The Mexican army arrested 167 heavily armed members of a regional self-defense group “Pueblos Unidos” with ties to several Mexican drug cartels on Saturday, in one of the largest apprehensions in Mexico’s history.
In addition to the arrests carried out in Michoacán, Mexican authorities seized more than 200 weapons, including several hand grenades and grenade-launchers. But the operation was not without consequence: Hours later, the group kidnapped 25 members of Mexico’s National Guard in retaliation, according to authorities.
The group formed a large convoy in the streets of the Mexican tourist town Uruapan in Michoacán state. The men carried banners and rifles demanding the release of other members of their organization previously arrested.
“Thanks to the hard work of the National Guard, the Mexican Military and State officials, we managed to arrest 167 armed men that pretended to destabilize the region,” Michoacán governor Alfredo Ramírez said in a press conference.
A Mexican Military officer during an operation to arrest 167 members of self-defense group Pueblos Unidos. (Photo: Michoacán State Police)
Several other armed men from Pueblos Unidos organization blocked six National Guard patrol vehicles and retained the 25 officers inside, according to Mexico authorities. A Pueblos Unidos leader arrived at the scene to negotiate with the authorities and after making agreements, the retained officers were let go.
Neither the authorities nor Pueblos Unidos would share details of the negotiations.
Among the people arrested on Saturday were Raymundo Gallegos, known as “La Maseca,” who allegedly is a member of the criminal organization Caballeros Templarios, a secession from another self-claimed autodefensa group turned drug cartel, La Familia Michoacana; and Gabino Cornejo, working for the Carteles Unidos criminal organization.
Although Pueblos Unidos announced their creation in 2021 as a “self-defense group” to fight against Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, this could be just a different name for the same organization “Carteles Unidos” (United Carteels), which authorities have linked some of its leaders to other criminal organizations like La Familia Michoacana, Caballeros Templarios, Los Viagras and the Sinaloa Cartel.
The former leader of Pueblos Unidos, José Artemio Maldonado, known as “El Michoacano” was known for being one of the biggest fuel thieves in Mexico, known as “Huachicoleros.” In December 2021, four months after being arrested, he escaped in an impressive prison break along with eight other gang members.
A convoy of several pick-up trucks belonging to Pueblos Unidos lined up after being seized by the Mexican military. (Photo: Michoacán State Police)
Security cameras footage shared on social media showed a jerry-rigged truck being used as a battering ram to open a hole in one of the prison walls, along with at least one car bomb.
Maldonado was apprehended back again by federal authorities in April in Mexico City.