A self-defense force has reformed in the Sierra-Costa region of Michoacán to carry out public security duties and take up the fight against organized crime, although not everyone is on side.
Around 200 residents of the municipalities of Aquila, Coalcomán and Chinicuila — all ex-members of a self-defense force that formed in 2013 — came together early yesterday morning with weapons at the ready to declare that they are back in business.
“Today, the self-defense forces retake control of the municipalities. We’re going to tell our governments that we are honest self-defense members and that we’re going to take care of security, which is what is most needed in our region,” said Cemeí Verdía Zepeda, a self-defense leader from Aquila.
He charged that the state government has been incapable of halting the violence that is perpetrated by criminal groups including the Knights Templar Cartel, or Caballeros Templarios.
However, Verdía also said that the autodefensas, as the vigilantes are known, are open to collaborating with official security forces.
“We hope that if the government wants to help us, that they do it properly. We’re willing to work in coordination, but if not, [we ask that] they don’t get in our way . . .” he said.
The self-defense leader said there has been an outbreak of crime in the Sierra-Costa region that has included a spike in drug dealing while local residents have been threatened, drugged, kidnapped and even killed, especially in areas of the region that border Colima and Jalisco.
“That’s why today the comrades invited me to combat this and I will gladly do it. We’ve always been alive, we have remained united in the municipalities,” Verdía said.
Part of the self-defense force’s strategy will be strengthening security at the borders the region shares with the municipality of Lázaro Cárdenas to the south and Tecomán, Colima, to the north.
The latter was the most violent municipality in Mexico last year, according to a study by a citizens’ group.
Verdía also said that the reformed self-defense group would aim to eliminate the presence of a group of ex-self-defense members who have turned to committing crimes including kidnappings and murders.
“. . . We’re not going to stop, that’s the way it was four years ago when we started this movement and, without the government, we were able to run the criminals out and restore peace to our homes.”
But some residents of a community in the municipality of Aquila have rejected the reborn force. Armed with assault rifles, residents of Ostula ran Verdía out of town yesterday. “We don’t want you here!” they shouted, forcing Verdía to get into his armored Suburban SUV and withdraw from the town.
Further complicating matters was the dismissal Wednesday of Aquila police chief Germán Ramírez Sánchez, also known as “El Comandante Toro” and himself a former self-defense force leader.