A fearless Declaration of Independence in Michoacán
Community police leaders appeared with Michoacán governor Fausto Vallejo (fourth from right) and federal security commissioner Alfredo Castillo (second from right) on Jan. 27, to announce a formal agreement between the autodefensas and state and federal authorities. Now it may all be history.
Less than 60 days after the PRI administration of president Enrique Peña Nieto announced an accord with Michoacán's troublesome policías comunitarias, militia leaders said yesterday "the deal is off."
Through spokesman José Manuel Mireles, the General Council of Michoacán Autodefensas said it was separating itself from the federal government, which it accused of betraying the civilian militia movement by arresting a key local leader last week on murder charges.
The Council claims to represent autodefensas in 27 of Michoacán's 113 counties. The heavily armed militias are engaged in a take no prisoners war with the prevailing organized crime group in the region, Los Caballeros Templarios, which has been greatly weakened in recent months. The government has alleged some of them received their weapons from a competing group in neighboring Jalisco state, the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG). Last week Mexican press sources reported that several militia leaders have criminal records in this country and the United State, for drug trafficking and other offenses. One of those is Hipólito Mora, the autodefensas leader now in custody for two homicides, and another is Mireles himself.
Mireles' 12 minute statement announcing the break was uploaded to YouTube. He said the militias have a constitutional right to protect citizens from criminals, and charged the government has failed to do so. "We have two choices: defender ourselves, or sacrifice ourselves." And he said that despite recent tensions between some factions, they are now united in their mission of community policing.
"We were born of the people a little more than a year ago," said Mireles, "people who were fed up with being the victims of murder and extortion. We've said from the very beginning, we're not against the government, we're against the criminals. We've tried to help federal security forces as they face a very difficult task in this state. But now we have no other choice than to reconstitute ourselves."
"All of us learned in school that the State belongs to the people," said Mireles. "We are the people, and Michoacán belongs to us. But here there is no government. We made the decision to protect ourselves with our own hands, using our own resources." Mireles referred to the French Revolution, and argued that the autodefensas are doing nothing more than other generations have done in other societies, "to protect their natural human rights, including the right to liberty, security and freedom from oppression." He cited the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"The federal government called us allies [in January] and appeared beside us in photos, all with the purpose of convincing the people that Michoacán is well under control," Mireles said in his statement. Referring to Mora's arrest, he added, "but now they want to do the same to us, they want to terrorize us, they want to annihilate us."
"In Michoacán the Templarios still govern. Daily life has changed for us - for the worse. Now both the Templarios and the government are after us - the army, the marines, the federal police," said Mireles. "But we autodefensas are surging all over Mexico. It is the right of the people, the duty of citizens, to take up arms and form a national guard for the defense of the Republic and its institutions."
In his most ominous statement Mireles said, "Public power belongs to the people, for their common welfare. At all times they maintain the inherent right to change their form of government. Mexico is ours, not the government's. This is our state. This is our land. This is our heaven, where our parents and our families are buried. We ask only for the minimum: the right to live, to work, and the right to defend ourselves. Not all of us wanted to become police officers in life, but all of us consider ourselves soldiers in the service of the national guard. And there will be no turning back."
On Friday afternoon president Peña Nieto appeared in Uruapan, Michoacán alongside enthusiastic avocado producers, to announce his support for the hard hit agricultural industry, the state's primary economy. But he made no reference to the autodefensas, despite Mora's arrest and a statement the same day by the chairman of Mexico's Human Rights Commission that the militias are "outside the law, and a danger which must be attended to."
On Jan. 27 the administration announced in Morelia that a joint state-federal agreement had been reached with the autodefensas. The plan was to ultimately merge them into a legitimate Michoacán Rural Defense Corps. But as the militias gained ground on the Templarios and demonstrated their muscle, they began to fight among themselves and jockey for power in the long troubled state. Yesterday's announcement suggests the situation is about to worsen, as the militias draw a line in the sand and dare Mexico City to cross it. Michoacán security accord more of the same old song.
Mar. 17 - In a radio interview this morning, Mireles tried to distance himself from the statements he made just 48 hours before (clip below). Few will believe today's weak "clarification," which is entirely inconsistent with the electronic manifesto Mireles published Saturday on behalf of the autodefensas.
May 10 - The Rural Defense Corps, to the rescue in Michoacán
Templarios in Jalisco?
In Mexico City on Friday, Jalisco's PRI governor Aristóteles Sandoval Díaz told a press conference that "a Templarios cell was trying to set itself up in our state, but thanks to our intelligence system they've already been arrested." He offered no names, but said the men had arrived in Guadalajara from Tepalcatepec, Michoacán. "When we dismantled their organization, we found large amounts of drugs and weapons," added Sandoval. Several Templarios gunmen were arrested in the Guadalajara metro on Jan. 25, but the governor did not indicate if that was the incident he was referring to.
Gov. Sandoval said armed autodefensas would not be tolerated in Jalisco, and emphasized that state security forces continue to closely monitor the Michoacán border, which fronts 14 Jaliscan counties. The border has been under heightened surveillance since July 24, 2013. Mexican army units fortify Jalisco-Michoacán frontier.
Jalisco state has been caught in the crossfire of Michoacán violence since 2012. In recent weeks four narco fosas - mass graves used by cartel executioners - have been found in and around Guadalajara. Jalisco governor takes credit for discovery of burial sites. In one instance 20 Michoacán police officers were charged with assisting in the kidnapping and murder of 75 people in that state, including two federal agents who vanished in November. All the victims' bodies were buried in an extensive network of grave sites east of Lake Chapala. The officers were on the payroll of CJNG, who hope to replace the Templarios in Michoacán, and may already be doing so.
Mar. 17 - A Spanish redaction of an editorial by the U.K.'s The Economist calls the autodefensas "a monstrous danger" for Mexico.
Mar. 5, 2014 - Mexico's Human Rights Comm'n. says there's no local law in Michoacán
Dec. 25, 2012 - Death toll in Jalisco-Michoacán violence rises to 28; four police officers decapitated
Dec. 24, 2012 - Christmas Eve narco violence wracks Jalisco and Michoacán states, leaving seven police officers dead
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