Hipólito Mora, one of the founders of the self-defense movement in Michoacán (western Mexico), turned himself into the police on Saturday, along with 26 members from his year-old contingent. Mora, a lemon farmer-turned-unofficial authority figure, wanted to show his willingness to cooperate with the investigation of 11 deaths that took place two weeks ago as a result of an incident between rival self-defense groups. One of the deceased was a 33-year-old man – Mora’s eldest son.
“We are willing, and we are the ones who are most interested in seeing those responsible for the deaths go to jail. That’s why we are going before the judge,” the vigilante leader said in a joint press conference with Michoacán’s attorney general.
The brawl took place on December 16 in Ruana, a town of 10,000 residents. According to Mora’s version, his followers were only responding to an attack by a group of civilians, armed with assault rifles and pistols, led by Luis Antonio “El Americano” Torres.
Torres and Mora are long-time rivals, and the former has often been accused of having ties to the drug trade. This confrontation was not the first of its kind between rival self-defense groups, or the first time the lemon farmer had been delivered into police custody. In March, he served two months in prison for murdering two associates of El Americano.
The Knights Templar, an offshoot of Familia Michoacana, has dominated most of western Mexico since 2011. In 2013, the rise in violence in the region sparked the formation of self-defense groups. In January 2014, the federal government implemented a security operation in an attempt to settle the conflict and keep civilians who had formed their own security patrols from fighting organized crime on their own.
In March, Mora served two months in prison for murdering two associates of “El Americano”
After months of negotiations, the state’s peace commissioner – appointed by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to oversee the government’s strategy – reached an agreement with these vigilante groups. Their members agreed to join a new volunteer security corps, the Rural Police, in exchange for gun licenses. Since May 2014, Mora has been the head of the Rural Police of Ruana.
The agreement gave the government a boost; tensions eased over the next few months. And a number of Knights Templar capos have fallen this year. Their highest-ranking leader, Servando “La Tuta” Gómez Martínez, however, remains at large. Homicide rates have not gone down and local quarrels for territorial control continue. Doctor José Miguel Mireles, another top leader of the self-defense movement, has rejected the federal government’s proposed pact, raising tensions. After announcing his decision, Mireles was detained on June 27 while carrying large caliber weapons. He is currently serving time in a maximum security prison in Sonora, a facility 1,500 kilometers from Michoacán.
Translation: Dyane Jean François