By JESSICA GUERRERO
MORELIA, Michoacán — During the last two weeks, the country has faced a serious security crisis, after several violent incidents took place across cities located in the states of Baja California, Chihuahua and Guanajuato, where different organized crime groups directly attacked civilians and set fires to dozens of businesses and private vehicles.
The aforementioned resulted, in the first instance, in million-peso losses for the owners of the affected businesses and vehicle owners, but more importantly, at least 14 fatalities were recorded, including a child.
This series of violent events took place almost simultaneously, generating great commotion in the country and alerting the authorities to a possible spread of violence across other parts of the country with existing security problems, such as the states of Jalisco and Michoacán.
It was specifically in the latter where on Saturday, Aug. 13, agents of the Mexican Army, the National Guard and the Civil Guard deployed an operation that included armored vehicles to achieve the arrest of 167 armed men on the Siglo XXI highway that connects the state capital, Morelia, with the narco-infested region of Tierra Caliente and the port of Lázaro Cárdenas.
According to the authorities, after an exhaustive intelligence operation of their forces, they were able to arrest these armed men after they were seen traveling in 28 vehicles near the municipality of Uruapan. The people in those vehicles carried badges and stickers that identified them as members of the Pueblos Unidos criminal group.
Pueblos Unidos is a vigilante organization that emerged in 2021, allegedly composed of farmers and community members from the avocado-producing region in central Michoacán. According to its founders, its main objective was to defend the local farmers against the continuous extortions and threats of the cartels. However, the organization has been accused of collaborating with the Carteles Unidos criminal group, becoming a major concern to the authorities by presumably threatening the state’s security situation.
Despite the fact that the Pueblos Unidos members were traveling heavily armed, carrying 142 assault rifles, 44 pistols of various calibers and thousands of cartridges, as well as tactical equipment, the arrest was carried out in a peaceful and organized manner.
However, just a few hours later, hundreds of residents of the municipalities where the Pueblos Unidos group operates responded to the massive arrest by blocking some of the state’s main highways to demand the immediate release of the 167 men who had just been arrested. The state’s Civil Guard forces later dismantled the blockades.
But the protests by the Pueblos Unidos’ supporters did not end there. The following day, 25 members of the National Guard forces were kidnapped by members of the Pueblos Unidos organization in the municipality of Paracho. The National Guard members were later released.
Meanwhile, Michoacán Governor Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla celebrated the arrest of the 167 alleged members of Pueblos Unidos organization, claiming that their organization’s real purpose is to destabilize the state. Nonetheless, the relatives of the detainees demanded their release, arguing that they are not criminals but local farmers who are simply fed up with the climate of violence that prevails in this region of Michoacán and who have armed themselves to protect their communities.
On Wednesday, Aug. 17, after a second hearing, a federal judge in Michoacán determined that the detention of the 167 members of the Pueblos Unidos organization was lawful.
So far, three of the defendants, who happen to be minors, have been bound over to trial for allegations of possession of firearms and explosives, while the other 164 defendants have been sent to a Federal Prison in Morelia until their final hearing takes place on Sunday, Aug. 21, and the court determines whether they will be released or remain imprisoned as they await sentencing.