Nearly a year after the vigilante movement arose in Michoacan, Mexico, the militias are now suffering divisions over the thorny issue of the integration of former Knights Templar members into their ranks.
Divisions in the self-defense movement began to emerge following an agreement that Estanislao Beltran, a member of the Council of Citizen Self-Defense Forces, allegedly made so that Buenavista Tomatlan Mayor Luis Torres Chavez, who was pushed out by the vigilantes last May after blaming them for his brother's murder, could return to the town after nearly a year of absence. Vigilante leader Jose Manuel Mireles is also set to return to the region in coming days.
Rumors of the rupture emerged before noon on February 21, just as Hipolito Mora, Estanislao Beltran and Gregorio Lopez concluded a meeting with federal authorities and local lawyers regarding the handover to the Attorney General's Office (PGR) of houses and terrains seized from the Knights Templar by the vigilantes.
As Animal Politico was speaking with Mora, a phone call interrupted the discussion and, in an agitated manner, he launched a series of questions at the speaker on the receiving end.
"What do you mean have I already seen the 'Valor por Michoacan' page? Well, no, of course it's not certain. What is the source of the information? I definitely didn't order it to be put up. Do you know who's responsible? Fine, see you in a bit."
When Mora was questioned about possible internal divisions in the vigilante council, he claimed that now, more than ever, they were united. However, he explained that in cases like that of the town of Antunez, where the vigilantes show off their high-powered firearms, "not all of us think the same, fortunately."
But Mora, the head of the La Ruanda vigilantes, went further, saying: "Anybody who goes around giving their own account of things is surely going to have problems. Everyone in the group of vigilantes who says, 'I'm going to do this to put some bills in my wallet,' well, they're going to have problems."
In this regard, other members of the vigilantes who were present at the meeting said it was a major problem that the federal police did not arrest the people they had pointed out as Knights members, and that the vigilantes were told that if they hurt anyone, they would lose their privileges.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Mexico Vigilantes
"But the biggest problem is that Simon, who they call "El Americano," is allowed to do what he wants in Buenavista; he doesn't tell anyone about the operations and he violates a lot of the vigilante council's agreements, and that creates a total mess," said one of the vigilantes.
These discussions led the leaders of the vigilantes to hold a meeting at around 3PM in the Apatzingan community of Tianguis del Limonero. The only one not invited was Simon. There, the vigilantes decided to close their ranks to ensure there would be no ruptures.
That night, however, in Buenavista Tomatlan, a problem arose which, following some confrontations among the residents, led El Americano to come out and give details about the divisions in the vigilante movement.
"I wanted to tell you that there is a division. Here there are some guys who went to work for someone else, and we are not worried about that; everybody can choose to go when they want, but these guys behave badly and use our uniforms. We are going to remove them from this town, because they went to work for people who, for us, are not doing good work."
In the interview, El Americano indicated he was not in agreement with the methods used by "those who occupied the position of Mireles, but he is already on his way back and there is going to be a major change. I am more on Mireles' side than on that of anybody new who comes in or who is already acting as a spokesperson. He has always done his work properly, he hasn't gone around slandering people."
Simon said the method of pardoning Knights members and two weeks later giving them arms to become vigilantes was not solving the problem in the region.
SEE ALSO: Knights Templar News and Profile
February 24 was the first anniversary of the Michoacan vigilante movement. The first celebration was set to take place in La Ruana and the second in Tepalcatepec. El Americano said that for him, the best thing would be not to attend and to celebrate on February 28 instead, the day the Buenavista vigilante movement was born.
Protesters Try to Prevent Buenavista Mayor's Return
Following the rumor that Mayor Luis Torres Chavez would return to Buenavista, one sector of the population organized to prevent his access to the town and effectively throw him out "for good or for bad," said various women.
With placards in their hands and at least two boxes of eggs, the residents met on the Buenavista highway and from there headed towards the municipal government building, where they found a demonstration taking place in honor of the mayor.
This provoked them to begin throwing eggs with the goal of pushing the demonstrators out and thus impeding the arrival of the mayor. The eggs, which were thrown over the course of five minutes, did not have the intended effect -- the sympathizers of Luis Torres responded with rocks and bottles of beer.
A group of federal police was forced to intervene in the situation, and they were pelted with eggs and hit and pushed by the crowds. One federal agent who tried to film the event was even chased by residents.
It was Simon, El Americano, head of the town's vigilantes, who arrived to calm the crowds, but not before emphasizing that he was not the one responsible for the egging and much less for the demonstration against the mayor.
"I didn't organize this; you guys figure out if you want Luis Torres to return, but decide it amongst yourselves because his return was Estanislao Beltran's idea, resulting from an agreement with him, and well, that's not worth anything," he said, before adding, "I would also like to take advantage of this moment to ask you if you want me to go, or another vigilante to arrive. Whatever you say, I will do."