03/19/14 (written by dsánchez) — The recent arrest of Hipólito Mora Chávez, the leader of the self-defense groups (grupos de autodefensa) in La Ruana, Michoacán, adds to the already precarious security situation that has unfolded in Mexico’s Tierra Caliente region. On Tuesday, March 11, the State’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de Michoacán, PGJE) arrested Mora for his alleged involvement in the murder the week before of Rafael “El Pollo” Sánchez Moreno (52) and José “El Nino” Torres Castañeda (49). Although it is believed that at least two of the members in Mora’s self-defense group actually killed the victims, the PGJE brought Mora in on 35 counts of robbery, threats, deprivation of freedom of liberty, and overseeing the homicides. Upon arrest, Mora was taken to the Centro de Readaptación Social de Mil Cumbres in Michoacán.
Just three days before Mora’s detention, the bodies of El Pollo and El Nino were found burned and with signs of torture in the municipality of Buenavista Tomatlán in the back of a Nissan pickup truck. Authorities are investigating to see if the truck belonged to El Pollo. One of the most prominent lemon growers in the region, El Pollo was one of the founding members of the self-defense group in La Ruana, Michoacán, which formed in February 2013 in response to the government’s failure to bring security to the region plagued by organized crime and drug violence. According to Excélsior, after the group began, El Pollo shifted his attention to assisting other communities in the area in their attempt to do the same. Despite his involvement in the community groups, some reports have speculated that he previously had ties to criminal organizations, specifically La Familia Michoacana and the Knights Templars (Los Caballeros Templarios).
Nevertheless, the discovery of El Pollo and El Nino immediately raised suspicions about Mora’s potential involvement in the homicides, particularly because it was well known that Mora and El Pollo did not get along. Reports and witness testimonies, including that from El Pollo’s son, indicate the two had disagreements on the self-defense groups’ operations and leadership. After news on the homicides broke, Mora was specifically accused of being involved by Luis Antonio Torres, known as “El Americano,” the leader of another self-defense group in Buenavista Tomatlán that lies in dispute with Mora’s group. Mora was then sent to the Federal District (Distrito Federal, DF) to meet with Minister of the Interior Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong to discuss the allegations. As quoted in El Economista, “[Osorio] tells me he will follow through with his responsibility to fully investigate this case, taking down any individuals responsible,” said Mora. “And if I fall among those individuals, I will assume whichever responsibility I may have, although I know I have none. He will do his work, and give favor to no one.”
Once Mora was arrested, local and federal actions were taken to strip Mora’s group of some of its power. El Americano moved his self-defense group into La Ruana and demanded those whom are loyal to Mora to evacuate from the territory within 48 hours, threatening violent consequences if they failed to leave or obey the rules of “the new cartel that has formed here [La Ruana].” The growing tension between the self-defense groups ultimately led to the federal authorities stepping in to help diffuse the situation and fill the vacuum of power left by Mora’s arrest. Mora’s supporters were reportedly cooperative with federal authorities when told to turn over their weapons, which are being investigated for connection with El Pollo’s murder. The weapons will be returned after the investigations conclude.
Some in the self-defense group community feel that Mora is at no fault. José Manuel Mireles, leader of the self-defense group in Tepalcatepec, was quoted saying that Mora was only guilty of not allowing members of his group to detain suspects in the La Ruana homicides. It has also been reported that there may not be enough evidence to keep Mora detained for his alleged responsibility in the double homicide.