Is the U.S. Helping Mexico Undermine Michoacan’s Vigilantes?

Danny Benavides
May 7, 2014

 

Early last week, former Major General of Mexico Jesus Jaime Garcia Miramontes posted the following message on his Facebook timeline:

April 28, 2014 Facebook post by Jesus Jaime Garcia Miramontes

Hello Facebook friends, I have some friends in the government who have knowledge that the government of Mexico, through the U.S. Embassy has recruited various commandos from the US Navy SEAL Team 6 (a special forces unit of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command), to control Mexico’s GAFE (Grupo Aeromovil de Fuerzas Especiales, or “Air-Mobile Special Forces Group” — similar to Green Berets).

These specialists are “Pochos” (“Americanized Mexicans”) fluent in both languages, and only appear in battalions claiming they were transferred from another group; they’re coordinating a frontal attack on the community guards (“autodefensas,” or self-defense forces) in the following manner:

1. Make them fight among themselves; They have infiltrated the Mexican army and the community guards, and they plan to kill 6 autodefensa leaders by making it look like infighting.

2. Setup a community guard member who traffics drugs and have this exposed in the media.

3. The government will propose the establishment of self-governance along with the collaboration of the state or federal government, but it will be a trap to disarm them.

Dr. Mireles is in great danger and there is a strategically designed plan to make it look like he has been killed by another community guard. Beware.

Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles Valverde

Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles Valverde
Photo: Excelsior

Warnings of this sort have been tossed around regularly since the Mexican military and federal police forces descended into Michoacan in January to conduct an all-out offensive alongside local vigilantes against organized crime groups with a stranglehold on the state, namely, Los Caballeros Templarios (the Knights Templar cartel). Locals fear a repeat of Calderon’s paramilitary crime-fighting as part of the United States’ $1.6 billion Merida Initiative security agreement, and simultaneously worry that some autodefensas may simply replace the cartels instead of banishing them from the region.

The allegations brought forth by Garcia Miramontes are not without controversy, however. In the past, he has called for the prosecution of former President Felipe Calderon accusing him of war crimes and crimes against humanity for the heavy-handed approach undertaken by his administration to smash drug cartels throughout Mexico (consider the relevant example of “Operation Michoacan”). Additionally, Garcia Miramontes has called for the resignation of current President Enrique Pena Nieto and his entire Cabinet for alleged violations of the Mexican Constitution.

In addition, records detailing Garcia Miramontes’s military career and academic credentials seem to be scarce or nonexistent. Skeptical observers take the pronouncements of Garcia Miramontes with a coarse heap of salt and are generally dubious of his credibility. In spite of all of this, his concerns and condemnations are not without merit. He speaks for a significant constituency in Mexico: disaffected, disenfranchised, and distrusting citizens fed up with organized crime, corrupted politicians, and the powerful nexus between the two.

Jesus Jaime Garcia Miramontes

Jesus Jaime Garcia Miramontes

In an interview conducted by Carmen Aristegui of MVS Noticias on the day following Garcia Miramontes’s cautionary message on social media, he elaborated upon his apprehension. According to Garcia Miramontes, when he was in Michoacan in February, he noticed the locals were constantly saying Dr. Mireles was in danger because he had become an influential spokesman for the autodefensas traveling through newly-liberated villages after considerable successes against Los Caballeros Templarios. Mireles has enemies among the cartels, surely, but he also has enemies in government and enemies within the vigilantes as well.

Garcia Miramontes also comments on the claims from Michoacan Governor Fausto Vallejo Figueroa that he never realized his political campaign coordinator was working with the Templarios, and denied knowing anything about his sons who have also been under investigation for links to the cartel.

Garcia Miramontes goes further, stating “I am completely certain — total, absolute certainty — that Fausto Vallejo had knowledge of the meetings between his Lt. Governor Jesus Reyna and the Caballeros Templarios, and it won’t be longer now, maybe another one or two weeks until we’re bound to see the leaked videos online of Fausto Vallejo and “La Tuta” (alias of at-large Caballeros Templarios leader Servando Gomez Martinez).” He goes on to remark about La Tuta, “It’s amusing that foreign journalists can find La Tuta and conduct interviews, but the Army, the Navy, the Federal Police, the state police, the municipal police, no one can seem to catch him… La Tuta is clearly being protected.”

Garcia Miramontes continued by discussing what he heard regarding questions of U.S. involvement:

“Yes, there are pochos as we call them, who know both languages, Army veterans who were born in Mexico but are probably dual-citizens, that know territory like Mexico’s. There are people who were fighting in Afghanistan that are among the special forces infiltrating all of these groups in Michoacan.”

“Who can you trust?” asked Garcia Miramontes. “There are people within the autodefensas that have flipped against them, and the [Mexican] Army is less trustworthy, the Marina less so, the Federal Police less, the municipal police even less!” He points to the good news that Jesus Reyna is incarcerated, two mayors in Michoacan have also been arrested, but warns, “that still leaves the police of Los Reyes, the mayor of Tepalcatepec, the mayor of La Ruana, the mayor of Buenavista Tomatlan, the mayor of Apatzingan.”

Jesus Jaime Garcia Miramontes

Jesus Jaime Garcia Miramontes

Garcia Miramontes called out the Governor of Michoacan, declaring, “Fausto Vallejo is not a nice, old man like he appears on TV. He’s a criminal, the same as a leader of the Caballeros Templarios.” He further states that there are former Templarios that try to appear as autodefensas, but they’re shaking down business owners all over again, they’re charging “taxes” on all sorts of commerce, extorting businesses, engaging in the same criminal activity as the cartels. “You can see who they are, riding in brand new pickup trucks, 15 people armed to the teeth with high-power automatic rifles of the sort that Dr. Mireles and the real autodefensas do not have,” Garcia Miramontes laments.

Responding to smears on his credibility, Garcia Miramontes says, “I’ve sent all of my documentation from my years of service in the army to the government, yet they still issue statements that contradict those documents.”

But is it reasonable to dismiss the allegation of the involvement of U.S. special forces in a conflict that is literally as remote as possible from any conceivable national interests? After all, according to an August 2012 edition of Mexico City-based news magazine Proceso (translated here), former president Felipe Calderon had personally approved a covert plan hatched by the White House, Pentagon, U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), and the National Security Council to deploy a team of Navy SEALs to kill or capture the now-incarcerated Sinaloa Federation capo Chapo Guzman. It was a plan modeled exactly on SEAL Team Six’s “Operation Neptune Spear” which the U.S. government credits with the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The White House plan included drones in the sky for surveillance and backup, and even specified that military counterparts in Mexico be excluded from the op entirely. This is the reason the proposal was completely rejected by Mexico’s top brass in the Army and Navy, the latter of which is still considered to be the most trusted branch of Mexico’s military. The so-called “Plan de Seguridad de Apoyo a México” (Security Plan to Support Mexico) may not have received the green-light then, but the Proceso article makes it clear that the Pentagon has kept this option on the table since, waiting for a more docile administration. Perhaps this administration is that of Pena Nieto’s, keen on political reforms and mesmerized by foreign investments, eager to demonstrate that it is in control, and open for business.

Mireles with autodefensas

Mireles with autodefensas

A FOIA request submitted to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City by John Dyer at Muck Rock may reveal some information once the pertinent documents are released in September of this year, but given the tense, unstable situation in Michoacan, that may be too late to be of much use. The government has enacted a program (set to begin in earnest on May 10) to have the state’s myriad vigilante groups register their members and their firearms, and many fear this will be followed by total disarmament.

Given the continued presence of organized crime — evidenced by more recent armed confrontations with elements of Los Caballeros Templarios (the Knights Templar cartel), corrupt police forces, and at least a half-dozen government officials arrested in the last month or so — disarming the only available defense that remains for the people of Michoacan seems like an unwise move.

From the perspective of the Mexican government and their U.S. masters, however, the autodefensas represent an uncontrollable movement in a region fraught with turmoil. Drug cartels might be violent, ruthless, and unpredictable, but as long as the contraband and cash flows into and through the correct channels, they pose less of a threat to the state and its moneyed interests than an indigenous, armed revolution.

Consider, for example, how the U.S. and Mexico reacted two decades ago to the Zapatistas in Chiapas against the backdrop of the implementation of NAFTA. The allegations from Garcia Miramontes cannot be substantiated at present, but covert intervention by the United States against the autodefensas in Michoacan would not be at all surprising given what history illustrates.

(Left to right) Michoacan Governor Fausto Vallejo Figueroa, Secretary of the Interior Miguel Osorio Chong, and the government's Michoacan security commissioner Alfredo Castillo Cervantes

(Left to right) Michoacan Governor Fausto Vallejo Figueroa, Secretary of the Interior Miguel Osorio Chong, and the government’s Michoacan security commissioner Alfredo Castillo Cervantes
Photo: Excelsior

Perhaps the CIA’s “Midwest Depot” and its 2,000,000 fresh rounds of AK-47 ammunition (enough to reload more than 66,000 Cuernos de chivos) — a weapon not used by U.S. forces — is playing a role in this? Will we ever know if the U.S. had a hand in smothering Michoacan’s local defense militias?