Ostula under siege

In an interview broadcast in full on YouTube, the commander of Ostula’s communal police, Germán Ramírez, has described the indigenous community as “under siege”.

In addition to the military, a growing concentration of federal police agents has gathered in the surrounding area, suggesting that an operation to disarm the communal and municipal self-defence forces is now imminent. The Ostula commander has made it clear that the community is not seeking confrontation and appealed to government to enter into negotiations that will enable the local population to continue to defend itself. But he has also made it clear again that Ostula rejects disarmament.

The interview repays careful listening. Germán Ramírez refers here, as he has done on previous occasions, to corruption in government and complicity between elements of the security forces and organised crime (or “authorised crime” as imprisoned autodefensa leader José Manuel Mireles Valverde has recently dubbed the criminals who continue to operate with apparent impunity in Michoacán). But he also insists that there are still some honest authorities, and police and military commanders, to whom Ostula is looking for support in reaching a reasonable and just solution through dialogue. Ostula is organised to resist, but the hope is that its resistance will not cost more lives.

There has always been a strong case in principle for the communal police forces of indigenous communities to receive official recognition and be permitted to operate autonomously under local control. They are not new institutions. On the coast of Michoacán there is a clear and present danger that disarmed autodefensa leaders and members will be killed by the criminals, and that criminals will quickly resume practicing extortion on the local population. There is little confidence in the ability of the state and federal police to do the job of protecting local people from the abuses to which they were subjected before the local self-defence forces were reconstituted. And there is considerable anxiety about what will happen to local resources if the communities cease to be able to defend themselves.

One of the other very important aspects of this interview is the detail that the Ostula commander offers on what “authorised crime” is doing in the region. He argues that the now imprisoned Knights Templar leader Servando Gómez Martínez, aka “La Tuta”, was only one “figure”, the public face of an organisation that could carry on without him.  Whatever they now call themselves, the former Templarios have regrouped in the sierras under the command of a criminal commander who was really more important than La Tuta, and are still pursuing the lucrative business of illegal mining. Germán Ramírez informs us that the autodefensas have received intelligence that gunmen are being assembled to attack them. He calls on the federal police to use the considerable force that they have assembled to “do their job” and intercept and arrest these people rather than persecute those who have so far been doing their job for them. He also points out that there are two military bases close to the point at which the gunmen are assembling. Their lack of response is prima facie evidence of a collusion that has long been only too apparent in the illegal mining business.