A preview of coming attractions . . .
*Updated Mar. 19*
As parts of Michoacán state continue to spiral downward into social disorder, and autodefensas - self-appointed local police forces - increasingly are the primary or exclusive law enforcement bodies in rural counties, a prominent militia leader was taken into custody late this evening by agents of the state attorney general.
Hipólito Mora, an autodefensas leader in Buenavista Tomatlán county in western Michoacán and a well known spokesman for the movement, is under investigation for the brutal weekend murder of two militiamen in the vicinity of La Ruana. Their charred bodies were found in a pickup truck Mar. 8. The murder victims were loyal to another autodefensas boss who has challenged Mora's leadership, and some alleged they had ties to a drug cartel which has wreaked havoc in the region for several years.
In Michoacán as many as 20,000 self-styled "community police" now provide local security, in more than a dozen of the state's 113 counties.
The federal security coordinator for Michoacán, Alfredo Castillo, said there was "sufficient evidence" for Mora's detention. Castillo heads a commission created by the government in January which, in theory, will convert the autodefensas into regular state controlled police units. Right now his office is busy trying to stave off open warfare between competing militias and their often head strong leaders.
The PRI administration of president Enrique Peña Nieto, who first sent federal troops into the state in May 2013 and then enlarged the contingent on Jan. 13 as security continued to deteriorate, has little choice but to deal with the autodefensas. They are now the de facto authority in many locations, despite the fact that on Jan. 31 Peña Nieto's own attorney general warned that some have been armed by competitors of Los Caballeros Templarios, a Michoacán cartel which has been gravely wounded by the militias in recent days but remains far from destroyed.
The specter of violent competition among the autodefensas, exacerbating rather than relieving brewing tensions, is of increasing concern to officials in the state capital of Morelia and in Mexico City. There are reports that some militias have issued inscription orders in the communities they patrol, requiring all males between 15 and 18 to report for duty.
On Wednesday (Mar. 12) the chair of Mexico's National Human Rights Commission said that all of Michoacán's autodefensas, as well as those in neighboring Guerrero state, where there is a growing presence of community militias, are "operating outside of the law."
Mar. 13 - Under the Mexican criminal procedure code prosecutors have 48 hours to decide whether to formally charge a suspect with an offense or release him. Late this afternoon they elected to go down the former route in the case of Hipólito Mora, who now stands accused of two counts of homicide and 35 lesser charges. He has been transferred to a penal facility pending his first appearance before a judge. Mora's sudden exit as a citizen militia leader, intransigent in his opposition to Los Caballeros Templarios, leaves a vacuum in the ranks of local autodefensas and will cast a shadow over others.
Mar. 13 - In Michoacán, Peña Nieto makes no mention of "outside the law" citizen militias
Mar. 16 - Defiant civilian militias announce rupture with Mexico City
Mar. 19 - A judge this evening ruled there is sufficient evidence against Mora to hold him indefinitely while legal proceedings move forward. Mora is appealing that decision.
Mar. 5, 2014 - Mexico's Human Rights Comm'n. says there's no local law in Michoacán
Jan. 31, 2014 - Mexican attorney general: Jalisco drug cartel armed Michoacán autodefensas
Jan. 13, 2014 - Michoacán security accord more of the same old song
Aug. 25, 2013 - Civilian militias soar; citizen police now patrol 50 counties in 13 Mexican states
May 23, 2013 - Fiasco in Michoacán suggests little has changed; security prognosis remains poor
Apr. 11, 2013 - Mexico's troublesome policías comunitarias will prompt some to argue failed state theories
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