Michoacan’s Chicken-Thieving Self-Defense Forces

Predictably, the rise of the paramilitary ‘self defense’ groups in Michoacan has turned into a nightmare for residents of the rural Mexican villages being contested in a three-way tug of war between drug traffickers, the Mexican state, and the new ‘autodefensas,’ writes Universal. The arrest of paramilitary chief Hipolito Mora this week may signal the end of official tolerance of the militias, or merely an attempt to bring them into line.

“We got rid of one crowd of butchers, but an even nastier one took their place.” For some inhabitants of the neighborhood of Felipe Carillo Puerto, in Michoacan’s town of La Ruana, the rise of the self-defense forces has not meant a change for the better. On the contrary, many have lost homes, ranches or farms; some have even been forced to flee.

In the months since the movement headed by Hipolito Mora arose, residents say it launched a ‘witch hunt’ in La Ruana. The pretext was the search for members of the Caballeros Templarios cartel.

“They took my ranch from me,” says Graciela, owner of a 56-hectare [138 acre] ranch that she says was seized by Calixto Alvarez, a confidante of Hipolito Mora. “The stole my tractors, my animals and my belongings. And as if that weren’t enough, they harvested limes from my ranch for months, but without taking care of the land at all, just stealing.”

The 60-year old woman says that on top of stealing her belongings, the autodefensas looted two buildings where she had raised chickens. “My ranch wasn’t enough; they took my two chicken houses and divided up my animals, they didn’t leave a single one.”

Graciela’s situation is just a single example of the numerous complaints of residents against Hipolito Mora and the people close to him.

Among the cases of expropriation reported to authorities is that of Gonzalo Gomez, whose ranch was seized. To get it back, they demanded a payment of 60,000 dollars. Federal authorities are aware of his plight.

Alfredo Quintaro likewise reported the theft of his possessions. He says that during recent months, Hipolito Mora’s men have robbed his lime harvests.

According to residents of Felipe Carillo Puerto, the group commanded by Hipolito Mora took their property after accusing them of being members fo the Knights Templar. They say that the real reason is that they had stopped supporting the self defense movement.

In other cases, they say it was because a piece of land was in the hands of an absentee owner who lived in a different town or part of the country, or in the United States. The owner’s absence, according to residents, was an opportunity for Mora.

The family of Luis Torres Castaneda, one of the people whose corpses turned up last week here, says their relative was murdered for opposing the way Hipolito Mora and his followers were operating.

“When he stopped supporting the movement, he started receiving threats,” said one family member who wished to remain anonymous.

El Comandante, as they call Hipolito Mora, was arrested on Tuesday, accused of the murder of Torres Castaneda and Rafael Sanchez, known as ‘El Pollo.’ The former head of the autodefensas was held for the murders and on 35 other charges. Nine indictments were issued for his collaborators.

Marcos Muedano

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