By: José Gil Olmos | Translated by Valor for Borderland Beat
Another ingredient has been added to the chaos occurring in Michoacán: a group emerging in the troubled Tierra Caliente region. But according to its members, it isn’t a cartel or an autodefensa group…nor does it even have high-powered weapons. It is called IRIS and, as its spokesman says, its goal is to unmask-pacifically-corrupt politicians, beginning with Silvano Aureoles and Alfredo Castillo. Mexico needs a spark that detonates change, he says, and “we want to be that spark.”
With only two videos that are less than a minute long, shared on social networks in February, the Insurgency Group for the Institutional and Social Rescue (IRIS) put Michoacán Governor Silvano Aureoles on alert, who also disqualified them saying that they are a “joke”.
In an interview with Proceso, José María, spokesman and representative of this armed group, argues that the governor made a deal with drug traffickers and announced a declaration of war against all politicians who are linked to organized crime.
The meeting with a dozen members of IRIS took place in the mountainous area of Michoacán that borders with the state of Guerrero. Along the way, squalid shacks are seen inhabited by the people who barely survive from the planting of corn and avocado, and the possession of some cows and chickens.
“Our area is Tierra Caliente, that is where we met for eight months to make the decision to rebel. We know that the government is already investigating us and we are in the midst of criminals, but we couldn’t sit with our arms crossed,” José María explains, moments before starting the interview.
Flanked by Pável, another member of this group, the spokesman of IRIS rejects the descriptions used by the government of Silvano Aureoles and even from members of the Catholic Church, in response to messages on social networks with which the group unveiled on February 6 and 22.
He claims that it’s an insurgent social movement that does not rule out the use of weapons, but only to defend themselves. He announces that its strategy will be more political and of denouncing-directly or through social networks- mainly with politicians who are in collusion with organized crime such as Alfredo Castillo, who is accused of having made a pact with Los Caballeros Templarios, the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación, Los Viagras, and the H3.
“We are the people, we are not a cartel, we are not terrorists, we are the tired people who are organizing. While we operate clandestinely today, it is for our safety, because we want this to transcend, we want to be the spark that Mexico needs to change. We are not the only ones who think that our country is wrong.”
“The people shouldn’t fear the government, it’s the government that should fear the people and for this to light, what is needed is a spark and we want to be that spark,” José María says.
The IRIS spokesman pays tribute to the michoacanos who have fought for the country’s transformation, such as Melchor Ocampo and General Lázaro Cárdenas, and states that the insurgent movement that he heads should not be the exception in these times when an urgent change is needed. “We are prepared to go to the ultimate consequences,” he states.
Against accusations that it could be similar to an autodefensa group of Tierra Caliente, which [some] are now part of new criminal groups, such as the H3 led by El Americano, or who have joined the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) or La Nueva Familia Michoacana, José María says that in IRIS, “there is no kind of person who has anything to be ashamed of”; it is made up of farmers, ranchers, teachers, restaurant owners, and professionals.
“We are citizens who decided to leave our comfort zone to go out and do what is necessary for the people to rise up,” he says in the interview, where he also states that although its presence has only been in social networks, they will soon take it to other stages, including Morelia, the capital.
“We are organizing because Mexico can’t take it anymore, Tierra Caliente can’t take it anymore; we are tired of them seeing our faces as chumps. We are not chumps for the government to come taunt us riding their circuses. Everything that happened with the autodefensas with Alfredo Castillo was a circus of major proportions. It’s time to give back to this corrupt government some of the damage that they’ve done,” he warns.
-Is IRIS an armed insurgent movement?
-Yes we do have arms to defend ourselves, weapons that are not illegal, that are not exclusive for the Mexican Army’s use; they are weapons to defend us from the government. When they come to try to end this spark, we will defend ourselves. I don’t like guns, I believe more in the institutions, I’m not armed, but when the institutions are corrupt, when the laws only serve to give impunity to the corrupt and to fuck the people over, it’s valid for the people to take up arms to defend themselves, not to cause harm. We are not going to do harm, we are going to defend.
-How long have you been organizing?
-Eight months, and with the idea, more than a year but by meeting, organizing, and cooperating less. It’s been very difficult to get weapons that are not for the exclusive use of the army, they are weapons that the people use to defend themselves in the field, weapons that the people use in the mountains to hunt, eat, to survive. It’s been very difficult to start a movement like this without the government noticing it.
-You guys have government surveillance, even organized crime, the Mexican Army, and the police over you; it seems almost impossible for an insurgent group to emerge like the one you guys are raising in the midst of a situation where it’s a war with everyone against everyone.
-Yes, it would be impossible because the line that divides the criminal cartels from the government is nonexistent. They are the same, organized crime and the government are the same. If one seeks or wants to acquire weapons, sometimes organized crime realizes it faster and it [organized crime] is the first that advises the government, because they live in collusion with each other that allows them to coexist. For a corrupt government to sustain itself, it requires organized crime; and for organized crime to survive, it needs a corrupt government. So, they are absolutely the same.
“We are building a movement based with the people. There are business owners, farmers, people who live well, they get enough to live, they don’t need to be in a movement like this because in one way or another, they have a profession, another job and they have a lot to lose.”
“But if they decided to get rid of amenities to take a risk it is for the simple reason that they are tired of even though they live or have something to eat, it infuriates them that there are those who come and enclose themselves in the government without working or making an effort like them, without having to get up early or to stay up late to bring food home, they live the way they are never going to live. There’s nothing wrong with being rich, what is shit, what is rude, an insult to the people, is being rich at the expense of the people.”
The spokesman of IRIS clarifies that they are not an autodefensa group, even though some of them were directly involved or supported the movement initially led by José Manuel Mireles and Hipólito Mora.
He points out that the autodefensas did their part with honest people, but unfortunately they focused badly on their struggle, because the problem was the government and in the end, they were infiltrated by organized crime which, he says, “exists because the government wants it to, because it suits them, because it’s an instrument used by the government to keep Mexicans fearful.”
-Just like the autodefensas composed of criminals made a pact with the government, would you be willing to negotiate with the government?
-No. We will not negotiate with them because they are the problem. We know that there are good people in the government, we trust in the army, we call on the honest generals, the colonels who run risks, the troops, to support us. We call on the good members of the federal police: to stop screwing over the people.
“We will not negotiate with the government because we are a legitimate movement, of the people; and if the problem is with the government, how are we going to negotiate with them. The government needs to change, the acts of corruption need to be investigated. I’m not happy with the explanations of the Casa Blanca, I’m not happy that a couple of companies take all of the public works, I’m not happy with the lavish lifestyle of the presidential family."
--And now they say that El Chapo financed political campaigns...
--It’s part of the circus. I’m no longer surprised, it’s something that the whole world knows. What they say won’t surprise us, we’ve lost the ability of surprise. The problem in Mexico goes beyond seeing who financed the politicians, if it was El Chapo, or if it were Los Zetas, it’s no longer a surprise. Mexico’s problem is embedded in the institutions, it’s the corrupt government, it’s those who are at the top.
José María warns that this situation will not change with elections and political campaigns because the system is designed so that the most corrupt are the candidates and it’s them who are the ones in Congress.
-“How are they going to attempt to change the problems of a municipality in Michoacán or of the country if shit gushes out through the windows of the National Palace?” the IRIS spokesman asserts, who proposes the start of a social insurgency movement across the country.
José María argues that the ex-commissioner sent in by Enrique Peña Nieto, to fix the situation in Michoacán, Alfredo Castillo, was a farce and a circus because it actually empowered criminals and the few good people that were in the movement of the autodefensas were stuffed in jail or fear for their live, because there are still criminal cartels, the same ones still operate, they just changed names.
Castillo and the government of Peña Nieto, says José María, “confided more on murderers and criminals who took advantage of a movement to satiate and dispute criminal plazas as well as ordered the people to risk their lives against a criminal group that did a lot of damage to Mexico and Michoacán,” he says.
-Who did Castillo pact with?
-With the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, with Los Templarios, who did so much damage to Mexico and Michoacán. He made a pact with drug traffickers. But I don’t know who are more dangerous, if it’s them or the ones that came with Alfredo Castillo, who are still stealing, kidnapping, and extorting. They are very efficient at kidnapping and the people are afraid to denounce them. What the Templarios used to do, the people that came with Castillo are now doing the same to the people.
The arrival of Aureoles to the government seat didn’t change the situation, says the spokesman of IRIS, who says that the perredista (PRD member) is only a decoration and didn’t win the elections…he was imposed “as a reward for selling the patrimony of Mexicans from Congress to approve reforms. Here is your prize: Michoacán.”
-What has happened to Michoacán after Felipe Calderón’s declaration of war and the continuation of the same war made by Enrique Peña Nieto?
-Fox promoted a power vacuum; he stopped going after criminals, criminal cartels began to form and it weakened the institutions. Calderón removed the Mexican Army from their barracks to fight crime, which led to massacres, assassinations and disappearances, shaking the country. The cherry on the cake propitiated Peña Nieto. It’s a well-crafted strategy that today the military are caring for a footballer instead of caring for the people, they are the politician’s bodyguards, of officials, of the governors. This elaborate strategy is only the continuation of a mockery of the country.
-What is IRIS going to do in a state where the narco governs? How will it confront the narco if they are the power?
-The narco are people, they are a reflection of a corrupt society, they are a reflection of the Mexicans who are fed up who can’t find another way to get ahead.
“It infuriates us to find that our leaders are stealing. I think that the main problem in Mexico, more than those that are a problem, are the institutions that are rotten. Drug trafficking is the government’s dairy cows, the milking to extort money, they pact with them and when they don’t sign, they put them in jail or they kill them because the main murderers are in the government. Many of the dead autodefensas weren’t assassinated by the cartels, it was the government that killed them to encourage fighting between groups.
-What is IRIS going to do in Michoacán?
-It will be the spark that ignites a movement of large proportions and that promotes change.
-Do you think that the people will respond?
-We’ll try, we can’t anticipate what we’ll achieve but we will try. Perhaps we’ll only sow a seed, maybe that’s what IRIS will serve as, to sow a seed.
“This is a movement of struggle, of social insurgency, it’s a struggle that seeks to inspire. Us, with the weapons that we have, a military squad would annihilate us in five minutes; but they won’t destroy our ideas, they won’t annihilate the cause that moves us. In each person that sees us, we will have left the seed of hope and change planted.”
He states: “We are good people and you have to learn to trust us, because at the moment that they kill our hope, they will kill us as a nation.”
-What will IRIS do to gain the trust of the people?
-We will go to the cities. Corrupt politicians will be our goals, we won’t kill them, we aren’t terrorists, we aren’t murderers. We’re going to display them. There will be a member of IRIS in every person who has the courage to go throw eggs at a corrupt representative. There will be a representative of IRIS in each person who has the courage to stand up at a political rally and call out the person with the microphone as corrupt; there will be a member of IRIS in each event in which a governor or president intends to deceive the reality of Michoacán to tell them the truth. Actions like these are what we will do.