One of the founders of Michoacán’s self-defense movement surfaced yesterday, calling on local citizens to defend themselves against what he called a siege by the Army.
But the Army operation in Tepalcatepec had already gone awry when soldiers were surrounded and attacked by a large mob and were forced to release the eight armed men they had arrested and withdraw from the scene to avoid a more violent confrontation.
The Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena) stated that the Army began an operation at 10:00am yesterday after a report that armed men, trucks allegedly carrying drugs and armored vehicles had been seen in the vicinity of a warehouse in the Tierra Caliente municipality of Tepalcatepec near the Jalisco border.
When the Army arrived, said a man thought to be one of those detained, soldiers burst into the warehouse where los patrones, or bosses, were located along with 15 sicarios, or hired assassins.
That information came from a telephone conversation by the man with his wife, a recording of which was obtained by the newspaper Milenio.
“You almost ended up a widow,” he told her, to which she responded, “Shut up! Don’t say those kinds of things.”
Once inside the warehouse, the military personnel discovered two trucks and several armored vehicles and detained eight men.
But the operation started to go wrong soon after.
Around 200 people — some presumed to be members of self-defense groups from the nearby municipalities of Tancítaro and Puruándiro — surrounded the soldiers, threatening them and attacking them with sticks and stones.
During the confrontation an air force helicopter hovered overhead but “it couldn’t land” because it was too big, the man on the phone said to his wife, and was unable to remove the detainees.
Instead, the commander of the operation decided to release the detained men to avoid an escalation of the situation, and ordered the forces to withdraw.
A few hours later, former self-defense leader José Manuel Mireles appeared in a video on Twitter calling on “active” and “passive” members of self-defense groups in the region to take up arms and go to Tepalcatepec to defend the people from an Army siege.
“I urgently call on all the self-defense groups of the Sierra Costa of Michoacán and the Sierra of Tancítaro and other towns and free municipalities . . . to go immediately and urgently to support the people of Tepalcatepec, who are currently being besieged by Army troops.”
He also made his objective clear.
“Everyone that can, please go. Take all the weapons that you have and be vigilant. We are going to try to avoid confrontations. All we want is for them to leave us in peace and to withdraw.”
Mireles’ attorney said today he thought the former community defense leader overreacted based on imprecise information he had received while citizens were surrounding the soldiers.
The state’s Interior Secretary labeled Mireles’ action as “imprudent” and “irresponsible.” Adrián López Solís said the Army was conducting a security operation and had detected that vehicles were carrying drugs and arms in the area.
On May 11, Mireles was released from a federal prison in Tepic, Nayarit, where he had been held for three years for possession of restricted firearms.
As a condition of his release he undertook not to travel outside Michoacán or make contact or communicate with certain designated people.