On Monday, dozens of activists from the Supreme Indigenous Council of Michoacán used axes and sledgehammers to take down a statue of a Spanish priest, Fray Antonio de San Miguel. 

The statute depicted the priest forcing members of the Purepecha indigenous community to haul and cut stones for him during the construction of the city’s aqueduct in 1780. The statue was built by the city in 1995, but has faced opposition from Morelia residents and Indigenous activists since its construction. 

According to the Mexican newspaper El Financiero, activists belonging to the Purepecha indigenous community had organized a referendum in August 2021 to determine if the statute should be taken down, but the city government refused to remove it. After the rejection, activists took matters into their own hands. 

In a statement released by the council on Monday, activists said “before the indolence, racism, discrimination, and lack of attention from the City of Morelia” they took the statue down themselves, calling it “a symbol of subordination, representation of slavery, and an emblem of Spanish genocide.” 

However, the City of Morelia did not take the issue lightly and arrested a bus filled with 24 of the activists allegedly responsible for taking the statue down. 

According to El Sol de Morelia, the council responded by demanding the release of the “political prisoners” and putting up roadblocks throughout the state of Michoacán to push the government to release them.

And their tactics worked. The council released a video on Facebook of the activists being released early in the morning on Tuesday.