Rival Michoacán Citizen Militias Go Down in Murderous Battle Royal
EspañolA violent confrontation between rival self-defense militias occurred on Tuesday, December 16, in the Mexican state town of La Ruana, 550 km away from México City. The clash between the rival groups left 11 dead, including Manuel Mora, son of the one of the movement’s founders in Michoacán.
“They Don’t Care About Us”
“My son is dead, along with four or five others,” said Hipólito Mora during a phone interview moments after the shooting.
Mora, a former lemon farmer, anxiously told AFP that he informed authorities on several occasions that a group led by Antonio Torres González, known as “El Americano,” was planning to attack La Ruana, but was ignored.
“I hold Castillo responsible for what happened. He already knew all about this. I warned him,” said Mora, referring to the commissioner for Security and Integral Development of Michoacán, Alfredo Castillo Cervantes.
He added that Torres’s men outnumbered his group, and that federal police forces had abandoned them. “If you call me again, we will no longer be able to answer, because they are going to kill us all. There are only a few of us here, but we will fight to the death.”
“To all Mexicans,” Mora cried out, “defend yourselves, fight for your rights! Do not believe the government … they deceive people … they don’t care about us.”
Meanwhile, Jorge Vásquez, spokesman for the self-defense militia of Michoacán, explained to local broadcaster CB Television that the Gendarmerie and the police were present at La Ruala, but “ran away” from the town the moment the confrontation began. “The problem is the federal forces withdrew in order to let them kill each other,” he said.
Vásquez also stated different groups from nearby areas have begun to mobilize, preparing to defend themselves in case of new attacks, given government forces appear “not to exist” in the area.
“We continue in the same situation we’ve always been in. It’s as if the government doesn’t exist. It’s as if Commissioner Castillo is just some postcard stuck on a wall,” he said. “If we still live in something we call a country, where laws exist, their obligation is to be there, not run like coward rats.”
No More Martyrs
Castillo Cervantes confirmed in a press conference that of the 11 people killed, five were associated with Mora’s group, and the remaining six were part of Torres’s militia. He also declared that any person proven to have taken part in this armed conflict will be subject to the full force of the law, including Mora and El Americano.
“We regret what happened, but it is essential not to martyr anyone. We must await the outcome of ongoing investigations,” Castillo said.
Furthermore, Castillo asserted that the Mexican government will not allow self-defense groups to take up arms again, and will arrest those that do.
Self-defense groups, or autodefensas as they are known in Spanish, are citizen militias that emerged in Michoacán in 2013 to defend their towns from the Knights Templar drug cartel. They cite the failure of the Mexican government to ensure security as the reason for their existence.
Last May, the Mexican government struck a deal with the leadership of some of the self-defense groups to register their weapons and unite to form an official Rural Police Force. In August, Mexican authorities temporarily suspended Antonio Torres as commander of the Rural Police Force after video of a meeting surfaced between El Americano and the leader of the Knights Templar, Servando “La Tuta” Gómez.
The Michoacán attorney general, José Martín Godoy Castro, later reinstated Torres, claiming the controversy over the video was a case of mistaken identity.
This latest incident of violence highlights the critical situation Mexico faces since the forced disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, and the demands from the public to end the collusion between drug cartels and government. Members of the drug gang Guerreros Unidos are believed to have murdered the missing students on orders from the Iguala municipal government.
Guillermo Jimenez contributed to this article.