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Mexico’s Avocado Capital Launches New Paramilitary Unit

The super specialized municipal police force will protect the territory from the return of the Knights Templar.
Photo by Juan José Estrada Serafín

In some communities, the disappearance of the autodefensas can reactivate a surge of violence.

For this reason, the residents of Tancítaro — a town located in the western area of Michoacán, considered by Mexicans the “authentic” world capital of avocados — will launch a super–specialized municipal police force within the next few weeks to protect the territory from the return of the Knights Templar cartel.


Watch VICE News' documentary Fighting Mexico's Knights Templar Cartel here.

The Cuerpos de Seguridad Pública de Tancítaro (Tancítaro Public Security Corps) will be a highly–trained elite policing unit with modern equipment.

In spite of its name, the new militia is not a public entity, given that it is 45 percent financed by the regional avocado producers, something that defines it more as a paramilitary group than a public force.

A few months ago, Tancítaro was under the control of the cartel that was operating in Michoacán — the Knights Templar, who controlled the region’s agricultural production.

In Photos: Mexico’s autodefensas lay down their arms. See the pictures here.

They were primarily drawn to the avocado production, due to the millions in earnings that result from the cultivation and export of the fruit, which is predominately shipped to the United States.

“The avocado producers wanted security, but that is expensive, and if they wanted the police force trained — well you have to invest money,” Salvador Torres, municipal president of Tancítaro, told VICE News. “Because the police are going to face actual criminals who are sometimes better equipped.”

Municipal authorities claim they contributed $618,000 to initiate the project, while the avocado producers contributed $540,000, to avoid being extorted.

“I told them that Tancítaro’s next police force would need to be different, to be a police force that is really trained and that is local — that we never again bring on more police from other areas,” Torres said.


Residents originally intended for the municipal police to be comprised of members of the autodefensa groups, but they were not qualified.

New rural police force emerges after the death of Mexico's autodefensas. Read more here.

The mayor of Tancítaro asked a federal agent, Julio Cabral, to train the members of the old police corps and to develop them into a modern municipal police force.

More than 100 men and women, between the ages of 18 and 35, started the registration process to become part of the new militia.

The course started with only 50 potential recruits, and of those, only 32 were accepted.

“The intention is to keep the best” Torres told VICE News.

Cabral told VICE News that the goal is to have at least 90 members of the Tancítaro municipal police for the first phase of the project.

Mexican "autodefensa" were founded to protect citizens from drug cartel violence. Now they too have descended into bloodshed. Read more here.

The primary requirement for joining the municipal Police is that they must be from Tancítaro or have lived in the town for at least ten years.

They were also subjected to physical, psychological, medical, and academic tests.

With all of the requirements met, an individual selection process took place with the participation of residents, avocado producers, local politicians, municipal authorities and even the local autodefensa group’s advisers.

Torres said the final project “involved integral training — so that the police would not be repressive, would have a human spirit, a spirit of permanency and belonging — but it also required a significant investment.”

The military training that is being conducted for the upcoming municipal police force, in collaboration with the Federal Police, is to last three to four months.

Apart from the physical preparation, the future elite police force of Tancítaro are also trained by lawyers from the largest scholarly institution in the country, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), to obtain knowledge about the judicial boundaries, while specialists are training them on human rights issues.

As of June, the 32 new members of the municipal police will begin to operate in the city, and another open call will take place gather together the 90 members of the police who are needed in the region to complete the force.