Free Mireles: In the absence of security and justice, make self defense a right.
Mexico has a long list of political prisoners, but José Manuel Mireles Valverde is by far the most recognized in the international level. Even though this article is about him, it’s important not to ignore the fact that the country has hundreds of others that are also still in prison for, between other things, opposing the goverment’s corrupt ways, raising their voices against oppression, publishing uncomfortable information that incriminates power elites, defending their right of land and property, standing up against inequality and exploitation, defending human rights, protecting their natural resources and indigenous tradition and autonomy, etcetera. The majority of them are living in the shadows of public knowledge paying with injustice their sacrifice for the search of a better, dignified living and for raising their voices.
Just in the four years that Enrique Peña Nieto has held the position of Executive, more than 350 political prisoners have been imprisoned according to different non-profit associations, like the Free Nestora Committee, for distinct reasons. Even more than in times of major turmoil that Mexico has been through in the decades of the 70s, 80s and 90s. In this case, for the right of a community to defend their life against organized crime groups that maintained the people of various towns in conditions of terror and that the government was unable to face because of the immense corruption chains tied between politicians and criminals.
The illegal “war” against dugs that the de facto President, Felipe Calderon Hinojosa (2006–2012) mechanized in a desperate attempt to legalize his mandate brought terrible consequences to the country that included the deaths and disappearances of thousands, including innocent civilians (If the reader wants to know more of the consequences of Calderon’s war, he can read the article of “Narcocorridos, politics, prohibition and freedom of expression” that can be found on the same media by the same author) and, even though it’s proven that Mexico isn’t a failed State, Michoacán was one of the states that had a clear void of law and justice.
As in other states of the Republic, Michoacán’s people suffered Calderon’s war consequences, in one side, by the rise of power of drug cartels and, in the other, by State forces (military, police and government) that proved incapable of keeping the peace and security of the people because of corruption ties with the organized crime and, instead of helping the citizens, dedicated themselves to the systematic violations of the people’s human rights. Extortion, kidnapping and murder became routine for the innocent townsfolk of municipalities like La Ruana, Tepalcatepec, Buenavista and others, perpetuated by the “Knight Templars” Cartel and the politically institutionalized crime machinery.
Calderon’s presidency ended and, in four years of Enrique Peña Nieto’s term the death toll and human rights violations have not reduced. The only difference has been shown in the major polarization of the means of communication.
When the State fails to provide the basic necessities as is security to it’s people, when the innocent are dying and the federal forces don’t respond, or worse, help the perpetrators, when tyranny becomes law and every day is a threat to your life, self defense becomes a right to defend yourself and your loved ones. That’s what motivated Doctor Mireles in 2013 to stand, organize and bear arms next to his townsfolk against the criminals that murdered their people and plundered their homes.
And organize he did under the speech of unity between the victims and their families and under the protection of article 39 of the Mexican Constitution (“The national sovereignty resides essential and originally in the people. All the public power stems from the people and institutes for the benefit of them. The people have in all times the inalienable right to alter or modify the form of their government). The people stood together, bore arms and formed Michoacán’s Group of Self Defense.
The story of Michoacán’s self defense group became famous worldwide. Results were shown. The people took control of the towns and made the organized crime, along with the government, tremble and sweat. It even became the main theme of an Oscar nominated documentary movie called “Cartel Land” that bravely showed the world the struggle, the beginning, downfall and end of the Communitarian Police Dr. Mireles lead. Meanwhile, in Mexico, the power corporatism used the same old media methods to demonize the oppressed and praise the oppressor. Sadly, this old fashion strategy has always worked in our country to build the collective imagination of the masses.
The movement proved in a beginning what the people can accomplish when they stand unified. Organization was archived, towns were liberated from the control of the drug cartels, means of communication were established, arms were decommissioned from the criminals, uniforms were made and distributed between the members and, while they advanced in their struggle, more and more townsfolk sympathized with their fight.
But the government didn’t like where that was going. How would an organized, authoritarian, criminal political institution accept that the people were archiving peace and tranquillity by their own hands? And, like always, private interests are in stake when the crime mechanism (criminals-State-military/police) is being affected on it’s hoarding activities. Reactionary actions had to take place to keep the people down.
One of the first orders that the Executive Power lead was to send the military to the communities where the self defense groups fought or where fighting the drug cartels. Not to contain the organized crime, but to decommission Communitarian Police armament and apprehend it’s members. That strategy failed due to the popular support Mireles and his people had gained to the extent where, in some towns, the goverment’s armed forces where expelled by the townsfolk and, even had no choice but to return the decommissioned guns.
The next strategy, and the oldest of all, was the manipulation of the press. The necessity to justify the goverment’s actions while creating a negative public opinion towards the self defense groups lead to the polarization of the news and the formulation of stories that incriminated the Communitarian Police to the rival drug cartels of the “Night Templars” or to the “Night Templars” themselves. Reports were made about supposed delinquent actions like looting, stealing or murder to the same people they were protecting (never proven). Even ridiculous conspiracy theories were constructed that connected the self defense groups to an imaginary extremist, separatist group that wanted to make Michoacan an independent State (Even though Mireles never openly opposed the government and always stated his fight for the return of the “state of law”) Nonetheless, the Communitarian Police still survived the attacks.
The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses. (Malcolm X)
But the last strategy was the definite one. A mixture of “divide and conquer” and “unite with your enemy”. The infiltration of the government in the movement, convincing some of it’s leaders, would be the downfall of the people’s unity and the first step to archive, once again, the complete specter domination.
After declaring the state of exception in Michoacán, in January 2014, the Executive power formed the Comission for the Security and Development in the State of Michoacán, naming Alfredo Castillo (an old friend of Peña Nieto who he worked for when he was Governor of the State of Mexico) as the head of such comission. Flirting with some of the leaders of the self defense groups (such as Hipólito Mora or Estanislao Beltrán aka “Papa Smurf”), they finally convinced them to betray the movement and form part of the government under the speech of “what’s best for the movement and the people”, thus forming Michoacán’s Rural Forces under the orders of the State. Dr. Mireles didn’t accept such offer.
But greed got the best of leaders like “Papa Smurf”. Speaking of the perks of “legalizing the movement”, they changed their names for a serial number, uniforms and guns appointed by the same institution that provoked the turmoil situation in the first place. The people that once liberated towns from the criminal organizations that had them on their knees, now worked for the same political organization that protected and made deals with the drug cartels. And, without any surprise, themselves now have criminals related to trafficking in their same ranks. All for a paycheck and government protection.
The new scenario had changed significantly. Former self defense leaders in the government’s ranks, deals with the drug dealers instead of confrontation, Dr. Mireles alone, everybody against him, but not giving up and still with the ideal of justice and people’s unity. It wasn’t long before, in June 2014, Mireles was captured and put in jail.
That’s one of the ways that the mob within Mexican politics works. “Or you accept our deal, or we put you in jail”. And, even sadder, the effort used to demonize a good man upon the people’s eyes has worked in various sectors of our society. In one side, the use of the former self defense leaders now working for the government to declare statements before the press like “Mireles is paying for not respecting the arrangements with the State”. There are no such arrangements, only threats and authoritarianism with the style of “bow to us, or else…”. Mireles didn’t bow down.
In the other side, there is the government’s tactic to create the collective imagination to the people repeating the same lies over and over again until they become the truth. With this methodology Mexico’s political power has always been able to convince masses that the interests of the power elites are the best interests for all. Making way for the next step, that is to forget the issue, thus erasing it from the citizen’s memory (that’s why there is a famous but sad saying in Mexico that says, “We Mexicans have no memory), like they are doing today with the events of the 43 murmured by State forces students of Guerrero.
We can’t permit that memory loss any more. That’s one of the principle reasons impunity is so normal in Mexico. Mireles, as well as hundreds more, is a political prisoner that deserves justice.
Let’s remember that Nestora Salgado, leader of Onala’s Regional Coordinator of Communitarian Authorities in the State of Guerrero, created before Michoacán’s Communitarian Police, was also put in jail for crimes that were never proven, stepping all over her human rights. After more than two years, she was liberated this April being proven her innocence. Now, it’s time, yet again, to liberate Mireles because, in the absence of security and justice, make self defense a right.