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Mexican Priests Fight Back Against Drug Cartel And Corrupt Officials

Despite overwhelming odds and the threat of death, the country's clergy have risen up to combat violence and corruption on both sides of the drug war.

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Vigilantes in Nueva Italia. Photo via

By McCarton Ackerman

01/22/14

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As Mexico’s Michoacan province continues to slip into the hands of the feared drug cartel known as Knights Templar, local priests are now trying to fight back against violence and corruption plaguing the area. Armed vigilantes have taken control of 15 townships within the province and the cartel has transformed the region into a major production center for meth, marijuana, and cocaine.

As tensions between drug gangs and local police are at an all-time high, priests are speaking out against the corruption and encouraging others to fight back. "I am calling on the people to rise up with what dignity, shame and balls they have left," said Apatzingán priest Father Gregorio López to The Guardian. "If the horse doesn't want to move, you have to use your spurs."

Last February, a group of locals fought back with violence against the Knights Templar, expelling the cartel and their police protectors. The violence has continued for nearly a full year, prompting interior minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong to send federal troops last week in an attempt to quell the bloodshed. The minister has ordered the vigilantes to disarm themselves, but they refuse to do so because they fear it will leave them vulnerable to attacks from the cartel.

Bishop Miguel Patino Velazquez said that he sided with the vigilantes and believes the government is just as guilty because the “[cartel] leaders are fully identified and yet no one stops them.” Local parish priest Andres Larios Chavez believes that “the government and the Templars are the same thing. The campaigns of the state officials are financed by them. Instead of disarming the criminal organization, it went into towns that finally had some peace and tried to disarm the self-defense groups.”

Watch how bulletproof vests have become part of a priest's regular wardrobe:


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