According to various independent media outlets in Mexico, the National Army allegedly opened fired against civilians in the indigenous community of Santa María Ostula, in the municipality of Aquila, Michoacán, during an operation to arrest one of the state's self-defense leaders.
The total number of victims remains unclear, but according to the website Desinformémonos there was at least one death — that of a 12-year-old boy — and four injured. At the time of writing, the Michoacán Coordination Group, under the command of the military, confirmed that there had been an attack by an unidentified armed group that opened fire against residents and vowed to find the perpetrators.
The Cooperativa de Medios (Media Cooperative) Facebook page published a bulletin signed by “the team of support and solidarity with the indigenous community of Santa María Ostula”:
El día de hoy aproximadamente a las 10 hrs un pelotón del ejército mexicano se presentó en los parajes de El Duín y Xayakalan, en la comunidad indígena de Santa María Ostula, Municipio de Aquila, Michoacán. […] Los miembros de ejército impactaron sus vehículos contra los puestos de vigilancia y realizaron disparos…
Today, at approximately 10 a.m. a Mexican Army squad showed up at El Duín and Xayakalan lands in the indigenous community of Santa María Ostula, Municipality of Aquila, Michoacán […] Members of the Army crashed their vehicles against the inspection posts and started shooting…
In the same note, they reported the arrest of one of the commanders of the town's Community Police, who is also responsible for the General Self-Defense Coordination of Aquila, Coahuayana and Chinicuila municipalities:
De manera paralela otro grupo del ejército mexicano detuvo a Cemeí Verdía Zepeda […] en el poblado de La Placita. En ambas acciones los miembros de ejército no presentaron órdenes de aprehensión y se desconoce los delitos de los que acusan a los detenidos. Cabe mencionar que hasta el momento no han sido presentados ante ninguna agencia del ministerio público y se ignora su paradero.
In a parallel operation, another Mexican Army group arrested Cemeí Verdía Zepeda […] in the community of La Placita. In both actions, the soldiers didn't present arrest warrants or mention the crimes with which they accuse the detainees.
Finally, the bulletin also mentioned the response by the local community forces:
Ante las acciones emprendidas por las fuerzas federales la comunidad de Santa María Ostula se movilizó y en estos momentos mantiene retenidos a miembros del ejercito mexicano que participaron en las agresiones. Se debe advertir que se está viviendo una situación de tensión extrema en la región.
Given the actions by the federal forces, the community of Santa María Ostula organized and detained the members of the Mexican Army who participated in the attack. It should be warned that the region is experiencing a current state of extreme tension.
Information about the incident started spreading online, even during the operation. Photos of wounded children together with accusations against the army went viral. César Vázquez, of the independent news website Revolución 3.0, published:
“Al escuchar el escándalo que se generó después de la agresión niños se asomaron desde las ventanas de sus casas llamados por la curiosidad, los cobardes elementos del Ejército Mexicano les dispararon a mansalva”, asegura testigo que presenció la escena.
El resto de los niños tienen balas incrustadas en el vientre, en los pies y en varias partes de sus cuerpos, aunque no estaban asomados por las ventanas […] las [casas] de madera no fueron capaces de detener las balas de loe elementos castrenses, por eso se reportan infantes heridos y asesinados.
“Given all the fuss made after the aggression, some children peered out their windows out of curiosity. The Mexican Army cowards shot at them openly,” said a witness of the scene.
The rest of the kids have bullets embedded in their abdomen, in their feet and various parts of their bodies, even though they were not looking out their windows […] the wooden houses were not able to stop the soldiers’ bullets, that's why there are reports of injured and murdered children.
The same website also reported that José Luis Arteaga Olivares, mayor of Aquila, denounced the aggression carried out by the Mexican Army during the operation. The mayor asked for help and stated that the Army “is killing our people”:
Ya nos están matando a la gente, el Ejercito; me lleno de impotencia por la forma en que matan a su pueblo. Ojalá puedan hacer algo, ocupamos ambulancias hay muchos heridos.
They are already killing the people, the Army; the way they murder their people leaves me helpless. Hopefully something can be done, we need ambulances, there are many injured.
On Twitter, the hashtag #Ostula became a national trending topic in a few hours. Most of the reactions were of rejection, disgust and despair.
— Guadalupe Lizarraga (@gpelizarraga) July 20, 2015
#Ostula a paradise of natural resources, attacked by the Army that should be defending it
En #Ostula un crimen de lesa humanidad cometido una vez más por el Ejército mexicano. Las víctimas; un niño asesinado y dos pequeños heridos
— Jesús Robles Maloof (@roblesmaloof) July 20, 2011
A crime against humanity in Ostula, this time committed by the Mexican Army. The victims; a murdered kid and two injured children
no murió, lo asesinó el ejército mexicano #Ostula
— Miss partes (@misspartes) July 20, 2015
He didn't die, he was murdered by the Mexican Army
Si el Estado pone las balas y nosotros los muertos, no hay enfrentamientos, hay ejecuciones. #Ostula
— Bicha Analco (@BichaAnalco) July 20, 2015
If the state has the bullets and we have the dead, there are no clashes, there are executions.
Some questioned what they imagined the official version of the story would be:
¿Y vendrán de nuevo con la historia del fuego cruzado? #Ostula
— Arturo Cano (@ArturoCanoMx) July 20, 2015
Will they come out again with the story of crossfire?
While others pointed out the lack of coverage by traditional media, given that at the same time the news broke on social media, the Gold Cup football match Mexico vs. Costa Rica was on:
ATTENTION: While we are all watching the game, in Michoacán soldiers attack indigenous people of Ostula
Ya que termino el partido. Podemos tener la maldita atención en los hechos de #Ostula ¡Lametable! Una crisis más de agravio a los DDHH
— Oscar Perever (@VerdejaOscar) July 20, 2015
Now that the match is over. Can we turn our damn attention to the events of Ostula. Shameful! Another human rights grievance.
No official declarations have been given regarding the number of dead civilians, but the government has confirmed the arrest of the leader Cemeí Verdia for allegedly violating the Federal Fire Weapons and Explosives Law.
— Jordy M.Y. (@jordy_my) July 20, 2015
Still without a bulletin/declaration about Ostula. Again, they [President and Secretary of Interior] find out late what's going on and don't react
At the end of 2012 and beginnings of 2013, self-defense groups from Michoacan took over the control of several municipalities to kick out criminal organizations such as the Templar Knights. Aquila is one of the three municipalities bordering Michoacan's Pacific coastline, an area used by this cartel and other drug organizations to receive cocaine shipments from South America.
For more context on the situation in Ostula community and its participation in the self-defense movement, watch the video below (with English subtitles) by Los Tejemedios: