Mexico's Dark War

Tens of thousands of people have been killed since 2006 when Mexico’s then-President Calderon started an all-out push to subdue the country’s powerful organized crime groups. Frequent news reports of horrific violence led to the perception of Mexico as one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

Although clashes between Mexico’s security forces and criminals resulted in many casualties, most of the dead fell in an all-out turf war amongst the criminal gangs competing for drug smuggling corridors. For a while, most ordinary citizens could pretend that this war had nothing to do with them. However, when the cartels expanded their operations into oil theft, kidnappings and extortion, a feeling of civilian unease descended upon the country.

Since coming to power in late 2012, the Peña Nieto government has tried to focus attention on Mexico’s economic achievements, but the brutal murder of 43 students in Iguala, Guerrero, on September 26, 2014 put the issue of violence and impunity firmly back on the forefront. The massacre led to widespread revulsion and mass demonstrations by fed-up citizens. In the nearly lawless states of Guerrero and Michoacán, locals took security into their own hands by forming self defense forces that aimed to expel organized crime groups from their communities. These controversial efforts are ongoing to this day.

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Members of a private Mexican family's professional security team travel behind their boss's car, poised for potential action. As a result of Mexico's persistent violence, many of the country's elites choose to take protection into their own hands, by hiring private security teams and bodyguards.
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A professional security team winds through narrow streets at night in Mexico, following their boss, José, in his Ferrari, to make sure no incident occurs. The bodyguards maintain constant communication and close proximity to their "principal" at all times. As a result of Mexico's persistent violence, many of the country's elites choose to take protection into their own hands, by hiring private security forces.
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Jose's brother's wife greets guests at her civil wedding, minutes after becoming officially married. The event took place at a luxurious private setting. Bodyguards from various elite families flanked the garden's perimeter. Only a few guards stood closer in, allowing the family to enjoy more privacy during their intimate family event.
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José's daughter prepares to attend her "princess" themed birthday party while one of her personal security guards stands on alert at the beauty salon. The guard stayed outside at first but moved inside after seeing a suspicious person enter the outdoor restaurant next door. Each family member has security accompanying them at all times outside the home, since they are most vulnerable to kidnappers while out in public.
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Police secure a crime scene after an ambush on the outskirts of Ciudad Juárez left one suspected drug trafficker dead and another severely wounded. As the latter was being transported to the hospital, his enemies caught up with the ambulance and finished him off.
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a volunteer citizen police member holds up a bone fragment found during a dig for human remains on the outskirts of Iguala, Mexico. Remains found in nearly a dozen secret burial sites near Iguala are being tested as part of a hunt for 43 students who disappeared in September, 2014, an episode that has only underscored the severity of Mexico’s organized crime crisis.
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Wearing his signature black sombrero, Dr. José Manuel Mireles gives a motivational speech to residents in Tancitaro, days after the town, located in the mountains of Mexico's Michoacan state, liberated itself from the oppressive drug cartel that calls itself the Knights Templars. Mireles leads a movement to unify and assist self defense vigilantes to protect themselves against the cartel and drive all criminals out of their communities. Each day, he visits liberated towns like Tancitaro and motivates others to stand up to the cartel. CREDIT - Janet Jarman for The Wall Street Journal MICHOACAN
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Municipal police savor night training exercises taught by Israeli foreign security experts. They said it was the first type of training like this (live fire inside houses) they had ever experienced.
MAVACADOS - AUTO DEFENSE GROUPS
Auto defense group members in Mexico's Michoacan state stop vehicles on an isolated mountain road at high noon, while their comrades search nearby wooded areas, in an effort to secure the area before taking over another village in the state's Tierra Caliente zone. Since they became organized under the leadership of Dr. José Manuel Mireles last February, auto defense  groups have seized control of nearly 70 villages and hamlets, their end goal being to drive organized crime groups out of the state. Auto defense groups are proliferating throughout Mexico.
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Armed with poles, machetes, and whatever items that can be used as weapons, young community police force members stand guard at a checkpoint near Tancitaro, a town high in the mountains of Mexico's Michoacan state, where thousands of local residents banded together recently to rid their town of members of a threatening drug cartel that calls itself the Knights Templars.
MAVACADOS - AUTO DEFENSE GROUPS
As dusk falls, armed young men who are members of auto defense groups in Mexico's Michoacan state operate checkpoints along an isolated part of the state's Tierra Caliente zone, where the groups have recently taken over numerous small villages in their fight to push out the criminals which they claim have threatened their families and their livelihoods for more than a decade. Since they became organized under the leadership of Dr. José Manuel Mireles last February, auto defense  groups have seized control of nearly 70 villages and hamlets, their end goal being to drive organized crime groups out of the state. Auto defense groups are proliferating throughout Mexico.
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A suspected Knights Templar member lies dead after a firefight on the outskirts of Parácuaro, a town located in the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacán. The town was controlled by the Knights Templar organized crime cartel. In January, 2014, self defense forces took control of Parácuaro, in their march towards Apatzingan, the alleged headquarter of the Knights Templar. The federal government, afraid of the situation getting out of control, stepped in when the self defense forces reached the outskirts of Apatzingán. An uneasy truce was called between the army and the vigilantes.
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Members of Mexican self defense forces man a barricade outside Parácuaro, a town located in the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacán. The town was controlled by the Knights Templar organized crime cartel until self defense forces ousted them and took control of the town in January, 2014, in their march towards Apatzingan, the alleged headquarter of the Knights Templar. The federal government, afraid of the situation getting out of control, stepped in when the self-defense forces reached the outskirts of Apatzingán. An uneasy truce was called between the army and the vigilantes.
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A young boy marvels at weapons carried by self defense force members who came to give a motivational speech in the town of Pareo, Michoacan, where residents last year banded together to throw out members of a drug cartel that calls itself the Knights Templar. Self defense groups seized control of dozens of towns in Michoacan before reaching an uneasy truce with the government to become part of the state's rural police. Similar self defense groups are proliferating throughout Mexico.
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Maria José Pérez , 4, gazes curiously from the roadside, while police officers prepare to inspect a liquor store for suspicious activity. Jalapa’s police force was nearly nonexistent until a new mayor started to build a police force from scratch in 2011. Residents felt relieved but sometimes perplexed when new trucks filled with police would pass through their rural villages.
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In a course taught by two freelance Israeli security experts, Jalapa police officers and recruits learn how to storm a bus during hostage rescue training exercise. Whereas bus hijacking is not the most likely situation they may encounter near Jalapa, kidnapping does occur. Throughout the state, organized crime has proliferated. Wealthy agricultural producers and cattle ranchers are prominent targets.