MEXICO CITY — Soldiers and police arrested 83 suspected vigilantes Friday on charges of carrying unauthorized weapons, including one of the founders of the “self-defense” movement in Mexico’s western Michoacan state, authorities said.
State prosecutors said in a statement that Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles, a vigilante founder, and the other armed men were detained in the villages of La Mira and Acalpican.
The federal envoy to Michoacan, Alfredo Castillo, told Milenio Television that Mireles held an assembly with about 500 people to start a new “self-defense” group in the area near the port city of Lazaro Cardenas. By Friday about 150 of the vigilantes had set up roadblocks, he said.
The “self-defense” movement sprang up last year to confront a drug cartel, and Mireles is the only founding member of the movement who hasn’t joined a new rural police force set up by the federal government to regain control of Michoacan.
“There was a warning that every person who after May 10 was caught carrying an unauthorized weapon would be arrested,” Castillo said.
Michoacan’s vigilante movement began in February 2013 after farmers and ranchers grew tired of the Knights Templar cartel’s reign of kidnapping, murder and extortion.
Mireles became the public face of the “self-defense” crusade, appearing in dozens of interviews, but he was dismissed as the movement’s spokesman in May when Mexico’s government began demobilizing vigilante groups by having “self-defense” members register their weapons and join a new rural police force.