Photo by: Alejandra Guillén
By: Alejandra Guillén
Aquila, Michoacán— Facing the demobilization of the autodefensas in the state, the coastal community of Santa María Ostula, located in the municipality of Aquila, found that members of its community police won’t be registering as rural police.
“Who we obey are the people, not the federal government”, they warned.
The commander of the community guard, Semeí Verdía, will present to the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA) the agreement from the meeting held on April 27 on Thursday in which they paid protest to the commanders and police of each of the 23 “managements”.
In total, 150 villagers total those who occupy this position voluntarily during the year.
The list includes the names of the people who make up the community security and the weapons that each will carry.
“The commissioner Alfredo Castillo agreed to respect our traditional forms of organization. He said that with indigenous peoples the process will be different”, Semeí Verdía said during an interview.
Only he and a few others are going to register as rural police in order to be able to move around armed and to ensure that when they enter into a “unified command”, they themselves will be the ones who will be entering the community as a security authority.
What we don’t want is for them to send people from outside.
Semeí, a 33 year old Nahua youth, escaped from his community in 2010, after someone tried to assassinate him in a soccer field located in the beach resort of Ticla.
Earlier this year, he observed the activity of the autodefensas and approached them for help. A month later, on February 7, Semeí and another “exiled” comrade led the advancement of the autodefensas who sprang out in Santa María Ostula.
Thereafter, the security strategy in the community has been different than the rest of the people who ‘rose up in arms’ against organized crime since 2013.
It’s because while the autodefensas are recovering the control from the coastal region and the Templarios have been fleeing in boats-including Federico González, El Lico, capo who controlled from Cerro de Ortega, in Colima, to El Faro, in Michoacán-, in car trunks or hiding in the Sierra Madre del Sur, the Nahua community took a break in order to revive their struggle and reconfigure their community police.
That is, the first group was the “necessary foundation” laid in order to stop the violence raging in the region, so that the indigenous Nahua people could speak, defend, and rebel without retaliation, in contrast to the 31 villagers killed and five missing persons in previous years from 2009 to 2013.
The support of the autodefensas from the municipalities of Chinicuila, Coalcomán and Coahuayana, on the coast of Aquila, remained until Sunday the 27th, and on that same day the community guard of Ostula was left in charge.
Semeí and those involved with the autodefensas of other municipalities passed their weapons directly to the police team in charge of where they live.
“This is a historic moment”, repeated some of the 880 attendees at the meeting last Sunday. First, because it was a symbolic act of triumph over the criminal cartel of the Caballeros Templarios.
Second, because this community guard functions similarly to the one they previously had during the 1980’s, which was disintegrated with the arrival of the municipal police.
Also, because although they had first attempted to reconfigure their community police and community guard for the recovery of 700 hectares of the coastal region now known as Xayakalan in June 2009, its members did not give in to protest against the meeting-“they gave weapons to all those who participated in the mobilization”- Trinidad, another resident, recalls- and a year they were disarmed.
“From now on we will look after each other. We take care of the residents and the residents take care of us…and watch out! To those of you who try to disorganize us like in 2009. After all the sufferings we’ve been through, we have to be very careful, we don’t forgive anyone who has ties to organized crime. We need to look very well”, Semeí concluded before the assembly, in which he also reported on the economic contributions of each person in charge of gasoline and food.
In this part of the state, the autodefensas have operated with three trucks in which they seized from organized crime, and only a few have been able to get weapons.
However, the community still fears that organized crime can return with “more couarage”, but meanwhile they will take advantage of this break in order to return to “rise up in arms”.
With the arrival of the autodefensas in Santa María Ostula, some residents who had previously worked for organized crime in the illegal logging of sangualica, an endangered species, in order to sell it to China through the ports of Manzanillo and Lázaro Cárdenas, also fled. They have gradually returned but have to apologize in an assembly meeting.
Some of them recognize that in order to enter some of the areas in the sierra, machinery from the municipality of Aquila was needed in order to open roads and haul the wood clandestinely.
On Wednesday the 2nd, during a visit from José Manuel Mireles, Semeí Verdí questioned at a public meeting, the PRI mayor Juan Hernández for the theft of wood and iron that the Templarios did in the region:
“I have spent days asking for a dump truck and an excavator in order to bring down some sticks that the criminals left me out there, the sticks are of the famous sangualica. They say that (those who opened the roads) were not employees of the municipality, but they were. You want it removed, but I wonder who is in charge of the local government? No way I bring a guy and I don’t know what that bastard does”.
The sangualica or granadillo began being cut down since 2012 across the coastal mountains of Michoacán. In the port of Manzanillo, just over 100 kilometers from Santa María Ostula, timber is sold at about $2,500 per cubic meter, according to buy-sell ads circulating on the Internet.
An official from the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) of Jalisco, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, confirmed that a container of 22 to 25 cubic meters sold to Chinese businessmen is sold at about $600,000, that is, $24,000 per cubic meter.
There are no permits in Mexico to export that timber, so they put it in containers mixed with other species that can be marketed.
This type of trafficking was reported since 2012 by the delegate José Manuel Galindo of Jalisco, from the Federal Attorney of Environmental Protection (PROFEPA), which was more complex to detect illegal trafficking of precious woods than iron.
Mayor Juan Hernández admitted that the Templarios hired people from the communities who were familiar with the mountain and knew where there was sangualica. They were paid by the day, around 200 or 300 pesos per day.
The representative of Communal Lands of Santa María Ostula, Santos Leyva, said that many villagers accepted this situation because they were threatened by criminals.
Verdía has traveled the Sierra Madre del Sur and what they have found is “the destruction that the criminals did to us, not only in my community, because in Pómaro we found destroyed and looted mines. We took the machinery; we decommissioned it and took it to the municipal seat”.
The lands where the minerals were stolen were from Las Playas, El Nuevo and Puerto de Toros, close to the beach Pichilinguillo. According to the young farmer, the mafia who coordinated the dispossession was headed by El Teno, El Pimiento and El Turco, who reported directly to Servando Gómez, La Tuta.
“So I told the president, you are a resident of Pómaro, how do you not know of the damage that they are doing in the mines?” Commander Verdía questions.
In this regard, the mayor confirmed that the area was most affected by illegal mining was seen in the sierra of la Barranca de López and the company Ternium is pressuring the state government to change the Ecological Management of the Sierra-Costa region, because it doesn’t permit the mining, which prevents the firm to expand to 140 hactares under concession in this municipality.
Aquila is a paradise for natural resources, because here minerals are extracted or timber is trafficked.
Also, it is a strategic area for the transfer of drugs into the United States, and the geography of its sierra has been ideal for the planting of poppy and marijuana, and in recent years for the installation of drug labs.