A year and three months after the surge in so-called autodefensas in the state of Michocan took up arms to destroy the Knights Templar Cartel — one of the most violent criminal groups in the country — a new rural police force has emerged after the militia agreed to register their weapons.
This past Saturday, in the town of Tepalcatepec — to the south of Michoacan, where the autodefensas first originated — about 450 members of the autodefensas who wished to continue in their towns with their security duties, received uniforms and weapons, so they can “continue the effort, legally,” Estanislao Beltrán, aka “Papá Pitufo (Papa Smurf)” — the current spokesperson for the Council of Autodefensas in Michoacan told VICE News.
In Photos: Mexico's autodefensas lay down their arms. See the pictures here.
President Enrique Peña Nieto had previously warned that after May 10, the possession of unregistered arms in any part of the state will not be permitted.
After the uniforms, boots, hats, pistols and AR-15 rifles were handed over to the new rural police force, “Papá Pitufo” delivered a message to the townsfolk who had collaborated by his side to meet the objective of destroying the Knights Templar Cartel, who have been targeting the residents, extorting, kidnapping and murdering them.
“Our goal is to create peace and tranquility within our communities — to bring peace to our families — with this movement we are heroes,” “Papa Pitufo” told VICE News.
“As initiators of this movement, we have to set an example that the fight should have a specified duration and we don’t want it to get out of control, so that one day we can return to our normal jobs in tranquility,” he said.
Mexican "autodefensa" were founded to protect citizens from drug cartel violence. Now they too have descended into bloodshed. Read more here.
After thanking the dedication of those who joined the rural police force, Beltrán stated that the number of police who will be operating in the Tierra Caliente region has yet to be determined, as that will depend on the security needs of each municipality.
The rural police force will be temporarily active and afterwards, its members can join the municipal police force, after the region’s security has been reestablished.
About 15 months ago the Knights Templar Cartel promised the residents of Michoacan protection, but in the end, only abused the people, Federal Commissioner for Security and Integral Development for the state of Michoacan, Alfredo Castillo Cervantes, said during a press conference in Tepalcatepec on May 10.
Rural Police Force Rises
The rural police force have requested that the government free their colleagues who, they say, only possessed weapons for the safety of their region.
Over the course of the 13 months that the militia were vigilant, the Mexican army and the state authorities detained more than 100 autodefensas who carried non-permitted illegal weapons.
Upon formalizing the rural police force, two of the main representatives of the armed movement were not in attendance — leaders who have served as figureheads for the autodefensas: José Manual Mireles Valaverde, who three days prior to the legalization of the armed groups was expelled from the Council of Autodefensas in Michoacan by “Papá Pitufo,” and Hipólito Mora Chávez, who is confronting the judicial process while behind bars, accused of double homicide.
The End of the Autodefensas
The end of the Michoacan autodefensas comes in the midst of a schism between its main leaders.
Mireles Valverde accused “Papá Pitufo” and the security commissioner, Alfredo Castillo, of conspiring to expel him from the autodefensas, under the guise of him suffering from alleged psychological problems and for contradicting the Council’s decisions — according to a signed declaration by autodefensa advisers, which recommended Mireles’ dismissal.
Watch VICE News' documentary Fighting Mexico's Knights Templar Cartel here.
Mireles Valverde has also accused “Papá Pitufo” and other leaders of having ties with members of the criminal organizations, a situation that heightened the confrontation between Mireles Valverde and the autodefensas’ advisers who maintained their charge. In response, the representatives of the community guards requested proof to sustain Mireles Valverde’s accusations.
Mireles Valverde's allegations occurred just a few days after El Excelsior newspaper reported on the alleged formation of a new cartel, called the “H3” or the “Third Brotherhood” — an organized group, which allegedly implicates leaders of the autodefensas with the only surviving founder of the Knights Templar Cartel, Servando “La Tuta” Gómez Martínez.
The Third Brotherhood, according to the report, is comprised of autodefensa members, former Jalisco “Nueva Generación” cartel members — which is the Knights Templar’s neighboring cartel — and members of the Knights Templar Cartel, who after years of controlling the state and after losing the people’s backing, intend to once again be the hegemonic order in Michoacan.