A Murderer Who Kills Murderers Tells His Story
September 15, 2019 10:16 AM   Subscribe

In Mexico's cartel country, a murderer who kills for "good" tells his story. The reality of vigilante justice is a lot different than it looks from the comic books. "Capache" describes being conscripted into the cartels as a teenager, the brutal training and initiation he went through, and how he switched "sides" to "protect" the people who can't protect themselves.
posted by toastyk (12 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Just another "Popeye" (of Pablo Escobar) in the making. Apparently all these guys after after killing hundreds of people realize the meaning of life.
posted by andrewmc at 11:31 AM on September 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


“Once autodefensas form they are immediately susceptible to outside criminal influences—such as cartel penetration and manipulation—or they can become corrupted by their new found position of power and become an armed gang in their own right.”

What is to stop an autodefensas group from just taking over the highly profitable drug business from groups they target?

It seems like a minor miracle that the US hasn't intervened militarily somewhere south of the border. The cartel's careful foreign policy of avoiding violence as much as possible in the US has prevented it.
posted by Bee'sWing at 12:19 PM on September 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


I watched this short vice documentary about self-defense militias in Mexico a couple years back, but I didn't realize they stalk and kill cartel members.
posted by floam at 1:03 PM on September 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


What I dislike about coverage of the Cartel War in Mexico is how rarely the US is mentioned as a major cause. The US is the major market, US drug policy built the trade, law enforcement in the south eastern US push the trade into Mexico, US policy forced the Mexican government into actions that exacerbated the instability, and the vast majority of the guns used in the many killings come from the US.

And that leaves out the systemic problems caused by US meddling in Mexican politics for the last 150 years, including the collusion of the US ambassador in the murder of a Mexican president. The US has a lot to answer for in the situation.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:28 PM on September 15, 2019 [30 favorites]


US arms dealers also illegally supply all the guns. The real reason that gun manufacturers in the US don't want limits on production of types of rifles is that they make a ton of money selling guns that are used to commit crimes in nearby countries approximately once every 31 minutes. A big part of the Clinton era ban on assault rifles was driven by illegal foreign sales and international pressure. A narrative conveniently left out of the gun debate.

I can't really blame the people in the article for wanting to fight back. Without a strong central government human society pretty quickly devolves into warlords/ internecine warfare. It's so predictable you could probably write a mathematical equation for it. These guys are doing what literally any young man in any human society in any time period would have done under similar circumstances. And quite a lot of the women too.
posted by fshgrl at 1:47 PM on September 15, 2019 [27 favorites]


US arms dealers also illegally supply all the guns.

They sure do. And apparently with little in the way of consequences.
posted by TedW at 2:10 PM on September 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


I have no concrete reason to be skeptical. But, it's really hard not to be. It's just a little too Hollywood to believe and the implicit idea that cartels are so divorced from the communities in which they operate seems weird. I'd love to see the fact checker's redacted notes.

(Which isn't to say that cartels and shitty cops and politicians aren't a real problem in lots of places.)
posted by eotvos at 3:01 PM on September 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


A 2013 University of San Diego study found that nearly half of all gun stores in the United States would go out of business were it not for the sales boost provided by the carnage in Mexico. “It gives you some idea of the gravitational pull,” says Topher McDougal, the study’s lead author.

From TedW's link. That article is long but worth the read. Here is the study they reference: pdf.

The US gun industry and the suckers they've convinced to support them aren't just killing Americans, they're killing everyone.

I do shoot, rifle and shotgun for hunting, and the way that guns have polarized otherwise normal people is to the point I'd almost just quit shooting and hunting because I am starting to really, really dislike people I have known for many years. They just feel so entitled to tell you you are wring and they are right and they look for every opportunity to bring it up. They are aggressive and paranoid and I'm talking like- women school teachers and dentists here, not muttering guys who live in cabins in the woods. I don't ever go to private ranges anymore because it's wall to wall wingnuts and propaganda and paper targets that look like Hilary Clinton or "foreigners". The public ranges where people volunteer to teach kids skeet shooting classes and lower income people come to sight in rifles for dear season are far more calm nowadays.
posted by fshgrl at 3:36 PM on September 15, 2019 [16 favorites]


Interesting that the autodefensas claim not to traffic in narcotics - how are they funded? Do they target cartel marks partially based on cash holdings?

"Capache now makes enough from his work for FUPCEG to help his mother and siblings."
posted by porpoise at 4:06 PM on September 15, 2019


They sure do. And apparently with little in the way of consequences.

The two fairly astonishing conclusions to the link, for anyone who hasn’t seen it before, are that 1) US arms dealers, including one of the two contractors that makes miniguns for the US military, conspired to export miniguns to Mexican cartels, and that 2) the people involved have suffered little to no consequences since being caught.

I have no concrete reason to be skeptical. But, it's really hard not to be. It's just a little too Hollywood to believe and the implicit idea that cartels are so divorced from the communities in which they operate seems weird. I'd love to see the fact checker's redacted notes.

Skepticism about armed groups telling their own stories is always a good default position. And I would imagine that, from a distance, there are a lot of similarities between different groups on the ground - very violent, disproportionately full of young men, responsible for atrocities. Some of the connections are even mentioned - the interview subject is a former cartel member, and there’s the implication that the autodefensas may have allied with another cartel in an “enemies enemy is my friend” arrangement.

That said, autodefensa groups are a pretty common phenomenon here and - wherever they may end up as a result of the path they follow - they are established for fundamentally different reasons than cartels and normally operate in a much more constrained regional space. It’s also fairly straightforward to tell whether a group of vigilantes has a degree of community support or is “astroturf” - the CJNG mentioned in the article started as the “Zeta Killers” but nobody took them seriously as anything other than a cartel at the time. Also, I’ve lived in Mexico for a while and have heard grudging or outright praise for vigilante action, but I have literally never, not once, heard any praise for or appreciation of a cartel. People really hate and fear them, and it’s understandable. I don’t know of any Pablo Escobar style Robin Hood stuff from the cartel side, just psychotic levels of violence and horror.

Finally, I’m not sure what a fact-checker could add to a very regional, anecdotal story in Chilpancingo, a place that’s got a deeply shitty reputation even in Guerrero (current State Dept travel advisory is 4 for the entire state, same as Iraq and Syria).

Oh, and ¡feliz día de la independencia!
posted by chappell, ambrose at 5:49 PM on September 15, 2019 [14 favorites]


Interesting that the autodefensas claim not to traffic in narcotics - how are they funded? Do they target cartel marks partially based on cash holdings?

I got curious about this question and tried to look up the answer. This paper, Inequality and the Emergence of Vigilante Organizations: The Case of Mexican Autodefensas [pdf] has some interesting suggestions. It identifies three basic funding models for autodefensas: grassroots (community funded); patron (local business owners); and - specifically in the case of Mexico - through remittances from the community in the US (counted as a subcategory of grassroots organising).
Reviewing the literature, there are two basic ideal types of vigilante organizations that appear: grassroots community groups and patron-funded groups. In reality, some groups are hybrids between these varieties. For example, some groups led by land-owning ranchers in Michoacán also had community support and received donations.
...
Grassroots community groups might essentially be self-funded, or receive donations from their neighbors. Members probably carry their personal weapons, and patrol in their free time. This was the case with some groups in recent years in southern Mexico, in areas such as Guerrero (Fausset, 2014; Macías, 2014). Some groups in Mexico have received donations from migrants in the United States (Yagoub, 2014), probably former community members, and this would be consistent with the group type. Grassroots community vigilante organizations, in various forms, have appeared in many contexts.
...
Patron-funded groups, as the name implies, have another source of support. This could be fairly benign, such as a community-oriented group with a sponsor who is concerned about the community and asks no favors in return. However, what seems to be more common are patron-funded groups that exist primarily to protect the patron’s business interests, potentially including workers—instead of an entire community at large. This suggests patron-funded vigilantes differ from strictly grassroots community groups in terms of their loyalty and goals. Examples include [...] groups organized by business owners in the Mexican city of Juárez more recently. Some groups organized by Michoacán ranchers arguably belong in this category as well.
The author makes quite a convincing argument that all three models of autodefensa groups (and hybrids) formed across Mexico chiefly because of income and security inequalities (rather than areas with unusually high crime rates / low state capacity / local cultures with traditional community security practices; although those factors have some relation to inequality as well). The idea is that rich people have disproportionate access to both public and private security, and that the perception of this difference makes poorer communities more likely to arm themselves (the grassroots model); while income inequalities mean that existing social structures lend themselves to rich business owners paying poorer locals to form vigilante groups as an additional form of private security (the patron-funded model).

The paper has a potted history of the formation of autodefensas in Mexico in 2013, and notes that Guerrero and neighbouring Michoacan produced the most - because of income inequalities, because of a tradition of community policing in Guerrero’s case, and because of local “sparks” that demonstrated the concept could be successfully, and then “went viral”.
One important event was in Ayutla, Guerrero, in southern Mexico, where a criminal gang kidnapped a community delegate. Residents armed with guns and machetes freed the delegate (International Crisis Group, 2013). This inspired people in nearby municipalities to take up arms and hold demonstrations, and these actions were broadcasted widely through the news media (e.g., Casey, 2013). Other groups formed in the neighboring state of Michoacán, and across the country.
It also goes on to explain that, while some groups became corrupt and engaged in extortion for their “donations”, or took money from rival cartels, the government recognised and legalised some of the (apparently less corrupt) groups in 2014.

So the answer seems to be “sometimes, though extortion and drug money - but in many cases, through volunteers and local subscriptions, or through local business owners protecting their interests, or through remittances from community members abroad”.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 10:21 PM on September 15, 2019 [9 favorites]


I have no concrete reason to be skeptical. But, it's really hard not to be. It's just a little too Hollywood to believe and the implicit idea that cartels are so divorced from the communities in which they operate seems weird.

My impression (and I’m no expert, but I pay attention) is that the cartels used to be more embedded in their communities, a bit like the early Mafia or Triads. The turning point may have been when the Gulf Cartel hired Mexican Special Forces soldiers (beneficiaries, I think, of US counter-insurgency training) away from the army as a paramilitary arm. This substantially upped the violence in the late 90s and eroded community contacts as other cartels scrambled to keep up and the murder rate and extreme torture and violence skyrocketed. Meanwhile, fissures in cartels (including those paramilitaries breaking away to form their own cartel) led to cartels moving (or being driven into) new territories where they had fewer roots.

Cartel Land is a relatively recent documentary about, among other things, autodefensas in Michoacán, which were fairly successful is driving out one of the cartels. It’s not without problems, but it’s not a bad place to start.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:34 AM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


« Older WE CAME FOR THE SEANCE BUT WE STAYED FOR THE GUN...   |   Wild Nights with Harvard University Press Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments