Mexico vigilantes take over government building, hold 11 officers

January 9, 2014

Army detentions MichoacanThe Los Angeles Times, 01/07/2014

Vigilantes who took over the main government building of a small Mexican city in Michoacan state after a weekend shootout with suspected criminals were refusing to release 11 police officers held as prisoners, officials said Tuesday.

Michoacan, an important agricultural state in southwestern Mexico, has seen a number of armed “self-defense” groups spring up in recent months with the purported aim of protecting residents from the powerful drug cartel known as the Knights Templar. The groups at times have accused police and government officials of colluding with the drug cartel.

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Mexico’s Self-Defense Squads Refuse To Disarm Despite Army Presence In Michoacan

May 24, 2013

m16 gun closeupAgence France Presse, 5/23/2013

Farmers wearing bulletproof vests and toting assault rifles ride in pick-up trucks emblazoned with the word “self-defense” to protect this rural Mexican town from a drug cartel. The government deployed thousands of troops to the western state of Michoacan this week, but in some towns like Coalcoman, population 10,000, vigilantes are wary of putting down their weapons until they feel safe again. “We won’t drop our guard until we see results,” Antonio Rodriguez, a 37-year-old avocado grower and member of the community force, told AFP.

Authorities detained four members of a self-defense group in another town called Buenavista on Wednesday, angering about 200 residents, some wielding sticks, who surrounded some 20 soldiers to demand their release. The situation was defused about five hours later, when two of the detainees were released, according to an interior ministry source. Local media reported that all four had been released. Interior Minister Miguel Angelo Osorio Chong said earlier that the soldiers were merely having a “dialogue” with the residents to resolve the dispute, but he insisted that the authorities would disarm and detain anyone with a weapon.

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Entrenched Mexico drug mafia, vigilantes battle for control of agricultural Michoacan state

May 23, 2013

Michoacan, Mexico Photo by Flickr user Scott Clark find link to his photoAssociated Press, 5/22/2013

Help finally arrived Sunday when thousands of soldiers rolled in to restore order. The government of President Enrique Pena Nieto says troops will stay in Michoacan until every citizen lives in peace. But the offensive, headed by Secretary of Defense Salvador Cienfuegos, looks a lot like failed operations launched previously by former President Felipe Calderon, who started his first assault on organized crime in Michoacan shortly after taking office in late 2006.

Calderon was trying to stop drug cartels from morphing into mafias controlling all segments of society. But that’s exactly what has happened, as they maintain country roads, control the local economy and mete out justice for common crimes. In the Tierra Caliente, a remote agricultural region, fire has been a favored weapon of the cartel. On the highway between Coalcoman and La Ruana, the ruins of three sawmills torched by the cartel still smoldered this week.

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Mexican vigilantes seize town on highway from Mexico City to Acapulco

March 28, 2013

youth with handgunThe Washington Post, 3/27/13

Hundreds of armed vigilantes have taken control of a town on a major highway in the Pacific coast state of Guerrero, arresting local police officers and searching homes after a vigilante leader was killed. Several opened fire on a car of Mexican tourists headed to the beach for Easter week.

Members of the area’s self-described “community police” say more than 1,500 members of the force were stopping traffic Wednesday at improvised checkpoints in the town of Tierra Colorado, which sits on the highway connecting Mexico City to Acapulco. They arrested 12 police and the former director of public security in the town after a leader of the state’s vigilante movement was slain on Monday.

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Can Mexico’s vigilante militias trade ski masks for police badges?

March 27, 2013

Policia MexicoThe Christian Science Monitor, 3/26/2013

Some townspeople in southern Mexico who have taken up arms in the name of self-defense may be given a chance to trade in their masks for official uniforms. Bucking the federal government’s statements decrying impromptu militias, the governor of Guerrero has proposed legitimizing the armed groups in the tradition of the state’s autonomous community police forces. It’s a controversial proposal that could create friction as authorities wrestle with the emergence of armed groups whose origins are not always clear. The move could influence how officials respond to similar movements in neighboring states.

Organized crime and drug trafficking have hit far-flung rural towns especially hard, where official security forces are often weak, ineffectual, or co-opted by criminals. Back in January, fed up with extortion and kidnappings, the residents of Ayutla de los Libres, in the southwestern state of Guerrero, pulled on ski masks, armed themselves with shotguns, and began patrolling their streets. The group’s detention of dozens of suspected criminals and its plan to hold public trials, as well as highway checkpoints to keep out strangers – including soldiers – put the federal government on alert.

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Mexican vigilantes set aside masks, checkpoints

March 15, 2013

youth with handgunThe Miami Herald, 3/14/2013

he leader of Mexico’s best-known group of vigilantes said Thursday that his followers will set aside their masks and highway checkpoints, but they won’t disappear. Rather, Bruno Placido said his group is seeking to form a national movement with other “self-defense” groups that have sprung up throughout Mexico to fight crime fueled by drug cartels.

Placido said the vigilantes he leads in southern Guerrero state are trying to leave behind the concept of masked, armed patrols that have sparked conflict in recent weeks, after some groups were found to have possible links to drug cartels or engaged in tense confrontations with the army or rival cartels. “We have left behind the stage of ‘self-defense’ and are opening a new page,” Placido said. “The farmworkers who came out and joined the ‘self-defense,’ they can return to their work, the ranchers to their cattle.”

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Armed vigilantes in southern Mexico report killing 1 in clash with band of suspected criminals

February 21, 2013

youth with handgunThe Washington Post, 2/20/2013

Armed vigilantes in southern Mexico engaged in a shootout Wednesday with a group of men they described as criminals, killing one in what appeared to be the first death related to the month-and-a-half-old “self-defense” movement.

The confrontation near the town of Ayutla raised the stakes in a growing movement that has seen residents of several towns arm themselves with a motley assortment of old hunting rifles, shotguns and pistols while conducting patrols and manning checkpoints to fight crime spawned by drug cartels.

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Government of Guerrero starts a community policing institutionalization and regulation process (Spanish)

February 20, 2013

Sin Embargo, Photo by Andrew Bardwell from Cleveland, Ohio, USA, WikiCommons 2/20/2013

The government of Guerrero has informed that self-defense groups have released all the detainees who allegedly committed crimes in the area. This event initiates the process of institutionalization and establishment of a regulatory framework for vigilante groups operating in Ayutla, Tecoapana, and part of the highlands.

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Vigilantes reportedly release captives in southern Mexico

February 20, 2013

m16 gun closeupLos Angeles Times, 2/19/2013

Vigilantes who were threatening to subject a group of alleged criminals to a “people’s court” abruptly released their captives Tuesday, avoiding, for now, a showdown with authorities. Saying the government has not been able to protect them from drug traffickers and other violent gangs, villagers in the southern state of Guerrero took up arms this year and formed so-called self-defense patrols.

With homicides, rapes and other crimes spreading in much of central Mexico, so has the phenomenon of armed vigilantes. As of Tuesday, 20 towns in Guerrero along with municipalities in at least four other states reported patrols by armed residents who often wear masks and staff checkpoints. In the town of Ayutla, in the southern mountains of Guerrero, the vigilantes had captured 53 people, “charged” them with various crimes and promised to try them in a people’s court this week. Under pressure from state authorities, last week they released 11 of the people accused of the most serious crimes.

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Auto Defensa: Rough Justice in Mexico’s Lawless Mountains

February 12, 2013

protest -- stroke -- resistanceTime, 2/12/2013

In late January I traveled along winding mountain roads in Guerrero state, Mexico, to witness the opening of a new chapter in the country’s enduring battle against organized crime. This was not, however, a drug eradication mission conducted by the Mexican Army, or an operativo by the Federal Police to nab cartel chiefs. Instead, I was there to document a burgeoning movement of “Auto Defensa,” or autonomous uprisings by campesinos who, pushed to the breaking point by criminal gangs operating in their communities, decided to take back control of their towns and villages.

The event generally credited with sparking this movement occurred on January 5th in Ayutla de los Libres, a town of roughly 30,000, when a local representative, or comesario, was kidnapped for ransom. A group of locals decided to combat the kidnappers. They armed themselves, closed roads into and out of the town, formed patrols and, before long, freed the comesario and took his captors prisoner.

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