Friday, January 23, 2015

Today's Headlines: Michoacán's viceroy is packing it up and going home after a year and a week on the job. The mess remains behind.

Three papers lead with, and all front, the end of Alfredo Castillo’s 53-week reign as the federally appointed security commissioner in Michoacán. The development was summarized tersely in Excelsior’s top head: “Commissioner leaves Michoacán.”  For the federal government’s shaky effort to restore order in the troubled state, this removal marks a turning point — though toward what remains to be seen.
    Castillo came on the scene a year ago when Michoacán, infiltrated by organized crime at all levels of government and law enforcement, was beginning to be referred to as a “failed state” — a touch of word play on three meanings of “state.” With more than 6,000 federal troops deployed there, it was not a great leap at the time to designate a representative of the federal government to run things. Castillo was soon tagged with the moniker “viceroy.”
    It was understood that the state government was not up to the task. After a succession of left-leaning PRD governors, Michoacán came into the hands of the PRI’s Fausto Vallejo in February of 2012. Vallejo soon went on sick leave. His replacement was arrested and jailed for mob connections.
    When Vallejo came back, photos and videos began circulating of his son palling around with Servando Gómez, aka La Tuta, capo of the Knights Templar drug-trafficking gang responsible for a large percentage of Michoacan’s woes. The son was arrested and jailed.
    Vallejo stepped down permanently in June, citing health concerns. His appointed replacement is a figurehead whose name is seldom mentioned or remembered. (It’s Salvador Jara.) Castillo was in charge.
    A priority was the capture of La Tuta. Part of the strategy was to deputize members of the grassroots self-defense groups that had sprung up the year before, turning them into Rural Forces. The problem with that, it turned out, was that these groups too include a certain percentage of drug gang members.
    A year later, three top auto-defense group leaders, one governor and one governor’s son are behind bars. La Tuta isn’t.
    But Castillo wasn’t yanked for sub-par performance, at least not officially. The reason given yesterday by Interior (Gobernación) Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong for the action was “to avoid hindering the state electoral process that has gotten underway.”
    That’s why El Universal worded its lead head like this: “Castillo out of Michoacán for elections.” And Milenio like this: “Castillo’s exit is for safeguarding the elections: Osorio.”
    A question suggests itself: Why would the continued presence of a security commissioner in Michoacán hinder the elections for governor, schedule for June 7? Apparently none of the working press at the announcement in the state capital of Morelia yesterday thought of asking it, because it’s not answered in any of the articles.
    Osorio did say, however, that the three major party candidates for governor pushed to have the post dissolved, sooner rather than later. Which makes sense. They’re presumably not interested in running for a figurehead position subordinate to a Peña Nieto administration appointee.
    You’ll be hearing a lot about those three in the months ahead, by the way, as they vie for the unenviable task of leading the effort to clean up the state (assuming, perhaps naively, that that’s why they’re running).
    They are: José Ascensión Orihuela, a PRI senator;  the PRD’s Silvano Aureoles, who is taking another shot at the governorship after finishing third in the November 2011 race; and Luisa María Calderón of the PAN, who finished a close second last time. Yes, she’s the sister of former President Felipe Calderón, who first sent troops to Michoacán (his home state) shortly after taking office in December of 2006.

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