Knights Templar Drug Cartel Burns Michoacan, Western State in Mexico
LA RUANA, Mexico — The farm state of Michoacan is burning. A drug cartel that takes its name from an ancient monastic order has set fire to lumber yards, packing plants and passenger buses in a medieval-like reign of terror.
The Knights Templar cartel is extorting protection payments from cattlemen, lime growers and businesses such as butchers, prompting some communities to fight back, taking up arms in vigilante patrols.
Lime picker Alejandro Ayala chose to seek help from the law instead. After the cartel forced him out of work by shutting down fruit warehouses, he and several dozen co-workers, escorted by Federal Police, met on April 10 with then-state Interior Secretary Jesus Reyna, now the acting governor of the state in western Mexico.
The 41-year-old father of two only wanted to get back to work, said his wife, Martha Elena Murguia Morales.
But, as often, the cartel responded before the government did.
On the way back, his convoy was ambushed, twice. Ayala and nine others were killed.
“I called him after the first one, and he said, `They shot at us, but I’m OK,’” Murguia Morales said. “Then I called him again, and he didn’t answer.”
The heart of a conflict where a mafia openly rules and the government is largely absent is nowhere more evident than in the lime groves that cover the hot, hilly plains, miles and miles of trees with the fruit yellowing and falling into uncollected heaps on the ground.