Arrest of Mexico Self-Defense Leader Reveals Selfish Motives of Group

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Mexico security forces arrested the leader of a self-defense militia, amid allegations the group was established to claim royalties from a local mining concession, prompting more debate on the real motivation behind some of the country’s vigilante groups.

The August 14 operation saw over 40 people detained in the town of Aquila,  in the Pacific state of Michoacan, as Mexican authorities declared the local self-defense force disbanded, reported Informador.  

The group’s leader, Augustin Villanueva Ramirez, is accused of assembling the group in January in order to claim royalties paid to the local community by Argentine steel manufacturer Ternium for the right to exploit nearby iron ore reserves. 

According to Excelsior, Villanueva formed his group in response to a January decision by the local community council to equally divide royalties among villagers. Traditionally such funds are handled by a local “cacique” (meaning “political boss”) and having previously held such a role, Villanueva apparently sought control of the royalties by assembling the militia to impose his will over the council. He and three others were arrested for crimes including kidnap and robbery.

Security forces reported confiscating over 70 weapons during the operation, including assault rifles, a grenade and night vision equipment, reported El Universal.

InSight Crime Analysis

This is the latest controversy for Michoacan’s self-defense forces, which have repeatedly clashed with local authorities, as each side has accused the other of involvement with drug traffickers. In a number of cases, self-defense groups have detained security personnel

One accusation made against some self-defense forces is that they are more about dividing the spoils among local powerbrokers than protecting the community, and the case of Villanueva seems to support this.

The Knights Templar criminal organization, which has fought the self defense forces and accused them of ties to the rival Jalisco Cartel – New Generation, is also known to extort mining operations throughout the region. Given the value of the weaponry that Villanueva’s men had, it is likely that the group had some outside support.

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