Does the Mexican government really want to make Dr. Mireles a martyr?

Dr. José Manuel Mireles Valverde was one of the original leaders of the autodefensa movement in Michoacán that played a central role in confronting the Caballeros Templarios drug cartel (for the history, see my book The New War on the Poor). He was the leading Mexican protagonist in the award-winning US documentary Cartel Land.

Mireles was arrested and imprisoned in June 2014. The circumstances of his arrest were controversial, since his supporters claimed that the authorities planted arms and drugs in his vehicle, something that is sadly all too common in “security” operations by the Mexican police and military. It is incontrovertibly the case that he was subject to inhuman and degrading treatment after arrest, since there is independent evidence to demonstrate this.

José Manuel Mireles is a medical doctor. He himself suffers from hypertension and has already had two heart attacks. He was initially incarcerated in a federal prison in Hermosillo, Sonora, in the far north of the country. There he received excellent medical treatment. But because of the distance, his family petitioned for him to be moved closer to Michoacán, imagining that this would result in his transfer to the prison of Mil Cumbres in  Morelia, Michoacán’s state capital. But when he was finally transferred, in November 2016, he was moved to a prison in Tepic, Nayarit, closer to Michoacán than Hermosillo, but still some distance away. In contrast to Michoacán and its capital, Nayarit does not possess any private or public clinics equipped to monitor and treat Dr. Mireles’s chronic and life-threatening condition.

His health is now manifesting visible signs of deterioration. The Michoacán Human Rights Commission has backed his lawyers’ urgent request to the Interior Minister of the federal government, Osorio Chong, that he be moved to Morelia, where his health can be safeguarded and he will be closer to his family.

This is a basic humanitarian request. Many would argue that Mireles should not have been gaoled in the first place. Earlier in 2016 he made a public apology for having “disrespected the Mexican government”. The Attorney General dropped all charges against him. Yet he has not been released and his life is now in growing danger.

Even in terms of the twisted logic of securitisation, it is extremely difficult to view Dr. Mireles as a continuing “threat” to anyone. He has already surrendered. Or rather he would not be a continuing threat should he be released. But should he die in prison, he would join the long list of Mexicans whose martyrdom at the hands of the state has made them enduring symbols of resistance. Delaying his freedom now would seem simply irrational. Except for the consideration that criminalising all social protest and its militarised repression remains central to the self-preservation strategy of a government weakened by drammatically deepening economic problems and the new threats posed by Donald Trump, who has already destroyed Mexican jobs, as well as by corruption scandals without end. Nevertheless, the state has enough human rights violations on its charge sheet already not to need another one that would serve no useful purpose.

Let us hope that Dr. Mireles will either be transferred, or preferably released altogether, in the immediate future. The case for release is strengthened by the fact that he was a victim of the administration of Michoacán’s security by special federal commissioner Alfredo Castillo. That Michoacán is still a very far from secure place is in part the result of Castillo’s strategy of making backstage deals with criminal actors that penetrated the autodefensa movement and, in consequence, his legalised rural defence force. The former special commissioner has also been accused of self-enrichment during his time in Michoacán, and his reputation has not subsequently been enhanced by the nepotism and constant disputes with athletes that marked the next step in his career as the sports minister who presided over his country’s lacklustre performance at the Rio Olympics.

Dr. Mireles may have made mistakes, and the history of his legal defence and relations with his family is something of a soap opera. But at the end of the day he simply lacked the power to make mistakes as big as those that have been made by the federal government in Michoacán.