Semeí Verdía, the leader of the communal police of the indigenous community of Ostula and autodefensas of the municipality of Aquila, is now languishing in the federal prison of El Rincón, in Tepic, Nayarit. He is charged with possession of arms reserved for exclusive military use.
Dr. José Manuel Mireles Valverde, founder of the autodefensas of Tepalcatepec, in the neighbouring Tierra Caliente region of Michoacán, has already spent over a year in a federal prison in Hermosillo, Sonora. The charges against him were widely impugned as fabricated and his release rumoured to be imminent. But although the drugs charges originally made against him were dropped, a new order has now been issued with regard to the illegal possession of arms, so he will remain in prison after all.
Journalists have argued that the second prison break of drug lord “Shorty” Guzmán required the active collaboration of officials of all the federal law enforcement and security agencies. As I argue in my latest book, sustained drug trafficking and illegal mining activity on the Michoacán coast seems to have involved a similar turning of a blind eye (or worse) by all the public security forces stationed in the region. The criminal bosses of the region served by the autodefensas that Semeí Verdía commanded still remain at liberty (and active). It seems that only people who fight organised crime and try to defend their local communities from dispossession of their resources get sent to gaol in Mexico today. In the case of the Michoacán coast, the surviving indigenous communities present a constraint on both mining and tourism development projects. Since both the state and federal governments support the expropriation of indigenous territories by private interests it is not surprising that both these levels of government have proved unsupportive of honest local leaders in the coastal region. Municipal governments here have long been directly controlled by the criminals.
The official version of the incident that led to the killing of a 12 year old child by the military is that the soldiers fired in the air and were attacked by protestors. These claims are vigorously disputed by the spokespersons of the Ostula indigenous community, who insist that the soldiers, accompanied by state police, deliberately fired on unarmed people. It is not exactly easy to give credence to any “official version” of violent events offered by Mexico’s present federal government. Given past experience on the coast and the role of state police in this latest operation, I do not have high expectations of anything better from the new PRD state government of Michoacán either.