weapons, personel, leadership, and corruption of state and federal officials whose responsibility would be to repress the movement, against its rival the Knights Templar cartel within the Templars’ own territory of Michoacan. The autodefense groups have not only proven themselves as an ongoing threat against the Templars, they also have provided federal and state authorities with intelligence to aid government repression against the Templars. The autodefense movement has helped to destabilize the Templars while the CJNG attempt to extend their territory from Jalisco into Michoacan, as well as into neighboring areas (such as Guerrero).

However, the autodefense movement has drawn the ire of the government and its days are numbered. Dozens of autodefensas have been arrested by federal forces, including notable leadership figures (such as Hipolito Mora) for alleged ties to organized crime, illegal forms of violence, unlawful detainment, and other illicit activities. Mexico’s government has been ambivalent toward the autodefense movement. While they have Mexico has allowed the autodefensas to attack the Templars, federal forces have intermittently moved to strip the autodefensas of the military grade weaponry supplied by CJNG (and perhaps others). Mexico’s authorities have occasionally clashed violenetly with autodefensas who accused them of operating on behalf of the Knights Templar. The present trend appears to be that Mexico’s federal forces are becoming more interested in disarming and repressing the autodefensas. This will not bode well for the CJNG, and repressive efforts will probably be felt not only in Michoacan, but also in the CJNG’s territory of Jalisco.

The dilemma facing the CJNG is balancing the benefits of continuing to wield the autodefensas aginast the destabilized Knights Templar with the increasing risks of being associated with the movement given the increasingly obvious immanence of federal repression against it (and by extension, the CJNG), as well as the risks of decreasing or ceasing involvement in the autodefense movement.

Autodefensas llegan a Churumuco. foto Raúl Tinoco

Alternative courses of action for the CJNG:

Some basic alternatives are for the CJNG to continue influencing the autodefense movement against the Templars, to support it with weapons, intelligence, financing, and strategy but decrease direct involvement of its members, or to cease its involvement altogether in the autodefense movement.


Most logical strategy for the CJNG:

The CJNG has invested a great deal of resources into its ability to wield the autodefensas against its rivals, and the only way to continue to ensure these groups remain preoccupied with those rivals is to remain actively involved (including providing leadership) within the autodefense movement. Decreasing support could result in loss of influence over the autodefensas, in which case there would be no guarantee the movement would not spread into Jalisco to confront the CJNG as it has the Knights Templar in Michoacan. Should the CJNG completely end its involvement and withdraw support from the autodefense movement, this could enable a rival cartel to function as the movement’s new patron (and director) to ensure its own impunity and direct the autodefensas against its own rivals. The latter possibility would create greater problems for the CJNG.

At this time, the CJNG will probably choose to retain influence over the autodefense movement, despite the risk of federal repression that involvement could bring in the near future.


The autodefense movement’s days are numbered, but federal repression can backfire if executed with poor strategy…

Mexico’s government and state agencies will prolong completely disarming the autodefensas until they have learned more about how the CJNG has operated within the movement. This will include gathering evidence against key figures, which (when used to prosecute high profile criminal figures in a court of law) might appear more impressive to the US, thereby increasing the likelihood of continued financial assistance provided to Mexico to assist its ongoing struggle against the cartels.


If and when Mexico’s government moves to dismantle the autodefensas, it will need to proceed carefully (and with proper strategic guidance) to avoid a PR nightmare calculated by the CJNG.