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

But the michoacano community in Santa Ana isn't celebrating just yet. Rumors abound about cartel gunmen and spies infiltrating the local community to gather names of people who criticize or denounce the Templarios. The New York Times reported that residents of Apatzingán are equally mistrustful, quoting a government official who said one does not know who the cartel's spies are until you cross them.

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When local michoacanos discuss the war at home, they speak in whispers about "los problemas" or "las cosas" (the things), reminiscent of the Irish referring to sectarian strife in Northern Ireland as "The Troubles." The word Templario is not mentioned in public, at least not above a whisper, lest it attract attention from one of the cartel's spies, whom michoacanos are convinced are everywhere.

A mother and her children from Churumuco make their way through the self-defense forces, who have just taken over the town
Hans-Máximo Musielik/Courtesy Vice Mexico
A mother and her children from Churumuco make their way through the self-defense forces, who have just taken over the town
An autodefensa points his AK-47 at the cross of the Knights Templar, taken from a roadside chapel over a rotunda dedicated to the founder of La Familia Michoacana
Hans-Máximo Musielik/Courtesy Vice Mexico
An autodefensa points his AK-47 at the cross of the Knights Templar, taken from a roadside chapel over a rotunda dedicated to the founder of La Familia Michoacana

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A man who was approached at his business waved me away and shook his head when I asked if I could talk to him about the war back home. He turned around and disappeared into a back room. After agreeing to talk to the Weekly, another man recanted after discussing his decision to go public with friends who also hail from Tierra Caliente.

"I've changed my mind and am asking you to please forget everything I've told you," he said in a frantic telephone call the following day. "My friends are right. If my name appears in the paper, there's no telling what the narcos could do. And they're also right that I'll be putting my wife and kids in harm's way if I speak out, even if we live here. I can be punished for speaking the truth."

The Michoacán grapevine says Templarios live in the San Bernardino County town of Hesperia and in Riverside County in Mira Loma and Riverside. They have also been spotted in Santa Ana, eating at restaurants favored by michoacanos.

"People know who they are. They may have changed their names, but they can't change their appearance and their past," says one man. Asked why he and the others do not report them to authorities, he says they are afraid of getting tagged as police informants and putting loved ones in Michoacán at risk of retribution by the cartel. Here, as in Tierra Caliente, the best way to avoid the Templarios' wrath is by taking the Sergeant Schultz approach, as another man says: "Miras, pero dices, 'Yo no vi.'" ("You look, but say, 'I saw nothing.'")

The men's fears are real. Authorities say that some of the methamphetamine smuggled into Southern California is controlled by the Templarios, and Michoacán is the source of the drug. In 2010, federal agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) were investigating another cartel's activities in San Diego County and were surprised to learn about the Templarios. The investigation quickly branched out to target Templarios, too. After an almost two-year investigation called Operation Knight Stalker, agents secured 30 arrest warrants for members of La Familia Michoacana and Templario cartels throughout Southern California in December 2012. Arrests were made in Santa Ana, Buena Park, Riverside, Perris, Downey and Los Angeles, as well as in San Diego County and as far north as Manteca.

According to DEA Special Agent Amy Roderick, the investigation is ongoing. "These are dangerous and scary people," she says. "That's why we're going after them."

Various drug cartels have fought over Michoacán for much of the past decade, but the brutality practiced by the Templarios has shocked even Mexicans. They're a splinter group from La Familia Michoacana (The Michoacán Family), notorious for making beheadings a normal part of cartel mayhem. After the Mexican Federal Police killed La Familia's founders, group infighting resulted in the formation of the Templarios, who won their internecine battle in 2011 to become heir to La Familia's medieval initiation rituals and ultraviolence. After successfully taking over Michoacán's bigger cities, they turned their attention to Tierra Caliente. It's a geographic and cultural zone covering parts of Michoacán and the neighboring state of Guerrero rich in agriculture and natural resources. In the Mexican psyche, it plays the same role as the Ozarks or Appalachia does for Americans: a region of stunning beauty, crushing poverty and fiercely independent people.

The Templarios took on Tierra Caliente as the German Army did the Soviet Union in World War II, killing, burning and looting with impunity. Upon taking power, they began subjecting residents to increasing extortion. Protection money was demanded; when that wasn't enough, the Templarios began asking for taxes on everything from land to crops picked to even wages. They occupied avocado groves and lime orchards, forcing their owners to sell their farms for a pittance. Sexual assaults and human trafficking became common. Cartel members intimidated terrified residents into silence; those who dared speak out saw their cars and homes burned—if they were lucky.

The crisis reached a climax when the Templarios' chokehold on the towns and governing bodies in Tierra Caliente began to affect the area's main economic crops, limes and avocados, as well as threatened the livelihood of just about everybody living there. More crucial, the remittances by immigrants—long a lifeline that sustained long-abandoned ranchos such as El Limón de la Luna—dried up completely. Transfer services were suspected of being Templario fronts, so michoacanos in Santa Ana said they had to send money to Bancomer branches in faraway towns to ensure the safety of their loved ones; this precaution sometimes required two- or three-hour round trips. Even this was fraught with danger: Those who received money were immediately identified by Templarios as locals with connections to the United States. Kidnappings for ransom began to occur.

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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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