They hung a banner beside the roadway: "Gentlemen of the federal police and the Mexican army, we would prefer to die at your hands, than at those of these stupid, stinking scum," it said, referring to the cartel.
A healthy dose of skepticism remained about the chances of success for sending the army into Michoacan — a tactic that then-President Felipe Calderon used to launch his offensive against drug cartels in 2006.
The Michoacan-based Knights Templar is, by all accounts, at least as strong today as its predecessor cartel, the La Familia gang, was in 2006. Instead of attacking the cartel's strongholds in nearby cities like Apatzingan, the troops are fighting a sort of rear-guard action, protecting towns outside the main urban areas without going to the root of the problem.
Rafael Garcia Zamora, mayor of Coalcoman, a town largely cut off from the outside world after it formed its own self-defense force last week, said residents welcomed the arrival of troops, but worried the force might soon leave again and expose the town to the cartel's wrath.
"We don't doubt their ability," he said of the army. "But we need them to help us" root out the criminals and not let the cartel continue to grow.
"The government should have mobilized the army to do this 10 or 12 years ago," Garcia Zamora said.
"We have had temporary raids, with three or four thousand soldiers, but they come and they leave. And you know what? Every time after there is a raid, severed heads show up," he said, referring to drug cartel retaliation against those who help the army.
"People have the courage to speak up, but that has its consequences," he said.
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