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.