But the parties already disagree on what it means
*Updated May 6*
The Federal Security Commissioner for Michoacán announced Monday that an agreement has been reached with the state's thousands of citizen militiamen, in response to Mexico City's demand that they lay down their weapons or face arrest. But the 436 word "disarmament" deal is subject to interpretation, and claims of victory by both sides suggest that not everybody is on the same page.
On Apr. 3 Mexican Secretary of Government Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong and Security Commissioner Alfredo Castillo said the autodefensas or policías comunitarias would no longer be permitted to operate on their own, and warned that those who refuse to hand over their arms would "face the consequences." Mexico says it will disarm citizen militias.
Four days later the militiamen's principal spokesmen, José Manuel Mireles, rejected that ultimatum, saying "If we disarm, the Templarios will come and wipe us out. We're not going out of business until the criminals here do the same." Michoacán militias reject federal call to disarm.
"That's not what we agreed to with the federal government," Mireles added, referring to a Jan. 27 pact signed by state and federal authorities and militia representatives, which allowed the self-defense units to openly participate in local policing.
Under the accord reached yesterday the militias must surrender heavy weapons - including machine guns, rocket launchers and grenades - and must register other arms by May 10. But in statements to the press Mireles noted that militiamen will retain their AK-47s and AR-15s, as well as sidearms.
The written memorandum of understanding provides the "Secretary of National Defense will determine the portation and use of such weapons according to legal parameters."
"It's not a disarmament, it's a legalization process," Mireles insisted. "That gives us a month to finish cleaning up this state."
Both sides agree the militias will be folded into a Rural Defense Corps, subject to regulation by the state and federal governments. Members will have to pass the same preparedness and confidence exams that thousands of other police officers across the nation are undergoing, with a primary focus on eliminating corruption within the ranks. Mexican senators seek yet another delay in police vetting. Autodefensas who do not wish to join the Corps will be out of business, according to Commissioner Castillo, who said those units will "disappear" next month. Anyone carrying firearms in violation of the accord on May 11 will be taken into custody, he noted.
A militia demand that dozens of its members who are already in federal custody for openly porting firearms be released immediately was rejected. But the government promised to transfer the prisoners from Veracruz and other locations where they are now being held back to Michoacán. Their cases will be "processed promptly, according to law," the agreement noted.
The government also vowed to "protect the physical integrity" of militia leaders, who say they greatly fear retaliation by Los Caballeros Templarios, the predominant drug cartel in the state. They claim 100 mid-level cartel bosses are still active in Michoacán, waiting to take revenge on autodefensas.
"We're not declaring a truce by entering into this agreement," Mireles said yesterday. "All those who did so much damage to us, who robbed our people, extorted them and killed them, must answer to the people's courts. Justice still has not been dispensed in Michoacán."
Michoacán militias number 20,000 or more state wide. The autodefensas are said to be operating in at least 93 towns and 44 of 113 counties. The PRI administration of president Enrique Peña Nieto hopes to check the spread of the self-defense units, which first appeared in rural communities hard hit by narco violence and organized crime in early 2013.
A Mexican security analyst called the agreement "fragile, a conditional disarmament. It's not really clear what the parties agreed to," he added.
Apr. 29 - The "voluntary demobilization" of Michoacán's self defense units began yesterday, with about 500 weapons being handed over to or registered with government officials. That undoubtedly represents a tiny fraction of the firearms in the hands of militiamen, who continue to insist they are being "regulated" but not put out of business by Mexico City.
May 6 - One week after the process began, federal authorities have registered over 4,500 weapons and received almost 2,300 applications from Michoacán autodefensas who want to be part of the new Rural Defense Corps. As many as 500 of those could be on the job by this Saturday's deadline for demobilization of the citizen militias. The date will not be extended, Federal Security Commissioner Castillo emphasized today.
May 10 - The Rural Defense Corps, to the rescue in Michoacán
Michoacán militias register firearms, Apr. 28, 2014
Michoacán militiamen arrested by federal troops in 2013
© MGR 2014. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.