MEXICO CITY — More than a week after surviving a plane crash, the injured Mexican militia leader Jose Manuel Mireles rejected the government’s call for his movement to disarm, vowing to fight on until the drug cartel leaders in his area have been arrested and the state of Michoacan establishes the rule of law.
Mireles, a 55-year-old surgeon who leads the militia movement that has spread rapidly over the past year across Michoacan and seized territory from the Knights Templar drug cartel, spoke to reporters late Monday from a safe house after being treated at a private hospital in Mexico City.
Mexican soldiers reportedly began to disarm some members of the militia movement in Michoacan on Monday, and Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong called on the vigilantes to lay down their weapons and go home. The conflict in Michoacan has intensified in recent weeks as vigilantes have seized new towns and gunmen have attacked government buildings, libraries and shops. The spiraling violence has emerged as one of the most critical tests for President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government.
“Rest assured that we will contain the violence in Michoacan,” Osorio Chong said.
Mireles said his followers should not put down their weapons until the government arrests the cartel leaders and proves it can restore the rule of law.
“We are simply civilians,” he said. “We want justice. When there is no justice in a town, when there is no rule of law in a town, the people have to find justice by their own hands.”
Mireles is recovering from injuries suffered when his small airplane crashed this month as he was returning home from Guadalajara. He said he had seven broken ribs, two fractured vertebrae and a dislocated jaw. His neck was covered in bruises, his right eye was swollen, and he walked with a cane. Wearing white Crocs, flannel pajama pants and a gray sweater, he spoke slowly and sometimes paused to hold his chest, seemingly in pain.
“I’m not well,” he said. “I have many health problems that must be solved. And I hope God allows me to live and emerge from this situation and to see the culmination of the fight that we began.”
Mireles denied reports that he had authorized his militia to disarm. He said the militia controls 28 towns in Michoacan, or one-quarter of the state. He said he eventually wants his followers to “return to our communities and go back to our daily activities.” But he said that first they must stop the cartels from “charging protection fees, committing executions, kidnapping, extortion, rape.”
“When they detain the seven heads of the Knights Templar, then we can return to our communities,” he said. “We are willing to disarm ourselves when the authorities live up to their responsibilities.”
“If Manuel Mireles falls,” he said, “the movement should not fall.”