The prosecution of rebel vigilante leader Jose Manuel Mireles in Mexico has sparked a public backlash, and with a new poll suggesting 70 percent of Mexicans support the vigilante movement, the government may soon find itself losing the public relations war and facing a new threat.
On June 5, a court handed Mireles a formal detention order, initiating the legal process against him, reported Excelsior. Mireles, who was arrested on June 27 shortly after leading a vigilante militia takeover of a town in the southwestern state of Michoacan, will now be charged of possessing illegal weapons and drugs.
However, a campaign to free Mireles is building. In Michoacan, self-defense militias and their supporters have staged roadblocks and solidarity marches, while prominent figures and organizations ranging from Mexican politicians to the hacker collective Anonymous have publicly backed him. Mireles’ lawyer has even launched a campaign encouraging people to shave their head in solidarity after images emerged of a newly shaven Mireles in prison.
A new survey released by polling firm Parametria suggests the campaign is likely to resonate among Mexicans. According to the poll 70 percent of Mexican’s have a “good” or “very good” perception of the self-defense movement, reported Vanguardia. Of those that knew of Mireles, 67 percent had a positive perception of him, although the poll was taken before Mireles’ arrest.
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The arrest of Mireles has become a focal point for the rift created by the Mexican government’s decision to legalize factions of the self-defense movement, which arose in 2013 to combat the Knights Templar criminal organization in Michoacan.
As evidenced by the Parametria poll, the vigilantes’ success in driving out the Knights Templar has earned the movement considerable public backing, and stands in stark contrast to the state’s failure to break the Knight’s stranglehold on Michoacan.
While some vigilante leaders have now institutionalized, joining the new “Rural Defense Forces,” others such as Mireles have remained on the outside, operating in a legal limbo. If the rebel groups continue to take the initiative while the legalized forces remain comparatively inactive, then this public support may well be transferred to the illegal militias.
If the state gives Mireles and other illegal militias room to operate then it undermines the whole legalization process. However, if the authorities continue to persecute figures such as Mireles, they risk turning them into martyrs while highlighting their own failings. Perhaps even more of a concern, they also risk pushing the militias further down the road to illegality and criminality by labeling them as outlaw groups.