Mexico's Reign of Terror: the Knights Templar in Michoacán
A former medical doctor by the name of Ygnacio Lopez Mendoza is among the latest victims of Mexico’s notorious drug wars.
Mayor of Santa Ana Maya, a small town in central Mexico, Lopez Mendoza was found dead in his car last Thursday, apparently after having been tortured and murdered.
Like much that happens in Mexico these days, Lopez’s fate remains somewhat murky, but it seems likely that he was killed by members of a shadowy Mexican drug cartel that calls itself the Knights Templar.
After all, the mayor had recently spoken out publicly against the gang, which has seized indirect control of many and perhaps most of the 113 municipalities in the central Mexican state of Michoacán, using a combination of violence and extortion to achieve its aims.
According to a BBC report, a state-wide civic organization called the Association of Local Authorities quickly dispatched a letter to other mayors in Michoacán, warning them that Lopez Mendoza’s fate “was not an accident.”
According to information provided by his family, the mayor had arrived at his home shortly before midnight and was seized by a group of armed men before he could get past the door.
Now he’s dead.
Last month, a Roman Catholic bishop, Mons. Mayor Guillermo Valencia, was obliged to flee Michoacán after issuing a pastoral letter in which he likened the territory to “a failed state.”
In some municipalities, local residents have taken the law into their own hands, setting up roadblocks and forming vigilante patrols in efforts to impose some kind of order in their towns, something local police seem sadly unable to do. A recent report by McClatchy Newspapers says the Knights Templar typically take over command of local police forces through a combination of threats and bribes and then use the one-time law officers as their “muscle” as they gain control of other civic institutions.
Despite chronic problems with drugs and criminal gangs, most of Mexico is still fairly peaceful, but Michoacán is not. Instead, for more than a decade, the state has been at the mercy of a succession of violent outfits. First, the Gulf Cartel moved in, later to be replaced by a home-grown cartel called La Familia Michoacana. That gang mostly disintegrated in 2011, but one branch – calling itself the Knights Templar – survived and now pretty much runs the territory.
Why they have named themselves after a Christian military order that flourished during the Middle Ages – that is anyone’s guess.
Oakland Ross is a foreign affairs reporter with the Toronto Star.