The arrest of a top vigilante leader in Michoacan has sparked tensions between the self-defense movement and Mexico's government, and internal disputes and alleged criminal infiltration are causing growing concern over the government's decision to try and legitimize the militias.
In a video published on YouTube (see below), Jose Manuel Mireles Valverde, a prominent self-defense movement leader in Michoacan, said the government's "repression" of the vigilantes showed they were "exercising their power for different ends than they had reason to."
Mireles' comments were sparked by the March 11 arrest of Hipolito Mora, the head of the vigilantes in the town of La Ruana, who was accused of murdering a local farmer and a rival vigilante member who formerly belonged to the group's enemies in the Knights Templar.
SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles
"A week ago, the commissioner sat down with Hipolito, and he didn't know anything about any accusations. Three days later, Hipolito is a criminal. How sad," said Mireles.
Mora is also being investigated on 35 other charges. Various locals have also accused his group of robbing their lands on the pretext they were Knights Templar members, reported El Universal.
Nonetheless, the vigilante spokesman said they did not wish to break ties with the government.
InSight Crime Analysis
The self-defense movement appears to have reached a critical moment. Mora's arrest comes amid escalating tensions among the leadership and growing concern about the shady connections of senior figures in the militias.
Even before Mora's arrest, he had been driven out of La Ruana in an armed confrontation with a militia led by a rival, Luis Antonio Torres, alias "El Americano," with both sides launching accusations against each other of involvement with the Knights Templar.
The situation has been further complicated by investigations into the pasts of the vigilantes. Reforma reported how various leaders have a criminal history: Mireles has a criminal record for trafficking marijuana; El Americano is accused of running a cartel known as "H3" in Buenavista; and another leader, Juan Jose Farias Alvarez, is believed to be a leader of the Milenio Cartel.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Mexico Vigilantes
Not for the first time, the vigilantes have now placed Mexico's government in a bind. Less than two months ago, authorities created a legal framework giving the self-defense groups a measure of legitimacy. The government now has to decide whether to continue backing groups accused of criminal ties and murder, while the militias themselves may break off ties if more leaders are arrested.