A judge has now determined that the indigenous autodefensa leader Cemeí Verdía has a case to answer on the murder charges brought against him by the state government prosecutor. He will therefore remain in the Mil Cumbres gaol.
Cemeí and his lawyer have argued that the case is “political in nature”, and the indigenous leader is hoping that it will be resolved under the incoming PRD administration, since he actively supported the campaign of the new governor, Silvano Aureoles.
As far as the local self-defence forces are concerned, there is a clear precedent for their official recognition in the case of the P’urhépecha municipality of Cherán, Ostula’s longstanding ally, to which the state congress of Michoacán also conceded the right to elect its local authorities by “usos y costumbres”. Official recognition as legitimate local police forces is what the autodefensas of the coast are demanding, and what Cemeí Verdía and his comrades thought that they had achieved before his arrest and the subsequent deployment of large numbers of federal paramilitary police in the region. However imperfect this solution may be, it offers the best prospects for protecting the people of the Michoacán coast under prevailing conditions.
But what really lies behind the decisions of the administration headed by substitute governor Salvador Jara remains to be seen. Cemeí Verdía himself has suggested in interviews with the press that he has been a victim of “political payback”. But there may be deeper “reasons of state” at work, and they may not be very noble ones.
The repression and displacement of indigenous populations that stand in the way of capitalist projects in the areas of tourism, oil extraction and mining, and dam construction, has become the rule, rather than exception, even in countries such as Bolivia, Brazil, and Ecuador. Even the hiring of hit men to aid in this task, a problem that Ostula has faced, is not an exclusively Mexican problem. Yet Mexico’s putrefying political system and government concern to keep state-sponsored violence “deniable” has given particularly broad scope to this tendency. It has become a problem for all forms of dissidence and not simply for indigenous communities struggling to defend their resources, determine their own economic futures, and conserve valued ways of life.
What the new state government of Michoacán under Silvano Aureoles eventually does in the coastal region will be an acid test for the whole country’s institutions. It is to be hoped that the new governor will not continue to manipulate “the law” as a pretext for perpetuating injustice and dispossession by disarming those who resist the criminal powers that are still deeply encrusted within state institutions themselves.