06/30/14 (written by dpera) — On Friday, June 27, José Manuel Mireles, the former leader of the Tepalacatepec self-defense group (grupo de autodefensa) and widely known as the face of the self-defense movement in Michoacán, was arrested for carrying military-level weapons. A joint operation by the Federal Police (Policía Federal, PF), Navy (Secretaría de Marina, SEMAR), Army (Secretaría de la Defensa, SEDENA), and Michoacán Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado, PGJE) was conducted that led to MIreles’ arrest along with over 80 other group members. No shots were fired during the operation. According to the PGJE, Mireles and the detained group members were all arrested for being in violation of Mexico’s Federal Law of Firearms and Explosives (Ley Federal de Armas de Fuego y Explosivios).
Reports from June 26, the day before Mireles’ arrest, noted that a group of 300-armed autodefensa members had arrived at La Mira just outside the port of Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán, with the stated intent of taking back the city. Mireles claimed, “We are retaking La Mira with the plan to head to Lázaro Cárdenas, and from there to Morelia.” Mireles has made clear his distrust of Mexico’s federal government to provide public security and stability to Michoacán, and helped spearhead the self-defense movement that began in February 2013 aimed at addressing the state’s high levels of crime and violence.
Nevertheless, Mireles’ arrest adds another level to the ongoing developments in Michoacán. On May 10, the deadline for members of Michoacán’s self-defense groups to either disarm or officially join the Rural Defense Corps (Cuerpos de Defensa Rural) and register their weapons passed. As such, Michoacán Security Commissioner Alfredo Castillo Cervantes had warned that all those found with weapons after May 10 who had not registered would be arrested. Although Mireles initially signed the agreement, he acknowledged that the autonomous self-defense groups play a fundamental role in achieving a safer Michoacán, and thus vowed that the fight would continue until the state had been secured. Despite the clear presence still of active self-defense groups, Security Commissioner Castillo warned that, “not one self-defense group will enter the capital city of Morelia [as Mireles had previously stated], and those that do not join the institutions and remain armed are going to be detained.”
Mireles has since been transferred to the Federal Center for Social Rehabilitation (Centro Federal de Readaptación Social, Cefereso), a maximum-security prison in Hermosillo, Sonora.