June 29, 2023 -MEXICO CITY (AP) — The leader of an armed civilian movement that once kicked a drug cartel out of the western Mexico state of Michoacan has been killed, authorities confirmed Thursday.
Tributes quickly rolled in for slain “self defense” leader Hipólito Mora. He was one of the last surviving leaders of Michoacan’s armed vigilante movement, in which farmers and ranchers banded together to expel the Knights Templar cartel from the state between 2013 and 2014.
Mora was one of the few fighters to reman in his hometown after the struggle, tending to his lime groves. But Mora complained in recent years that many vigilante forces were later infiltrated by the cartels, and that gang violence was worse than ever.
“He was a man who could not be corrupted, a natural leader, an authentic voice,” said Rev. Gregorio López, a Catholic priest who accompanied and participated in the self-defense movement of that time. All the leaders of the movement were in constant danger, and López was known for wearing a flak vest while celebrating Mass.
Because of the dangers — Mora’s son was killed by a drug gang in 2014 — Mora normally traveled in an SUV with bulletproofing, with a small guard detail, some of them former vigilantes who had been hired as police officers.
A state official who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record said that unidentified assailants had attacked Mora’s vehicle on a street in his hometown, La Ruana, and riddled it with bullets and set it afire. As many as three people are believed to have died in the attack. The others may have been members of Mora’s security detail.
State prosecutors said they were sending experts to the small town to determine the identities of the dead.
Guillermo Valencia, a leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party in Michocan, confirmed Mora’s death.
In a statement posted to social media, Valencia said “they have killed one of the most iconic figures of the self-defense movement, a man who deserved to be in the history books, not killed they way he was.”
Mora, Valencia said, was “a brave man, a man who never ceased in the struggle.”
In 2022, Mora told The Associated Press that the situation in Michoacan now was worse than when he led farmers from his hometown in the fight to expel the Knights Templar cartel in 2013. That cartel was largely disbanded, but it was replaced by the Viagras cartel, which has gone on to kidnap, kill and extort money from farmers and businesses since then.
“In terms of safety, we are worse than ever,” Mora said in 2022 following a meeting with senior government officials in Mexico City to demand more protection for Michoacan.
He complained the federal government had been fighting an incursion by the Jalisco cartel into the state, but had done little to combat the homegrown Viagras and United Cartels.
“They have to fight all the cartels, not just one,” Mora said at the time.