How A Lime Grower Led An Uprising Against One of Mexico’s Bloodiest Cartels
IT WAS WINTER in the pocket of Mexico known as Tierra Caliente, the Hot Land. The sky was cloudless and the sun’s rays were casting flickering reflections off the convoy coming into focus: two behemoth SUVs, one black, one silver, passengers invisible behind tinted windows, a police pickup bringing up the rear. The vehicles kicked up clouds of dust as they pulled to a stop. The doors swung open. Boots, shoes, and sandals connected with the dirt. More than half a dozen well-armed men, and one woman, stepped out.
They weren’t the most imposing gunslingers in the world. Most wore basic navy blue polo shirts with white screen-printed badges on the chest. Some were middle-aged with considerable bellies lapping over their belts. Still, their firepower — mostly AR-15 assault rifles — was considerable. Several wore bulletproof vests strapped with ammunition. One of the men, the fittest of the bunch, dressed in khaki cargo pants with dark wraparound sunglasses and a sidearm strapped to his hip, had the swagger of an American military contractor escorting some important diplomat in a foreign war.
The martial demeanor made sense. Guard duty was exactly what the group was doing. Their cargo stepped out of an armored Chevrolet: a short, stocky man, 60 years old, with a close-cropped gray beard and a white Panama hat. His name was Hipólito Mora Chávez. In 2013, he kicked off an armed citizens’ rebellion against a cult-like drug cartel in his home state of Michoacán, the geographic launching point on Mexico’s Pacific coast for much of the methamphetamine trafficked to the United States.
They called themselves autodefensas, self-defense groups. For a moment, their uprising was Mexico’s biggest story. For some, they symbolized a courageous effort on the part of ordinary citizens to accomplish what the government was unable or unwilling to do, dismantling a notorious criminal organization that had terrorized the Hot Land for years. For others, they were unaccountable vigilantes representing a dangerous slide into anarchic chaos.
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