Mexico Vigilantes Remove Leader as Legalization Hangs in Balance

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Mexico’s Michoacan vigilantes have forced out their main spokesman after questioning his psychological state, increasing confusion over who controls the self-defense militias during an already dicey legalization process.

The General Council of the Michoacan Self-Defense Forces announced that Jose Manuel Mireles will no longer act as the movement’s official spokesman as he was “affecting the movement with his declarations and violating the rules established by this body,” reported El Universal.

The council called on the Secretariat of Health to carry out a psychological evaluation of Mireles, saying they believed a recent airplane accident had “affected his mental faculties.”

Mireles will be replaced by Estanislao Beltran, also known as “Papa Smurf,” with Alberto Gutierrez, alias, “El Comandante Cinco,” acting as his deputy.

The decision to replace Mireles comes as the vigilante groups undergo a legalization process, registering arms and turning in illegal weapons ahead of being incorporated into a legal “State Rural Defense Force.”

Authorities report that so far vigilantes have registered over 6,000 weapons and over 3,000 militiamen have applied to join, reported Animal Politico. However, according to Animal Politico, in several areas militias armed with high-caliber illegal weapons continue to patrol and man check points, saying they will not submit to the process. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Tensions at the top of Michoacan’s vigilante movement have been building for some time, and Mireles has previously clashed with other leaders after issuing statements on behalf of the movement that the council quickly contradicted.

However, the most important battle for control of the militias is unlikely to be between Mireles and the other council members, but between the council and what now appear to be criminalizing factions controlled by rogue commanders.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Mexico Vigilantes

The current legalization process could prove to be the breaking point for the movement, as factions controlled by the council, who, at least publically, remain committed to the process, break away from those that refuse to stand down.

Of this latter group, many may already be part of the organization known as H3 headed by figures such as Luis Antonio Torres Gonzalez, alias “El Americano,” which has alleged ties to criminal organizations. Those that are not will prove ripe for co-opting by H3 or other groups looking to fill the power vacuum left by the disintegrating Knights Templar, leaving a large proportion of the vigilante movement firmly out of the control of the state and moving ever closer to being criminal players in their own right.

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