Self-defense leader warns that Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel have now entered the state
*Updated Apr. 9*
Last week Mexican Secretary of Government Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong and the Federal Security Commissioner for Michoacán, Alfredo Castillo, said that the country's hundreds of citizen militias, known here as autodefensas or policías comunitarias, would be disarmed. The process began over the weekend, sooner than expected, and militias throughout the state have made it clear that they won't go quietly. Mexico says it will disarm citizen militias.
Militias in at least 20 towns staged anti-government demonstrations on Sunday, and their principal spokesman in the troubled state, José Manuel Mireles, told them, "If we disarm, the Templarios will come and wipe us out. The government must understand, we're not going out of business until the criminals here do the same. We want to live in peace."
Los Caballeros Templarios is Michoacán's most powerful organized crime group, although it was greatly weakened by the deaths of two important leaders last month. In Querétaro, Mexican troops kill key Templarios boss. But many parts of the state remain infested with Templarios cells, which appear to have no intention of surrendering.
On Mar. 16 Mireles, leader of the General Council of Michoacán Autodefensas which represents militias in 27 of the state's 113 counties, said it was separating itself from the federal government, which it accused of betraying the citizen self-defense movement by arresting another prominent leader five days earlier. Defiant civilian militias announce rupture with Mexico City.
Mireles told reporters yesterday that the autodefensas would continue "organizing in and cleansing" other counties where cartel operatives are present. He said the government had failed to complete the task, despite the huge presence of military units and federal police in Michoacán since January.
Today Mireles said Michoacán's government remains full of officials with organized crime links. On Friday a former state secretary of government - an ally and former campaign manager of beleaguered governor Fausto Vallejo - was arrested by federal prosecutors on corruption charges. Mireles said that as the Templarios have lost ground new organized crime groups - including Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, which are locked in a brutal war of their own - have infiltrated the region and are preparing to fill the void. The Guadalajara based Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación also operates in Michoacán.
"The cartels see Michoacán as an exquisite cake," ready for devouring, Mireles claimed today.
"We're not going out of business", said Mireles, in another open challenge to the PRI administration
Troops began confronting the militiamen on Saturday, demanding that they lay down their arms. The operation is focused in Michoacán's rugged Tierra Caliente, or "hot lands," where the Templarios and their predecessor, La Familia Michoacana, have trafficked in narcotics and run huge extortion rings for many years, targeting businessmen and individuals alike.
A major bus line operating out of the state capital of Morelia canceled service over the weekend, due to roadblocks set up by the autodefensas in some areas.
Michoacán Security Commissioner Castillo said on Thursday that militiamen who refused to disarm would be "brought before the appropriate authorities." Whatever plans Mexico City had to incorporate the autodefensas into a legitimate rural defense force have been put aside for now. The problem may be logistical, since the militias now number 20,000 or more state wide, and are growing. Michoacán autodefensas are said to be operating in at least 93 towns and 44 of the state's 113 counties.
Apr. 8 - In Morelia today for one of his now monthly visits to Michoacán, president Peña Nieto and members of his cabinet promised that peace and security would be returned to the state "no matter what the cost." But he made no mention of brewing trouble with the autodefensas, whose leader José Mireles today said there was a general consensus among the militias not to disarm. "That's not what we agreed to with the federal government," he added, referring to a Jan. 27 accord signed by state and federal authorities and militia representatives. That arrangement for shared policing is already coming back to haunt Mexico City.
Apr. 9 - Autodefensas' spokesman Mireles claimed today that caravans of Los Zetas and Gulf Cartel operatives began to arrive "within two hours" after the government's Apr. 3 announcement that the militias would be disarmed. "We're terrified that they're going to unite in an effort to retake Michoacán. That's why we're not putting down our weapons," he said.
Apr. 15 - Federals, Michoacán militias reach deal on disarmament
May 10 - The Rural Defense Corps, to the rescue in Michoacán
Mar. 16 - Defiant civilian militias announce rupture with Mexico City
Mar. 13 - In Michoacán, Peña Nieto makes no mention of "outside the law" citizen militias
Mar. 11 - Mexico arrests key community militia leader in Michoacán, on suspicion of murder
Aug. 25 - Civilian militias soar, with citizen police now patrolling 50 counties in 13 Mexican states
Apr. 11 - Is Michoacán a failed state?
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