The Creation of a Mexican Political Prisoner: José Manuel Mireles

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The Creation of a Mexican Political Prisoner: José Manuel Mireles

Reforma: Sergio Aguayo, with the collaboration of Maura Roldán Álvarez
Translated by Thomas Mosley

The imprisonment of José Manuel Mireles has been added to the interplay between organized crime, mobilized society, and the State.

The spread of organized crime looms in the background due to geopolitical realities, economic inequalities, and gaps left by a State that is characterized by corruption and inefficiency. Michoacán reached its limit because of the brutality and greed of the Knights Templar.

Let’s take the self-defense groups as a second aspect. Michoacán stands out in the Caribbean Basin’s criminal history because only there did they confront the criminals with an armed uprising. Mireles, a charismatic social leader and a great communicator, found himself in this new phenomenon. He was their spokesman and a representative until, at the beginning of this year, a plane crash took him out of play. Meanwhile, Excélsior spread the word of the dark part of his biography (that he was imprisoned for drug trafficking), which the doctor insisted on denying.

Mireles reappeared in February, distancing himself from other leaders and the powerful commissioner Alfredo Castillo Cervantes. Wrapping himself in the flag of autonomy, he called the agreement between the federal government and self-defense groups “theatrics,” and he repeatedly criticized Peña Nieto’s commissioner. Mireles upped the ante a few days ago by leading a group of 300 people, taking over a strategic town, and announcing, "We want to enter Lázaro Cárdenas, and then we want to go to Morelia." The government responded to his challenge in the style characteristic of politicians from the State of Mexico.

When Enrique Peña Nieto sees his authority challenged, he responds with extreme harshness, and the larger the resistance, the greater the abuse. Elba Esther Gordillo rebelled, but as soon as she stepped into jail, he left his "warrior" soul in the closet and treated her well. Mireles has more similarities with the Atenco case of 2006 in which the People's Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT) stood up to the authorities. Peña Nieto, who was governor, ordered a violent assault and condemned the main leader, Ignacio del Valle, to 112 years in prison! He would still be behind bars if it weren’t for the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) ordering his release and that of 11 others in 2010, because "illegal or insufficient evidence was used" and "they did not have access to due process." Minister Juan Silva Meza cited it as an example of "the criminalization of social protest."

They are following the same script with Mireles and his self-defense groups. Alfredo Castillo stated that Mireles was arrested for carrying illegal weapons and for having "four bags with marijuana [and one with] cocaine." So far they have not provided any image showing Mireles armed, and the detention order, the defense attorney assures me, reduces the importance of the drug: It speaks of three "small bags" of marijuana and a "small bag of cocaine-like powder," less than one gram.

Revanchism and attempting to break Mireles’s will came into play in the decision to send him to Hermosillo when Puente Grande, Jalisco, has a similar federal prison. To humiliate him, it seems, they chopped off his hair and mustache. Jurist Miguel Sarre tells me that moving him so far away has to be justified because "it affects his right to due process" and that the "haircut is a violation of the rights of personal identity" and a way to "denigrate those who enjoy the presumption of innocence." This Sunday Proceso is publishing fragments of a book by José Reveles, who says Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán still has hair. If this is confirmed, Peña Nieto’s government treats a cartel boss better than a popular leader.

In this unfinished story the federal government is losing the battle of perceptions. After reading the reviews in the capital’s press, even those that highlight the dark side of Mireles’s biography or criticize his announcement to march on Lázaro Cárdenas and Morelia accept that he and his people are victims of a government that applies the law selectively.

What a paradox! Until a few days ago Mireles was a marginal character who wandered between Michoacán politics and the self-defense groups. When the government sent him to Sonora, he became an example whose rebirth or decline will no longer depend on legalities but on many other events. For now, to paraphrase Miguel de Unamuno, they will imprison, but they will never convince. They have already turned Mireles into a political prisoner.

Spanish original;

- See video commentary: "How to Understand Dr. Mireles’s apprehension" (in Spanish)
Words are powerful weapons, be careful how you use them.