The arrest of a former self-defense leader in Michoacán yesterday triggered an angry response from some state residents, who erected roadblocks to press for his release.
Juan José Farías Álvarez, known as El Abuelo (The Grandfather), was detained by military personnel in the municipality of Tepalcatepec for alleged links to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).
Farías had founded a self-defense group in the same municipality and convinced his fellow citizens to take up arms against drug cartels.
Tepalcatepec state police commander Juventino Cisneros Andrade said a marine convoy yesterday afternoon intercepted the vehicle in which Farías was traveling with his wife, grandson and two nephews.
But the police chief charged that prior to putting Farías aboard a Navy Secretariat (Semar) helicopter bound for Mexico City the marines set the detainee’s pick-up truck on fire. In addition, Cisneros charged that Farías’ grandson was beaten by the marines.
Michoacán Governor Silvano Aureoles praised the capture and reiterated a commitment to keep working with all three levels of government to combat security problems.
However, once residents from the Tierra Caliente, Sierra-Costa and Costa regions of the state became aware of the arrest, they set up roadblocks preventing military and police from entering the municipalities of Tepalcatepec, Coalcomán, Chinicuila, Coahuayana, Aquila and Los Reyes.
The protesters demanded the release of Farías, whom they consider a community leader rather than a criminal.
In a radio interview, a former member of the self-defense group that Farías founded charged that the arrest was arbitrary.
“There are no reasons for him to be detained . . . in Tepalcatepec we are not murderers, we are not criminals, we’re working people,” Juana Reyes said.
She also claimed that navy personnel had fired at Farías’ vehicle from a helicopter.
“They were attacked by the navy . . . they were shooting at the pick-up truck and in order to take him away they contended [he had committed] I don’t know what crimes, but they’re nothing more than allegations,” Reyes said.
However, for almost 10 years authorities have taken a different view.
In 2009, Farías was named as a CJNG operator in Michoacán and surrounding states as well as the cartel’s plaza chief in Tepalcatepec, Sahuayo, Jiquilpan and Aguililla.
The federal Attorney General’s office (PGR) and the Secretariat of National Defense also accused him of being the main culprit responsible for a wave of murders in the state in 2006 when the self-defense group he headed was involved in a dispute against Los Zetas and La Familia Michoacana.
Authorities also charged that Farías sought to intimidate and co-opt local authorities in order to carry out drug trafficking operations with impunity.
His arrest came one day after the wife of the drug lord he allegedly worked for — Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes — was arrested in Jalisco on money laundering charges.
Farías was previously arrested in 2009 for the unlawful possession of a weapon and drugs, for which he was given a three-year prison sentence.
Farías’ brother, Uriel Farías Álvarez, is a former mayor of Tepalcatepec representing the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) but he too was accused of having links to a drug cartel and was arrested in 2009.