Armed Self-Defense Groups: A New Challenge for Mexico

By Dialogo
February 26, 2013

The proliferation of civilian self-defense armed groups in at least four Mexican states where organized crime prevails, are a new challenge for the national government, according to subject matter experts, legislators, and human rights advocates.

This phenomenon became dramatically evident on January 6, 2013, when 800 men armed with machetes and shotguns gathered in Ayutla de los Libres – a village in the Guerrero Mountains – and formed self-defense groups to defend their communities, which are harassed by criminal organizations that keep terrorizing farmers and indigenous people with kidnapping, murder, and extortion.

On February 20, during a “routine patrol,” the self-defense group confronted a command in the village of El Refugio, where an alleged criminal died, according to community leader Crisóforo García.

These “community police” organizations, which set check points and perform regular patrol activities, captured almost 100 alleged criminals, with the intention of judging them before popular assemblies, instead of bringing them to justice.

However, after a meeting held with Secretary of Government Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, these community leaders agreed to submit the 31 people captured by them to the State Prosecutor’s Office, while the rest were released in exchange for the national government to promote a legal scheme under which the community police can serve this municipality.

In recent weeks, self-defense groups multiplied in the neighboring state of Michoacán, where at least three communities are determined to defend themselves, as well as a municipality in Oaxaca and two in the state of Mexico. All this is happening in a region marked by poverty and insecurity.

Michoacán State Governor Fausto Vallejo, suggested that these community police organizations be legalized under training programs and provisions of equipment for their elements.

In several communities where this phenomenon emerged, drug trafficking cartels linked to drug crops and smuggling are present, with a population that has been heavily armed for years and accustomed to living with guerrillas that proliferated in the 1970s and 1990s.