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Hipólito Mora, an advocate for community defense against gangs, tragically killed in Mexico

Hipólito Mora, leader of Mexican armed vigilante movement, killed by gunmen.

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- The leader of an armed civilian movement that once drove 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 remain in his hometown after the struggle, tending to his lime groves. However, in recent years, Mora had expressed concerns about the infiltration of cartels into many vigilante forces and the worsening gang violence.

"He was a man who could not be corrupted, a natural leader, an authentic voice," said Rev. Gregorio López, a Roman Catholic priest who accompanied and participated in the self-defense movement. The leaders of the movement were in constant danger, and López was known for wearing a flak vest while celebrating Mass.

Due to the threats and dangers Mora faced, he often traveled in an SUV with bulletproofing and had a small guard detail, some of whom were former vigilantes hired as police officers.

The Michoacan state prosecutors office reported that unidentified gunmen ambushed Mora's vehicle and his bodyguards' pickup on a street in his hometown of La Ruana. They opened fire, riddling Mora's vehicle with bullets, and then set it on fire. Three other men, believed to be members of his security detail, were also killed. Prosecutors stated that one of the four corpses matched Mora's description.

Gov. Alfredo Ramírez expressed his condolences on social media, stating that they deeply regret the cowardly killing of Hipólito Mora and promising that justice will be served.

Guillermo Valencia, a leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party in Michoacan, also mourned Mora's death, describing him as a man who deserved to be remembered in the history books.

In 2022, Mora spoke to The Associated Press about the worsening situation in Michoacan. He stated that the state had become more dangerous than when he led the fight against the Knights Templar cartel in 2013. The cartel was largely disbanded, but it was replaced by the Viagras cartel, also known as Carteles Unidos, which continued to engage in criminal activities.

Mora criticized the federal government's approach, noting that they focused on fighting the Jalisco cartel's incursion into the state but did little to combat the homegrown cartels. He argued that all cartels should be targeted, not just one.

Falko Ernst, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, supported Mora's criticism, stating that the government's strategy of teaming up with certain cartels had not brought peace to Michoacan. He emphasized that Mora's assassination highlighted the ongoing severity of the situation.

Mora's involvement in the self-defense movement began in 2013 when he and his followers in La Ruana were isolated by Knights Templar gunmen. Tired of the cartel's oppression, the townspeople took up arms and established barricades to protect themselves. After months of resistance, Mexican troops finally intervened to support the vigilantes.

Mora's hope for a better future was shattered when he was briefly jailed by the government. Despite the risks, he remained committed to the cause and even ran for political positions unsuccessfully.

Mora's final Facebook post, published the day before his death, showed him back on his farm, expressing his love for the countryside and his dedication to his own business.

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