A vigilante leader in Mexico’s Michoacan state has promised the groups will disarm by May 10, but details about what their agreement with the government entails are hazy, and it remains to be seen whether rival factions will even comply.
Federal government special envoy to Michoacan Alfredo Castillo and militia leader Jose Manuel Mireles said the agreeement was contingent on their ability to achieve their shared objective of neutralizing the Knights Templar criminal organization, Proceso reported.
Mireles told Animal Politico the vigilantes had agreed to turn over all high-caliber weaponry to the government in the next two weeks, but said they would retain smaller arms in order to conduct community security patrols.
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According to Periodico Correo, Mireles also said the groups would formally dissolve in exchange for the government releasing an estimated 100 militia members currently in custody, though former vigilantes could then be incorporated into what are called “Rural Defense Corps” and other possible official structures.
Meanwhile, Mireles said, the groups will continue to work with authorities to target all leadership of the Knights Templar criminal organization.
In April 15 interviews, Castillo corroborated the claims of dissolution and reincorporation into rural defense units, but said current militia members could keep arms as long as they registered them and kept them at home, reported the Los Angeles Times. He warned in a press release that any self-defense groups who did not comply with the agreement would be “detained and tried,” according to El Universal.
However, vigilante spokesman Estanislao Beltran, who also participated in the meeting, told the Associated Press the militias would not turn over their weapons by the May deadline.
“Nobody is going to disarm,” he said.
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The deadline is so far the only clear point of the potential disarmament agreement, and the confusion surrounding it is in keeping with the government’s ever-shifting stance regarding the vigilantes.
In January, authorities set up a controversial legal framework allowing some militiamen to carry weapons and conduct joint patrols with security forces. They recently backtracked, with Castillo announcing the vigilantes were no longer necessary, shortly after a self-defense leader was accused of orchestrating a Michoacan mayor’s murder.
Regardless of intentions, the government’s ability to stop the powerful vigilantes may be limited. The groups have accumulated a lot political capital since their inception, especially as the Knights Templar have retreated.
The divisions among the vigilantes, coupled with an opaque agreement and hard and fast deadline, make for a volatile combination. It is likely any disarmament process will be messy and incomplete.