First cartels, now vigilantes target Mexico mines – by Agence France-Presse (Global Post – February 25, 2014)

Dozens of trucks carry iron ore out of a mine in western Mexico, spinning dust into the air as they barrel past a guard booth peppered with scores of bullet holes.

The pockmarks are the scars of darker days, when the mine in the town of Aguililla, Michoacan state, was under the yoke of the Knights Templar drug cartel, which extorted the business.

The gang was chased out of town, but the mine still has to pay outsiders. The mine now forks out “compensation” to a vigilante movement which celebrated on Monday the first anniversary of a revolt that has driven the gang out of Aguililla and around 20 other towns in Michoacan.

The civilian militias say the mines are helping to finance their cause against the cult-like cartel which was deeply entrenched in Michoacan’s economy and terrorized the community through extortion, kidnappings and murder. Farmers and ranchers are also making donations to the militias that have liberated their towns.

An executive for a foreign mining company who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons told AFP that payments of “$3 or $4” per tonne of iron ore are made to the vigilante movement.

Vigilante leaders, who describe the payments as “support” or “compensation,” said $2 per tonne of iron ore goes into the coffers of the movement’s Self-Defense Council, a sum that could total $4 million this year.

– Pay to ‘survive’ –

“They don’t give us money to kill people, or steal, or extort people — none of that,” former Aguililla mayor Adalberto Fructuoso, who leads the town’s militia, told AFP.

The money is used to “survive and get them (Knights Templar) out of here.”

The main spokesman for the movement, Estanislao Beltran, said a deal was made for the mines to give up only a “tiny part” of their profits.

Some are not thrilled about the payments, voicing doubts that they can be considered “aid.”

“It is not aid because we are not contributing whatever we want,” said the owner of a mine in Michoacan’s Sierra Costa region.

Federal authorities are investigating cartel extortion claims, a Michoacan government security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

But the federal intelligence service is also looking into whether “the companies finance the self-defenses in order to reduce the illegal extraction of minerals by organized crime,” the official said.

– Exporting to China –

The government deployed more than 9,000 troops and federal police in Michoacan’s Tierra Caliente (Hot Land) region last month after new gunfights erupted between the cartel and vigilantes.

Michoacan is known as Mexico’s lime-and-avocado heartland, but it is also the country’s top producer of iron ore, extracting four million tonnes in 2012, or 27 percent of national output, according to the economy ministry.

The Knights Templar gang snatched the underground riches to diversify its business, which includes the production of crystal meth and extortion rackets against fruit growers, tortilla makers and municipal officials.

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