Monday, March 17, 2014

Mexican Authorities Arrest Top Militia Leader

Mexican authorities arrest influential leader of self-defense groups:
Mora, a prosperous lime grower, was a founder of the self-defense movement, having organized one of the region’s first militias in his town of La Ruana early last year.

Fed up with officials’ failure to confront the Templars’ criminal abuses, community leaders like Mora armed largely untrained townspeople to take on the gang and expel police and mayors accused of working with it.

Officials at first condemned the suspiciously well-armed vigilantes as illegal, accusing them of ties to criminal rivals of the Knights Templar. Still, the movement grew, freeing dozens of towns in recent months from the Templars’ grip.

In little more than a year, the militias have achieved more against Michoacan's gangsters than state and federal governments managed in a decade.

This year, federal officials abruptly changed course, deciding to join what they couldn't beat.

They formalized the relationship in late January with a deal allowing the civilian gunmen to patrol Michoacan's Tierra Caliente (hot country) region alongside federal police and troops.

Some vigilantes will convert to municipal police. Others will become rural guards supervised by the army under a long-standing but seldom used legal arrangement.

Most militia members so far have kept ahold of their illegal automatic rifles and other weapons.

The government-militia alliance produced Sunday’s stunning death of crime lord Nazario “The Craziest” Moreno in his remote hideout in Michoacan’s Sierra Madre mountains. Moreno was a founder and the spiritual guide of the cult-like Knights Templar and its equally brutal predecessor, La Familia Michoacana. Officials had declared him killed more than three years ago by federal police, though his body was never recovered.

Templar gunmen and others revered the supposedly dead Moreno as a saint. But many in Michoacan insisted the crime lord was alive and still rampaging. Militia leaders had repeatedly offered to guide troops to him.

Militia spokesman Jose Manuel Mireles told the MVS radio network Wednesday that militia members can now lead troops to the Templars’ surviving bosses.

But this week’s arrest of Mora might complicate such cooperation.

Investigators accuse Mora of involvement in the killing of Rafael Sanchez, another local lime grower known as “El Pollo,” or The Chicken. The bodies of Sanchez and an associate were found Saturday near La Ruana. They’d been shot and set afire, gangland style.

An alleged former Templar, Sanchez had become a minor vigilante boss. He was also said to be a longtime enemy of Mora.

Outraged by the killing, another militia commander known as “El Americano,” led several hundred well-armed militiamen Monday into La Ruana to demand Mora's arrest. Federal police were rushed in to keep the two sides apart.

"It would be the last straw if now we have this problem and we have a clash between them," said Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio, who at the time of La Ruana's takeover was visiting a neighboring town to showcase the government's peacemaking efforts.

In addition to the alleged murders, Mora's enemies accuse him of organized crime ties and of failing to return properties recovered from Templar thieves to their rightful owners.

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