Persecution of Ostula leader continues. Why?

Despite a federal judge’s ruling that there was no case to answer on the charges originally brought against him, Semeí Verdía will now remain in prison.

He was immediately rearrested him as he left the federal prison in which he was incarcerated in Nayarit, after the prosecutor’s office of the state government of Michoacán issued two new arrest warrants on different charges (while the federal authorities appealed the judge’s original decision). One of the new charges is homicide. The other is theft of barbed wire from a municipal storeroom. Extortion and illegal mining had also been mentioned by federal agents as possible supplementary charges from the moment of his arrest, crimes typically committed by the local Knights Templar criminal organisation that the autodefensas led by Semeí Verdia had combatted, whose leading local members continue to enjoy impunity.

What is clear is that both levels of government, federal and state, are determined to continue the persecution of this local leader and incapacitate the organisation that Semeí Verdía led. The disarming of the local communities will inevitably recreate the conditions that existed before the revival of Ostula’s communal police and the autodefensas of Aquila, Coahuayana and Chinicuila under Semeí Verdía’s leadership. The conditions, described in detail in my recent book The New War on the Poor and earlier articles in Spanish and Portuguese, were grim. Armed  cartel killers strolled through coastal communities at will, unimpeded by state or federal security forces, beating and killing anyone who opposed them with complete impunity. The Ostula authorities and most other local people who would prefer not live under the armed oppression of organised crime believe that more is at stake here than drug trafficking and extortion. They think that the violence of criminals is also about ending indigenous resistance to mining and tourism development.

The state government of Michoacán is currently led by the interim governor who replaced the elected governor of the PRI, who resigned on grounds of ill health, although his reputation had been heavily tarnished by accusations of complicity with the narcos. A distinguished scientist and former rector of the state’s university, the interim governor was an “apolitical” choice, but gave strong support to the much criticised work of the former federal Special Commissioner for Security and Development in Michoacán, Alfredo Castillo. It is evident from recent developments in Ostula that his administration remains unconditionally supportive of the Peña Nieto government’s strategies.

The incoming elected governor from the PRD, Silvano Aureoles, who takes office on 1st October, met with the current federal security commissioner, Felipe Gurrola, immediately after the controversial military operation in Ostula on July 19, ostensibly to express “concern”. But Aureoles also expressed his support for the line taken by the present administration, and for the military, despite calls from within his own party for him to adopt a more critical stand on the “state of exception” that is being imposed on the coast. According to journalists Gloria Leticia Díaz and Francisco Castellanos, writing in the magazine Proceso (No. 2012, 26 July), Aureoles had already had a meeting in Mexico City with President Peña Nieto on July 8 in which the governor elect confirmed his support for the policy of suppressing communal police and self-defence forces. So he may well have been informed then about the plan to arrest Semeí Verdía and the government’s determination to keep José Manuel Mireles in prison.

It therefore seems likely that “the state” in its different manifestations will continue to “see” only what it is convenient for it to see in this region, and that impunity will be preserved both for criminals and for state agents who routinely violate fundamental human rights.