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Autodefensas

With a Finger on the Trigger

By GUILLERMO GONZÁLEZ DEL CAMPO

Men and women of all ages and all professions are part of the self-defense of Michoacan. These are five examples of them.

NAME: Erick
AGE: 15
OCCUPATION: Guard

HIS HISTORY: Erick is the son of a cattleman who has been extorted by the Caballeros Templarios for years and who’s had heads of cattle stolen.

Last December, some armed men went to his school to ask for him with the intention of taking him hostage. Since then he was forced to abandon his studies and take up arms.

IN HIS OWN WORDS:
“The youth has been sequestered by lack of security. Many abductions, many shootouts in groups, terror among the young.”
NAME: Karina
AGE: 29
OCCUPATION: Cook

HER HISTORY: After being unemployed for several months, she was hired as cook for the self-defense troops.

She says the diners are grateful and eat everything, hot or cold. “They eat beans, eggs, potatoes, lentils, whatever.” That is, they are not choosy.

There are few women among the ranks of the self-defense groups, but she has no complaints. She assures that her companions treat her with consideration and respect.

IN HER OWN WORDS:
“When one joins up [with the self-defense groups] one pulls in the whole family.”
NAME: Estanislao Beltran, aka “Papa Pitufo”
AGE: 55
OCCUPATION: Cattleman

HIS HISTORY: Grows Mexican limes and raises cattle in the state of Michoacan, Mexico. Like other farmers, cattlemen, and businessmen from the region, he has been the victim of extortion by members of the Caballeros Templarios cartel, which inspired him to join up with self-defense groups in his state.

Beltran is the spokesperson for the Citizens Self-Defense Council of Michoacan. He says he receives no money for that position and that, rather, he contributes to the cause.

IN HIS OWN WORDS:
“When the people decide, when the people raise their hand, there is no government that can stop them.”
NAME: Jose Manuel Mireles
AGE: 56
OCCUPATION: Medical surgeon

HIS HISTORY: He worked for 25 years at a health center in Tecaltepec, Michoacan, and on weekends he cares for his mango orchard. He recounts how for many years his family had to pay a “fee” of $500 for every vehicle on his property. Tired of being extorted, he traded in his stethoscope for an assault rifle and became spokesperson for the self-defense groups.

IN HIS OWN WORDS:
“There are cattlemen who must carry arms. There are ranchers who must carry arms. They must watch over their calves; they must watch their goats; they must keep an eye on their sheep. And a little pistol isn’t going to help them kill a coyote, while a rifle can, and even more if it’s high powered.”
NAME: Alberto Gutierrez, aka “Comandante Cinco”
AGE: 39
OCCUPATION: Lemon grower and horse rancher

HIS HISTORY: He is the head of the self-defense groups in Apatzingan, Michoacan. Before taking up arms, he worked in the fields planting lemons. He says he sent his wife and three children to the U.S. in order to guarantee their safety.

He says his main advantage is his knowledge of the territory now taken by the self-defense groups, knowledge he uses to make decisions about strategy. Gutierrez says he will not rest until the leaders of the Caballeros Templarios have been arrested

IN HIS OWN WORDS:
“I am a legal rural defense and all of my companions keep to the legal route. The one who doesn’t must pay according to the law. We ourselves will arrest him.”