January 9, 2014
“Every day from seven o’clock to noon I attend to my patients but from noon and on I go to the war”, Dr. Mireles in his office in Tepalcatepec, November, 2013. Michoacán is in the middle of war. The three main players are: Los Caballeros Templarios; the Federal Police and the Mexican Army; and the self-defense groups that have emerged in Michoacán-much like in other states-in a void of peace and security.
From these self-defense groups there has emerged a moral leader in the region of Tierra Caliente. Dr. José Manuel Mireles Valverde heads the General Council of the Community and Self-Defense Groups of Michoacán. Ever since the people of this region rose in February, Dr. Mireles has been a public voice who calls for Mexicans to be able to defend themselves against organized crime.
Last week, the photographer Hans-Máximo Musielik spent five days with Dr. Mireles, documenting him and the self-defense groups who look to expand the territory under the control of the self-defense groups. Since Sunday, December 29, when they peacefully liberated the municipality of Churumuco everything was relatively quiet, until Saturday, January 4.
On that day, the community took the town of Parácuaro, the tenth to be under the control of the self-defense groups. Unlike Churumuco, there were clashes and deaths in the area. At least two alleged members of the Caballeros Templarios died in a reported shootout and two Mexican soldiers died in a nearby ambush. The photos of Musielik document the death of a Self-defense member.
After the taking of Parácuaro, on Saturday night, the plane in which Dr. Mireles was traveling on crashed in the town of La Huacana. The leader, who practices in the Community Police of the municipality of Tepalcatepec, survived the accident along with three others.
Dr. Mireles is now in Mexico City, recovering under the custody of the Federal Police. The federal government has stated that it provided Dr. Mireles with protection because basically he’s a political figure. Without him, communities that now confide in the self-defense groups would be without a figure that represents the struggle of the people against organized crime.
But in Michoacán, the threat of cartels covers more aspects than any other criminal gang. As shown in one of the photos of Musielik, the Templars, like its predecessor (La Familia Michoacana), are a social force that some residents of the conflict zones will demonstrate their commitment and loyalty, even on their shirts.
“It’s a revolt”, Hans-Máximo says, who for the past year has traveled several times to Michoacán take photos. “Whoever they are, it’s a historical event.”
The following is a photo-report by Musielik, published exclusively for VICE. All photos are taken by Hans-Máximo Musielik.
Sunday, December 29, 2013, Churumuco, Michoacán
10:03 A.M.—On the basketball court of the town of Churumuco, Michoacán, Dr. Mireles speaks to the town and gives reasons for the taking and ensures their support in fighting against the Caballeros Templarios. “Since today, Churumuco is officially taken by the citizen movement of the community of Churumuco. We welcome those who want to arm themselves and defend their families and their people. If you are armed and come into the presence with the Federal Police or the Army, do not run; the Templarios are the ones who have to flee. Show them respect, lower your weapons when they pass. The Army and the Feds are our friends”. Twenty vehicles led by Dr. Mireles had entered that town around 9:30 in the morning without any incidents.
11:38 A.M.—After the taking of Churumuco, Dr. Mireles (seated right) with an escort and another commander, talks with the mayor of Churumuco, Gildardo Barrera Estrada, and announces that after the peaceful occupation of the town, they would be there to “clean up the town of Caballeros Templarios”.
11:48 A.M.— A local mother of Churumuco makes her way through the self-defense members (who had just taken the town) with her children. Her face rigid along with a message on her shirt that challenged the newcomers: “Congratulations Father on your day, Thanks for being a Father and being a Templario”.
12:40 P.M.—After the taking, two armed self-defense members with assault rifles, watch from the bed of a truck going towards the tenure of Poturo, where they built barricades to defend the population against attacks from the Templars.
13:07 P.M.—The bodyguard of Dr. Mireles known as El Siete (The Seven) victoriously salutes after the successful taking of Churumuco.
Monday, December 30, 2013
9:00 A.M.—Zicuirán, Michoacán. Dr. José Manuel Mireles Valverde, leader of the General Council of the Community and Self-Defense Groups of Tepalcatepec, Michoacán, checks his cell phone in front of a map of the area. On December 18, 2013 the self-defense groups led by Mireles took control of the safety of the community of Zicuirán, municipality of La Huacana, and since then have their operational base at a local restaurant.
15:23 P.M.—El Chauz, Michoacán. Two Self-defense members rest near the main roadblock of El Chauz, a few kilometers from Zicuirán where the Citizens Movement has its temporary operational base. The roadblock is on the main road Pátzcuaro-Apatzingán. Several local residents joined the self-defense group led by Dr. Mireles. They take turns monitoring for two to four hours. During some days they remain at the roadblocks resting, eating and cleaning themselves at nearby checkpoints. They rarely go home.
15:40 P.M.—El Chauz, Michoacán. A member sleeps.
16:37 P.M.—El Chauz, Michoacán. Another member taking a small break.
16:40 P.M.—El Chauz, Michoacán. In the main roadblock of El Chauz, all vehicles are stopped for an inspection including cargo trucks of candy and soft drinks.
16:50 P.M.—El Chauz, Michoacán. A member picks up his AK-47 in the main roadblock of El Chauz, and prepares to start his shift of monitoring.
18:00 P.M. — Zicuirán, Michoacán. At the temporary base of operations in Zicuirán, Dr. Mireles reads the note on the peaceful occupation of the municipality of Churumuco, in a newspaper where he appears on the cover.
18:58 P.M. — Zicuirán, Michoacán. Two of Dr. Mireles’s bodyguards, El Siete(center) and El Tormenta (The Storm) (right) are relaxing for a moment playing a game of pool near a temporary base of operations in Zicuirán.
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
14:09 P.M.—La Huacana, Michoacán. A member known as Mi Rey (My King) holds his assault rifle in the bed of a truck arriving to La Huacana, Michoacán.
15:17 P.M. —La Huacana, Michoacán. A custom leather holster of an advisor of Dr. Mireles known as Papá Pitufo (Papa Smurf) as he stands guard in front of the city hall of La Huacana waiting for Dr. Mireles. Details like this where the self-defense groups personalize items and weapon accessories are very common and used to create an identity between them.
15:31 P.M.—La Huacana, Michoacán. El Tormenta’s pistol as he gets on the truck.
15:50 P.M. —El Ciruelo, Michoacán. A self-defense member is preparing to test fire a few shots into the air with his AK-47, in what they call “breaking in” the gun. The roadblock of El Ciruelo is one of the most strategic and dangerous, and that by a gap, controls access to the road 37D-Lázaro Cárdenas-Uruapan (which goes to Tierra Caliente and passes near Apatzingán, the Templario stronghold).
15:55 P.M. —El Ciruelo, Michoacán. A member rests behind a roadblock in Ciruelo, while his phone battery is charged.
17:07 P.M.—El Ciruelo, Michoacán. About seven hours before the new year, Dr. Mireles visits the roadblock in El Ciruelo personally congratulating his companions. The Caballeros Templarios, two days earlier, in an attempt to psychologically exhaust the combatants, spread the rumor of an imminent attack on New Year’s Day. The attack never occurred.
Saturday, January 4, 2014
15:06 P.M.—Parácuaro, Michoacán. A member shot after a shootout with the Caballeros Templarios during the taking of Parácuaro.
16:04 P.M.— Parácuaro, Michoacán. A member taking shelter behind a truck during a shootout with the Caballeros Templarios in Parácuaro, where a self-defense member died, others hide behind a palm tree.
16:58 P.M.— Parácuaro, Michoacán. A member shows one of the books written by Nazario Moreno González, a drug lord of La Familia Michoacana. The book was found in a raid on a house belonging to a Templario in Parácuaro, after the taking made hours before.
17:56 P.M.—Cuatro Caminos, Michoacán. Soldiers guarding the stretch of highway blocked by the Caballeros Templarios. This was a response to the taking of Parácuaro, made hours before by the self-defense group of Dr. Mireles.