Mexico is a country with a long history of men with weapons. In various historical episodes, weapons have been central to self-protection, fighting, settling accounts, and as a symbol of masculinity. However, since the war on drug trafficking was declared, the power generated by weapons has had disastrous effects on security and justice. Not only did the security apparatuses concentrate unrivaled military power, but also the drug cartels themselves, through arms trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, and illicit payments. In regions like Michoacán, the cartels imposed their rules by means of "plata" or "plomo," despite the militarization of security. When various sectors of the civilian population became tired of so much criminal and institutional violence, they took up arms to defend themselves. They integrated groups of armed civilians to expel authorities, police, and criminal groups from their localities. But militarization, the use of weapons by citizens, and criminal abuse formed an altarpiece of very complex social violence, which forces us to rethink the borders of paramilitarism, armed civilian groups, and organized crime. In this article I describe historical episodes of these men with weapons to focus on the meaning of paramilitarism in contexts of rebel governance. I propose that what was experienced in Michoacán during the heyday of groups of armed civilians was a type of disguised paramilitarism, which accounts for the transfigurations of the State when it cannot exercise force as it wished at the risk of being publicly exposed.


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pp. 148-165
Launched on MUSE
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