Santa Ana Michoacanos Vs. the Templarios

Santa Ana residents are helping to wage a secret war against one of Mexico's most ruthless drug cartels—and they're winning

Santa Ana Michoacanos Vs. the Templarios
Illustration: Petatiux | Design: Dustin Ames

Para leer este artículo en español, visite nuestra página de Internet en www.ocweekly.com.

A simple arch greets everyone who visits El Limón de la Luna, a village in the central Mexican state of Michoacán located in a region known as the Tierra Caliente—the Hot Land.

"Bienvenidos al Limon de la Luna" ("Welcome to the Lime of the Moon"), say the words welded to the curved metal frame, which stretches across a two-lane road leading into town. The lime trees that grow on both sides of the highway complement the greeting with their dark-green leaves that look almost black in the fading light of day. During the harvest season, the ripe fruits—so juicy they gave the town its ethereal name—get picked and sent across Mexico.

Hans-Máximo Musielik/Courtesy Vice Mexico
A self-defense member in the aftermath of a confrontation with Los Caballeros Templarios during the takeover of Parácuaro, Michoacán
Hans-Máximo Musielik/Courtesy Vice Mexico
A self-defense member in the aftermath of a confrontation with Los Caballeros Templarios during the takeover of Parácuaro, Michoacán

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This bucolic entrance is a familiar sight to many residents in Santa Ana, the unofficial capital of the michoacano diaspora in Southern California for the past 40 years. El Limón nowadays only counts about 300 residents, a population that significantly increases come winter, when caravans of expats make the 28-hour drive from Orange County to their ancestral home for Christmas break. But last year, the rancho's message of goodwill attracted unwelcome guests who didn't arrive with the same intentions as homesick paisanos looking for a respite from the tough life of El Norte.

A drug cartel called Los Caballeros Templarios (the Knights Templar) had built a stronghold in Apatzingán, a city of about 90,000, gaining control through a campaign of terror and intimidation. The cartel's tentacles spread quickly to the smaller outlying ranchos, including El Limón de la Luna, where it became an occupying army that exerted its authority with ruthless efficiency. The proof is in a photo a group of michoacanos at a bar in Santa Ana discuss in hushed tones, one that illustrates the violence plaguing their families and friends still living there.

Some of the men helped to raise funds among limoneros in Orange County to pay for the arch. A man pulls up the photograph on his iPhone and shows it to me. Four people are hanging from the arch, each with hands tied in front, feet dangling above the asphalt road. One is a pregnant woman whose husband and 19-year-old sister were hanged next to her, suffering the same long, agonizing death at the hands of amateur hangmen. The fourth victim is a man whose pants are pulled down around his ankles and his underwear yanked down to mid-thigh. A newspaper is attached to his head, suggesting that someone did not like comments—probably critical of the Templarios—attributed to him in an article.

The decision to use the arch for the executions appeared to be deliberate. It seemed the narcos saw gallows humor in El Limón de la Luna's warm welcome to all and were sending a warning to others thinking about opposing them: You're welcome to challenge us—but we'll have the last laugh. It wouldn't be the first or last time the cartel had used the arch to send what Mexican papers call a narcomensaje, a narco message; there have been at least two other hangings from the arch, resulting in the murders of four men.

"So, you see, this is why we can't give you our real names if we talk to you," says the man with the iPhone, pointing to the photo. "If I say one wrong word and my name appears in the newspaper, it would be my family in Michoacán who will suffer. Do you think I want to see a picture of my father or brother hanging from the arch?"

Another man tells of family members who were stopped at a road checkpoint set up by cartel gunmen outside of Apatzingán and forced to pay a tax for owning a car. His friend adds that his brother's parked car was shot full of holes by Templarios "who were looking for a way to entertain themselves."

The details they provided were purposely sketchy. Giving too much information could identify their families in Michoacán, putting them at risk of retaliation by Templario sicarios (assassins). And giving too many details away would also expose the remarkable revolution these men and their fellow michoacanos have supported and instigated after deciding enough was enough.

In response to the Templarios' menace, thousands of residents in Tierra Caliente about a year ago began forming self-defense groups known as autodefensas, armed themselves and attacked the cartel, slowly driving narcos out of their towns in a series of bloody skirmishes that included house-to-house fighting. In los Estados Unidos, Michoacán natives began raising funds across the diaspora to help. Some even left their lives here to go back to Tierra Caliente and fight—not just men born and raised there, but even their Americanized children. It was an uprising that captured the hearts of Mexicans at home and abroad, is inspiring similar uprisings in other Mexican states shackled under narcoviolence, and embarrassed the administration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who recently tried to save face by announcing he was incorporating the autodefensas within the Mexican military.

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47 comments
mutunus69
mutunus69

Most people mistake this to be a Mexican problem.  It is not, the problem is precipitated by American drug money and American made weapons.  The sooner Americans learn and accept it, the closer we will be to a solution.  And, as far as military boots on the ground, it's been done in Columbia, Panama, etc.  It can, and should happen in Mexico.   My thoughts and prayers with the Autodefensa.

Feevahs
Feevahs

i can only pray the autodefensas continue to uphold these ideals and their successes continue unhindered. I can say without a doubt that these groups have overwhelming support from the american public, not just native michoacanos or even just hispanics, this type of righteous fight is deeply rooted in the american way of thinking and we would eagerly join our brothers south of the border to fight the good fight, even if we would get sunburned crispy in the process. 

madilyneh
madilyneh

Well done Gustavo. Real local news, history, info and journalism... and heros.

Paul Mendez
Paul Mendez

It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees

Pencotron
Pencotron

Does anyone believe that the cartels have survived this long without help from the Mexican government?  The registration of the weapons of the Autodefencas will be the first step for the corrupt government to disband them or worse.

Kiki Camacho
Kiki Camacho

Viva el pueblo. Unido, jamás será vencido.

P Verdin Jimenez
P Verdin Jimenez

God Bless this "AUTODEFENSAS" & thank them for helping and defending the Catholic Church along with defending themselves!..about time

Ask a Mexican
Ask a Mexican

Not necessarily true—en unos pueblos en Michoacán, no dejaron a Komander o la hija de unos de los Templarios tocar.

Dawn Ramirez
Dawn Ramirez

Christ Christ Christ. Thank you for this article.

Sam Rodriguez
Sam Rodriguez

i would not be surprised if the Mexican govt. and police are in cahoots with the cartels including our DEA. the flow of drugs is driven by greed, profits and politics.

Arturo Acevedo
Arturo Acevedo

You should add that those autodefensas have already started aligning with the government. What was interesting about those groups -at the beginning- was precisely that they were independent; they did not have all the vicious that Mexican police and even the military has. Therefore, the autodefensas will end as a kind of rural police that little by little will be eaten by the same corruption practices that have rotted the official security groups.

Steven Ferris
Steven Ferris

Rafael Sandra Floy Julia Felipe Mercedes Gayde Guillermo Cristian Eileen encontré éstas buenas noticias de Michoacán. saludos, amigos.

Daniel Castor
Daniel Castor

Pero alrato andan con sus narco-corridos, cantandole y bailandole a las canciones que glorifica esos mismos que esta causando tanto terror a la gente Mexicana.

Cezario Miranda
Cezario Miranda

La raza I'd rather die on my feet then live on my knees. ( Zapata )

El Chato
El Chato

Viva la Raza.. They are finally waking up, and taking what's theirs back!

Gerardo Robles
Gerardo Robles

That's what's up. Pretty soon all of Southern California will start doing that as a way of ending police corruption

sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

ahahahahahaa


Obamas voting strategy paying off big time


hey dem voters who actually care about their lives and property


cant wait, can you for those cartels to move in 


ahahahaha

hangobamanow
hangobamanow

"Bienvenidos al Limon de la Luna" ("Welcome to the Lime of the Moon")"

Dear Fake Bilingual Person: a 'Limón' is a lemon. A lime is a 'Lima'.

I know, I know ..it STILL doesn't make sense. That's Mexican "Spanish" for you!

Bestias.

Maher-Sawaf
Maher-Sawaf

well, that is a debatable statement. The act of strife will not lead to a happy ending every time!


However, I am happy for the people of Mexico. 

brownout
brownout

@sweetliberty17761776 I can't wait for drugs to be legalized, and for those cartels to starve to death. And yeah, I'm gonna keep voting Democrat until someone else comes up with new domestic policy ideas other than trying to keep the brown people out.

Feevahs
Feevahs

@Maher-Sawaf  not in the slightest, with the sun on his back and his wounds to the fore, every man should die on his feet.

sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

@brownout


If you have to lie you must not really believe in your own position


the gop is NOT against brown people coming in


LEGALLY


or are you admitting that the Dems want people here illegally cause they never admitted to that,,in words



so if you base your foundation on a lie, then that means your life is a lie


think about it

targetmedia
targetmedia

We've had that discussion in my house my wife told me to get Limons and when I bring home lemons she screams at me asking me why I didn't bring home limes :)

Feevahs
Feevahs

@Maher-Sawaf @Feevahs this is not a charging offensive to change the world that is twisted for the ends of the loudest group, or a lofty ideali hijacked for the gains of a few opportunists. the idea is the defense of your home against those who would corrupt it, the idea is "i'm from here, i didn't come here". the idea is fixing your home so your brothers dont die, your sisters are not raped, your family does not have to be destroyed. if the goals are accomplished and the bloodbath continues, then your goals were not accomplished were they?




and yes sir, dying on your feet in defense of your home is one of the most honorable, and beautiful, things on this earth.

Maher-Sawaf
Maher-Sawaf

@Feevahs @Maher-Sawaf  People believe in a noble idea they improvise they work they put their lives on stake they achieve something then the idea gets bigger more people join with different interests the clash intensifies it gets uglier people start to lose family members killed brothers raped sisters it gets complicated No Turning Back. other people will start to invest in your life they put money on your death The Idea starts to crack the legitimate strife turns into a circus and the bloodbath continues................

dying on your feet is not that beautiful, is it? 

sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

@brownout  


The Obama administration has unilaterally eased restrictions on asylum seekers with loose or 


incidental ties to terror and insurgent groups, in a move one senator called "deeply alarming." 


The change, approved by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Secretary of 


State John Kerry, was announced Wednesday in the 


Federal Register. It would allow some individuals who provided "limited material support" to terror groups to be considered for entry into the U.S

sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

@brownout  

you said you vote for (dems) cause thats who wants the illegals to come in as shown by their actions


of course (whites ) people who are either educated or speak the language have an easier time


my original post stands true

brownout
brownout

I don't claim to represent the Democrats or anyone but myself. That being said, you're either completely uninformed in regards to the immigration process, or you're not being entirely honest yourself. I have a good friend who emigrated legally from Peru, and the process took over ten years. There's much more of a backlog coming from Mexico, whereas people who wish to emigrate from countries that tend to run a little whiter, coincidentally, sail through the system in spite of the fact that there are more European illegal immigrants than there are from south of the border.

 
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