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In Photos: Mexico’s Autodefensas Lay Down Their Arms

In the past few days, the disarmament of autodefensas in Michoacán has become a mass registration of weapons.
Photo by Hans-Maximo Musielik

The Mexican government has set May 10 as the date for disarmament of the autodefensa groups in the state of Michoacán. The groups took up arms in February 2013 to oppose organized crime, specifically the Knights Templar Cartel. The members of the autodefensas are in no way motivated to hand over their weapons, considering the risk of repercussion on part of the Knights Templar hit men to be too high. In the past days, the disarmament has become a mass registration of weapons, conducted by the Mexican Armed Forces.


Autodefensas sit in the bed of a pickup truck during the incursion into the coastal town of Caleta, Michaocán. The convoy — comprised of several federal and state police vans — was followed by about 30 autodefensa vans and lasted about 11 hours, traveling through the valleys of the Tumbiscatío and hillsides of Caleta. During the incursion a group of organized criminals abandoned a van, containing a bag of marijuana, in the La Playa community. According to reports by neighbors, the criminals had fled minutes before the arrival of the convoy.

The autodefensa known endearingly as “Comandanta Alyson” is one of the youngest autodefensas. She is resting in one of the vans during the stop at the La Playa community.

An autodefensa shows his face after a three–hour drive toward La Caleta. Most of the autodefensas tolerate the extreme weather conditions with reluctance.

Part of the convoy traveling through the valley by night.

Two autodefensas prepare to make an entrance at the town of Tumbiscatío, about 25 miles from Arteaga — an area that was home to the Templar leader Servando “La Tuta” Gómez.

An autodefensa after several hours of travelling through dusty valleys.

Autodefensas register a home in the town of Arteaga. The house belonged to a puntero — a person who controls the flow of local transit in the area, and reports.

A soldier removes a bullet that has just been fired into a test chamber, by an assault rifle that had been handed over to the authorities to be registered as belonging to the autodefensa group, as part of the disarmament agreement.


A soldier shoots at a testing barrel as part of the weapon’s registration process, which is being promoted by the Commission for the Security and Comprehensive Development of Michoacán.

After the test shot is fired into the barrel of water, the shell and cartridge are recovered. The shells are marked as they are expelled from the chamber. This mark is unique for each weapon, and the base of the cartridge is also uniquely marked by the detonator. Both of these marks are used to create a database with specific characteristics to identify each weapon. This forensic test — along with the database — serve to identify possible crimes that could result from improper use of the registered weapons.

Autodefensa members wait while their arms are registered in Múgica, Michoacan on April 29.

An autodefensa waits for his turn with his assault rifle, in front of the Arms and Ballistic Fingerprinting Registration Module.

A soldier fires one of the autodefensas’ rifles, to collect the ballistic test that is required for the registration.

An autodefensa waits with his gun, in front of the Arms and Ballistic Fingerprinting Registration Module.

Soldiers register one of the autodefensas’ weapons during the registration and disarmament process.

All photos by Hans-Maximo Musielik