Another bloody incident in the ongoing crackdown on anti-narco, citizen self-defense militias has been reported from Mexico’s conflicted west-central state of Michoacán.
According to reports, on Sunday, a detachment of army and marine troops was mobilized to the indigenous Nahua community of Santa María Ostula. Villagers mobilized upon the troops’ advance, blocking the road into Ostula. In the ensuing fracas, soldiers fired on the villagers, leaving a youth dead and four other community members injured.
The troops then carried out their mission: to arrest Semeí Verdía Zepeda, leader of the Aquila self-defense group. He was charged with illegal possession of two rifles, including an AK-47.
Since mobilizing two years ago, Michoacán’s self-defense militias have effectively broken the grip of terror that the Knights Templar cartel maintained over the state. But a government ultimatum last year for the militias to either disarm or register as official paramilitary forces has generated a backlash. New self-defense forces are still emerging—insisting on their independence from the government, in defiance of the ultimatum.
In early July, photos were released on social media by a new group calling itself Los Blancos de Troya (the White Trojans) showing five heavily armed men with rocket launchers and an anti-aircraft gun. A statement said that Los Blancos will defend the interests of Apatzingán—a Michoacán municipality that has been the scene of much violence. The manifesto also accused Mexico’s federal government of inciting conflicts among the self-defense forces to weaken the movement. When the movement was at its peak last year, there were self-defense militias in 36 of the state’s 113 municipalities.
The Mexican federal government seems to be taking some moves to try to appease the militias. The Prosecutor General of the Republic (PGR) just announced it is dropping charges against an imprisoned leader of the “Community Police” movement, José Manuel Mireles Valverde, supposedly for lack of evidence. He is expected to be released shortly.
Michoacán state authorities similarly ordered the release of 13 followers of the militia led by Luis Antonio Torres AKA “Simón El Americano.” They were being held in connection with a December 2014 shoot-out in the Buenavista Tomatlán municipality in which 11 were killed, including a son of a founder of the self-defense movement, Hipólito Mora Chávez.
The government crackdown and violent factionalism have weakened the movement—which may leave a window for the return of cartel terror.
Last week, the leader of the self-defense group at Huetamo village, Camilo Santana Aguirre AKA “El Bombón,” was gunned down from a passing taxi while drinking beer with friends. Three of his comrades were wounded in the attack. State authorities attributed the hit to Knights Templar sicarios (hitmen).
In another sign of social ferment in Michoacán, on Monday, state police clashed with student protesters who blocked a highway in Morelia, the capital city, in a conflict over unpaid scholarships. Authorities said the students used rocks and clubs, and that the majority of the nine injured were police officers. Twelve students were arrested.