MORELIA, Mexico – The governor of the western Mexican state of Michoacan, which has been battered by fighting pitting a powerful drug gang against armed self-defense groups, said the state’s attorney general and police chief would be replaced.
Gov. Fausto Vallejo – joined by Alfredo Castillo, the federal government commissioner for Michoacan – told the media Friday in the state capital of Morelia that he had named Jose Martin Godoy to replace Marco Vinicio Aguilera as the state’s attorney general.
He also said Carlos Hugo Castellanos would replace Gen. Alberto Reyes Vaca as the state’s police chief.
The state legislature must confirm the appointments.
Castellanos would be the fourth Michoacan police chief of Vallejo’s two-year tenure as governor.
The governor said he also appointed six regional prosecutors and three deputy police chiefs in “a first step that shows the state government’s willingness ... to work in a coordinated fashion” with the federal government to strengthen the security and justice sectors.
Vallejo also hailed Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s commitment to supporting Michoacan in its struggle to combat organized crime-related violence and the proliferation of armed vigilante groups that arose to defend their communities from the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) drug cartel.
He also touted the coordination between state and federal authorities to achieve “peace, tranquility, security and development.”
Castillo, for his part, praised Vallejo’s commitment and said “coordination and cooperation do not mean subordination,” alluding to recent criticism of his appointment as commissioner for Michoacan and his alleged meddling in the state’s police force.
“These changes respond only to the genuine interest and positive disposition of the governor to contribute to (achieving security gains) and working in a coordinating fashion,” Castillo said.
He added that his role was to be “the federal government’s representative” and coordinate efforts aimed at restoring order and legality in the state. “The constitutional governor is named Fausto Vallejo,” Castillo said.
The appointments were announced Friday after a long meeting between the governor and commissioner that was held a day after Castillo had told a radio station that a shakeup of some state institutions would be necessary.
The Mexican government is mounting a major operation to reassert control in the Tierra Caliente region, which straddles Michoacan, Guerrero and Mexico states.
So far, however, the federal forces have confronted only the self-defense groups.
Monte Alejandro Rubido, a high-ranking federal security official, said Thursday that federal forces had already restored law and order in 20 municipalities and would have all of Tierra Caliente under control by Friday.
No authority, however, confirmed Friday that that objective had been achieved.
Self-defense groups are refusing to hand over their guns because doing so would leave them and their communities defenseless amid the extortion and violence being perpetrated by the Caballeros, Estanislao Beltran, a spokesman for one of the vigilante groups in Michoacan, told Efe Tuesday.
Community self-defense groups and community police forces have been formed in several of Michoacan’s 113 municipalities.
The militia members believe the Caballeros have allies inside law enforcement and the military, Beltran said.