The indigenous communities of Santa Maria Ostula have denounced 3 separate attacks by the Mexican military that occurred yesterday in the municipality of Aquila, Michoacán state. The attacks resulted in the death of 1 minor, several others injured along with arrests of several members of the indigenous community and the leader of the Aquila autodefensas group, Semeí Verdía, who was the target of the military operation.
The events began Sunday morning around 10 AM when the Mexican military conducted an operation to arrest the leader of local autodefensas group, Semeí Verdía, in the village of La Placita. The military appeared at the same time at El Duin and Xayakalan, sites where the community police forces maintain checkpoints.
According to testimonies collected by La Jornada Michoacán, the military then ran their vehicles into the checkpoints, opened fire and attempted to detain several people. At the time of publishing it is unknown how many were detained or their names. In the actions in El Duin and Xayakalan, military members had no arrest warrants and crimes against those who were detained are unknown.
Subsequently, around 11 AM another group of military personnel arrested members of the Commissariat of Communal Goods of Santa Maria Ostula, again without presenting arrest warrants and acting violently.
UPDATE July 20 8:30 PM EST: Proceso reports the arrest of a local villager, Refugio Serrano however his whereabouts are unknown.
Semeí Verdía has been charged with possession of firearms and explosives used exclusively by the Mexican military. He is facing an additional charge of destroying ballot boxes.
Verdía is first commander of the community police force of the indigenous community of Santa Maria Ostula and General Coordinator of the AUC in the municipalities of Aquila, Coahuayana and Chinicuila.
After Verdía was detained, community members began to peacefully demonstrate and tried to march to the municipal seat of Aquila located about 1 hour away. During the march, the Mexican military blocked the way of the protesters and opened fire on the demonstrators. Quadratin spoke via telephone with people involved who relayed that about 300 protesters demanded the military release Semeí Verdía. The military then opened fire on the demonstrators, broke through the block and proceeded to fire on houses and restaurants where presumably several injuries occurred.
— Saulo Corona (@SauloCorona) July 20, 2015
Community members arrived at Hospital Coahuayana around 6 PM with the bodies of three wounded and one deceased all by bullets: Melesio Cristiano – age 60, Neymi Natalli Pineda Reyes – age 6 and Antonio Alejo Ramos, 17 years old were injured. Heriberto Reyes García, approximately 12 years of age was killed.
UPDATE July 20 8:30 PM EST: Proceso reports that 6 year old Neymi Natalli Pineda Reyes and 60 year old Melesio Cristiano died of their injuries. The balance is now 3 deaths in the Ostula attacks.
UPDATE July 21 11:30 AM: Subversiones arrived in Ostula to verify information on those deceased & injured. They are now confirming that the 6 year old and 60 year old, previously reported as passed are still alive. 12 year old, Heriberto Reyes García is a confirmed death.
— SubVersiones AAC (@SubVersionesAAC) July 21, 2015
— La Jornada (@lajornadaonline) July 20, 2015
Semeí Verdía was previously targeted by local cartel, Caballeros Templarios working in collusion with the former mayor of Aquila. On May 30, state police arrested Juan Hernandez, mayor of Aquila, who was accused of planning attacks on Shimei Verdía by orders of Federico González Medina “The Lico” main boss of the Caballeros Templarios in the region.
The former PRI mayor was charged with aggravated homicide and attempted cover-up. The leader of the autodefensas of Huahua, José Antioco Calvillo García reported on the movements of Semeí Verdía to Juan Hernandez who in return paid him money. It was reported that the mayor offered $2 million pesos to a criminal group to kill Semeí Verdía.
The leader of the autodefensas of Huahua and the mayor of Aquila “had meetings on several occasions in Maruata and Aquila, with members of organized crime in order to plan the assassination of Semeí Verdía, recalling the recruitment of six people identified as Rigoberto Mejía Valdovinos, Argel Mejía Valdovinos, Ramiro Álvarez Medina, Christian David García de Asís and Victorino Mejía, who were offered two million pesos after the job was executed and were paid seven thousand pesos ($452) in advance”. – Borderland Beat
Juan Hernandez had met with “La Tuta” in 2013 and agreed to allow drug traffickers to exploit the iron mines of the region, from which they extracted thousands of tonnes of ore which were exported illegally to China, through the international Michoacan port of Lazaro Cardenas, activity in which Verdía was seen as an obstacle.
Here in a short video, the people of Ostula describe frequent disappearances, fear and general insecurity felt by their community before the autodefensas came to protect them.
VIDEO: Ostula: The power of the people (subtitles in English)
Residents in the municipality of Aquila took up arms against Caballeros Templarios in February 2013. Local communities are in full support of the self defense groups and in many locations where AUC forces are gaining ground, people describe finally being able to walk in the streets without fear.