MEXICO CITY – A leader of the self-defense groups that took up arms in early 2013 in the western Mexican state of Michoacan to defend communities from organized crime was released on Friday after three years in pre-trial detention.
Jose Manuel Mireles, who is charged with use of weapons intended exclusively for the military, spoke briefly to the media upon leaving the federal prison in Tepic, capital of the western state of Nayarit, at around 7 am.
“Thank you for the moral support you’ve given us over these three years; you’ve always kept tabs of our health status,” Mireles said, adding that he had many pending issues to attend to and that the struggle must continue.
In an interview with Radio Formula, Mireles said that during his time behind bars he had suffered two pre-heart attacks and had problems with diabetes and a spinal ailment.
A judge ruled that Mireles could be released from custody while awaiting trial, although he must pay a 30,000-peso ($1,590) bond and meet certain conditions, including appearing before the court every month and not having contact with former members of self-defense groups nor with individuals related to his case.
The judge said he was granting Mireles that benefit because he had been carrying out self-defense functions at the time of his arrest in June 2014.
The former vigilante leader was arrested on June 27, 2014, in Lazaro Cardenas, a municipality in Michoacan, along with 82 other members of the self-defense groups that had formed the year before in that state in response to a wave of extortion, murder and kidnapping by members of the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) drug cartel.
In May 2014, the government began incorporating members of those groups into the newly created Fuerza Rural, but Mireles refused to join that community police force and continued to act independently in several areas of Michoacan.
President Enrique Peña Nieto sent troops and Federal Police units into Michoacan in January 2014 to smash Los Caballeros Templarios, which had seized effective control of substantial portions of that state.