“Our objective is not to call for a national, armed uprising but a popular uprising of conscience, solidarity, and responsibility,” said José Manuel Mireles Valverde, founder of Michoacán’s self-defense group.
— José Raúl Linares (@jraullinares) May 28, 2014
Mireles’s history as a leader against the Knights Templar cartel (Los Caballeros Templarios) of Michoacán has made him one of the most sought-after references for civil defense in the country. Among the leaders who accompanied him were: Hipólito Mora Chávez, creator of La Ruana’s group and incarcerated for two years for a homicide he denies; Hipólito Mora, an activist of the recently founded Michoacán’s Rural Force; Gregorio López Jerónimo, a priest from Apatzingán; Ernesto Ruffo Appel, a National Action Party senator and former Baja California governor; and Mario Alberto Segura, a journalist who participated as moderator.
The meeting offered an opportunity for the different members to share their experiences with their initiatives for self-defense against the drug cartels that lurk throughout Mexican states. Among other topics, they highlighted the need to carry firearms as a defense mechanism to maintain security.
Today, many of these self-defense groups and the federal forces work together in the fight against drug trafficking. President Enrique Peña Nieto has expressed interest in the legalization of these forces, so they can be part of the rural police.
“We decided to create the Rural Force, to replace the local security forces, which were institutionally weak, and some of their elements were co-opted by the organized crime. That force, precisely, has been composed of citizens who want to have a role in their communities’ security,” said the president in relation to the Mireles’s request for “a civil, democratic, federal, and republican force.”
“It is important that all Mexicans raise consciousness about our fight, which is not against the Federal Government or the Mexican State. Our fight is against organized crime, the absence of justice, and the lack of public safety,” added the activist.
There appears to be little choice but for the Mexican authorities to work with the militias. Mireles — who owns three AR-15s, 9-mm pistols, and sports rifles for hunting — said in an interview with Revolución Tres Punto Cero that it will be very difficult to disarm self-defense groups.
“They are not going to disarm us, because we do not trust the government to solve the situation of insecurity we are living in. We are going to be armed and ready in case more cartels come back and want to take over our lives. We are going to kick them out,” he stated.
In this way, the panelists encouraged the population to use their right to self-defense, given government inaction and weak republican institutions.
Supporting the cause, priest Alejandro Solalinde, known for defending migrants’ rights, suggested to the citizens who support civil defense to keep a broom outside of their houses with a green ribbon as a “symbol of trust to the defense of civil society.”
“Because the government has not done it, we can do it. We are capable of cleaning México like Michoacán has done,” declared the priest, who promoted self-defense but encouraged members of civil society to defend themselves without necessarily having to use their weapons.
“We can defend ourselves in several ways, such as through social networks, the press, and supporting one another,” he said.
Meanwhile, Jaime “El Bronco” Rordríguez Calderón, former mayor of the García municipality, pointed out the important role of politicians with efforts to address the problem of insecurity.
“Delinquents have to be prosecuted, the people have to be heard, but the people also have to be told ‘wake up, start afresh, fight, do not remain seated criticizing; let’s move on!”
A year ago, however, the federal government’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) stated that “there is no justification” for the right to self-defense, in response to violence documented in Guerrero state.
Similarly, prominent social activist and president of the civil organization Alto al Secuestro (End Kidnapping), Isabel Miranda de Wallace, did not participate in the meeting and made clear her opposition to self-defense as promoted.
“Beyond the different versions that have been made up about the events that have happened in Michoacán, I have expressed and restate my position: I am against the civilians’ decision to get armed, and I have put what happened in Colombia as an example,” she explained.