By: Laura Castellanos | Translated by Valor for Borderland Beat
By: Laura Castellanos | Translated by Valor for Borderland Beat
Charo, Michoacán- Cemeí Verdía, the first commander of the Community Police of Santa María Ostula and general coordinator of the autodefensas of the municipalities of Aquila, Coahuayana and Chinicuila, is confident in his release.
On Monday, Verdía came out of his appeal against the criminal proceeding 82/2015 for the crime of homicide, of which he has already been tried for and released, in the Fifth Criminal Court of the Supreme Court of Michoacán, assigned to Judge Marco Antonio Flores Negrete.
From inside CERESO (Social Rehabilitation Center) David Franco Rodríguez, also known as Mil Cumbres, the 35 year old indigenous leader seen as the commander of the civil guards following the arrest of José Manuel Mireles, is calm and with enthusiasm.
“I’m confident that I’m leaving,” he said smiling. “I’m innocent, they can accuse me of thousands of things but none of them will check out because I know what I do,” said the man who led the taking of Ostula, municipality of Aquila, on February 2014, after four years of being under the heel of the Caballeros Templarios, which left six missing and 34 community members executed over a period of five years.
The former coordinator of autodefensas and community members of Michoacán is accused of the first degree murder of Argel Mejía Valdovinos on May 25, 2015, after the ambush that he and five other individuals staged against Verdía along the coastal road of Aquila, which left one of Verdía’s bodyguards dead.
This caused the Nahua and other civil guards to chase the attackers in the mountains, which ended in a clash that left four attackers dead, among them Mejía, and four wounded.
“Fortunantely, since I arrived, there have been no deaths, they only deaths were those from the attack against me,” he said of the ambush.
And while he says, the expulsion of the Templarios was achieved “they are the most interested in returning to Michoacán because they know their wealth. They have already tasted it.”
The indigenous leader is currently the most combative defender of the Nahua territory composed of a headquarters and 22 laborers' quarters, and has faced the cartel that illegally exploited its mineral-rich territory, against small landowners of La Placita who seek to deprive them of 1,200 hectares of coastal terrain, as well as wood looters who exploit the sangualica tree, which is in danger of extinction.
Regarding his fight against the mining companies, the leader who went to school until the sixth grade states: “I woke up the communities and told them that they were the owners; if they (mining companies) wanted to exploit the land they had to talk to them (the community members), not just arrive and say ‘it’s mine’.”
In regards to the wood looting he accuses the government of “being in on it, we realized this, there are Mexican Navy and federal checkpoints and we see how they embark. Government interests were the worst, having touched the interests of the government.”
His legal representative Ignacio Mendoza argues that the detention of Verdía is “political in nature” because in the criminal proceeding 82/2015 “a crime was fabricated and his guarantees for human rights were violated.”
Likewise, he was accused of carrying a weapon for the exclusive use of the Mexican Army, of the theft of six coils of wire from the city of Aquila, and of electoral crimes in the form of poll burning, but Verdía has been released from all of these accusations.
The Arrest of the Nahua Leader
The small papaya farmer was caught red-handed for the possession of two weapons for the exclusive use of the army on the morning of July 19, 2015, in La Placita, municipality of Aquila. Those weapons were given to him by the government for being integrated as part of the Fuerza Rural, which made the weapons registered with the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA).
“I had them in my defense, they were given to me by the Secretariat of Public Security…they weren’t ours, they were weapons belonging to the Secretariat,” Verdía recalls.
He recounts the day of his arrest:
“I was having lunch at a small diner, which was very tasty by the way, when soldiers, ministerial policemen, and marines arrived. From what I managed to see, there were about 100.”
He recounts that he saw an unexpected mobilization and that they arrested him by choke holding him, and then they boarded him on a military helicopter that first went to a military barracks and then to facilities that he believes were from the Attorney General’s Office.
He says that he was never shown an arrest warrant nor told what he was being accused for; he was only shown a sheet of paper.
“I told them to give me the sheet to read. I don’t know but I’m not a blockhead, and arriving to Morelia, I asked them what was my problem.” They didn’t answer, he says, which he believes that his arrest was staged.
“And when I realized they said: ‘nobody wants to receive it’, that is, no one wanted to throw the shot,” he says.
Since he was arrested for the possession of weapons for the exclusive use of the Mexican Army, a federal offense, he was transferred to the Federal Social Readaptation Center (CEFERESO) #4 in Nayarit.
However, his lawyer reports that since June 11, 2015, there was already an arrest warrant against Verdía for the first degree murder of Mejía, a state crime with greater weight than the possession of weapons, so they had to move him to a state prison and not a federal one.
“The strategy was to do the same thing to Manuel Mireles,” he said of the autodefensa leader who is held in CEFERESO #11 in Sonora for the same offense of the possession of a weapon for the exclusive use of the Mexican Army, “They wanted to leave him rotting in a federal prison for two years,” he states.
The lawyer says that although they achieved the release of Verdía for that crime, the CEFERESO of Nayarit “delayed his release for more than eight hours, illegally depriving him of his freedom, waiting for the police of Michoacán to take him to Morelia,” during the time in which “they filled out arrest warrants on charges of robbery and murder.”
The fourth court judge based in Morelia, Amalia Herrera Arroyo, issued a release order on August 4, dismissing evidence that were integrated after his appropriation, among others, statements of the accused, as it was argued in the “release order due to the lack of evidence to prosecute,” in possession of the reporter.
However, the file was returned to the public ministry and the public ministry requested the second court to issue a new arrest warrant against Verdía. Once the order was completed, the First Criminal Judge in Morelia, Arnulfo Torres Delgado, in support of the second court, accepted the evidence and in the “order resolving the legal status of Cemeí Verdía Zepeda” he met his “detention order” on September 9, 2015.
In the cited court documents, Judge Torres ambiguously determined the guilt of Verdía:
“The accused, Cemeí Verdía Zepeda, was the one who likely intervened in the loss of Argel Mejía Valdovinos, it is presumed he had sufficient grounds for using a firearm to perform an act of retaliation against those who had just tried to take his life.”
His defense appealed the decision and on Monday, presented their arguments to Judge Flores Negrete to review the actions of Judge Torres and to resolve his release.
Verdía believes that his release is “imminent” and once he achieves his release, he says he plans to continue harvesting papayas and to remain at the forefront of his responsibilities as commander of the Rural Guard of Aquila. He acknowledges that it would be “worrying” if he isn’t freed:
“We don’t want problems with the government but we don’t know if the government wants problems with us. Right now, there is a bomb ready to explode. It’s not just the case of Cemeí, there is the case of the teachers, of the normalistas; there is a state ready to explode again,” he warns.
Support for Cemeí
Héctor Zepeda Navarrete “Comandante Tetos”, commander of the Fuerza Rural of Coahuayana, who participated in the shootout that left Mejía dead, said in an interview that on Monday, they would close the federal highway 200, at the point of Xayakalan, in order to demand the release of Verdía.
“He hasn’t committed a crime, it was a shootout which killed one of our comrades and left four wounded,” he said.
The same highway was blocked at three different points along kilometer 15 by Ostula community members and of coastal villages of Aquila on July 19, following the arrest of the Nahua leader, in order to demand his release.
The military crushed the checkpoints and in the town of Ixtapilla, they caused the death of 12 year old Edilberto Reyes García, and wounded six others, acts which have so far gone unpunished.
Meanwhile Mendoza said that Judge Flores Negrete will have 10 working days to decide the appeal, even though after December 18, “He’ll be on vacation and no one will be able to sign.” He’ll be waiting for the resolution, in case it lengthens.
Update: The Fifth Criminal Court of the Supreme Court of Michoacán, assigned to Judge Marco Antonio Flores Negrete, has decided not to release Verdía and instead refer the case over to the Instances of Justice of the District of Lázaro Cárdenas, leaving the appealed detention order null and void and ordering the reinstatement of the proceedings from the preliminary statements of Verdía.