An indigenous community on Mexico’s Pacific coast says it is facing a renewed threat from organized crime after the army effectively dismantled a local self-defense group.
“They sent me two harsh threats, that if I don’t shut up they’re going to come for me, and for the rest of the comrades,” Aquila spokesman Octavio Villanueva Magaña told MVS radio Friday.
The threats came hours after he spoke out on Thursday to complain that the community had been left defenseless by the army’s move against its militia, Villanueva Magaña said.
Residents of Aquila and other indigenous communities in the western state of Michoacan recently formed militias to defend themselves against a criminal organization that calls itself “Los Caballeros Templarios” (Knights Templar).
The Caballeros, who originated in 2010 as a faction of La Familia Michoacana, are said to dominate the trade in synthetic drugs bound for the United States, such as crystal meth.
But the gang also preys on ordinary people in Michoacan, engaging in extortion, kidnapping and murder.
The Indian community militias are lawful under provisions of the Mexican Constitution that protect traditional customs and practices of indigenous populations.
Aquila found itself in the national spotlight this week when the army detained 46 members of the community militia after area residents held 32 soldiers prisoner in retaliation for the arrest of town leader Agustin Villanueva Ramirez.
Besides the Caballeros, Aquila is at odds with multinational miner Ternium, which extracts iron ore from the community’s lands and resents paying royalties to the residents, Villanueva Magaña said.
Ternium, he said, is trying to pit Aquila residents against each other because the company “wants to take the iron for free.”