Mexican Farmers Form Vigilante Forces to Confront Drug Cartels

m16 gun closeupThe Wall Street Journal, 11/15/2013

Farmers in the rich agricultural heartland of Mexico’s Michoacán state, fed up with a reign of terror and extortion by a drug cartel, have organized community police forces and driven the cartel into the hills outside this town.

The emergence of these community vigilantes, which originated in neighboring Guerrero state and spread to Michoacán, has brought retaliation by the cartel that calls itself the Knights Templars, pushing the region to the brink of broader conflict.

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The Rise of Mexico’s Self-Defense Forces

Latitudes Press.Foreign Affairs, July/August 2013

Mexico has suffered staggering levels of violence and crime during the country’s seven-year-long war against the cartels. The fighting has killed 90,000 people so far, a death toll larger, as of this writing, than that of the civil war in Syria. Homicide rates have tripled since 2007. In an effort to stem the carnage, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced last December that the federal government, having struggled to defeat the cartels using corrupt local police and an inadequate military, would create an elite national police force of 10,000 officers by the end of this year.

Many Mexicans are unwilling to wait. In communities across the country, groups of men have donned masks, picked up rifles and machetes, and begun patrolling their neighborhoods and farmland. As in the Tierra Colorada incident, their behavior is not always pretty. Several months ago, another such group in the state of Guerrero detained 54 people for over six weeks, accusing them of crimes ranging from stealing cattle to murder. After a series of unofficial trials, they handed 20 of them over to local prosecutors and let the rest go free.

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Besieged Mexican town cheers arrival of soldiers

Mexican army2Associated Press, 5/20/2013

Residents of a western Mexico area who endured months besieged by a drug cartel cheered the arrival of hundreds of Mexican soldiers Monday. People in La Ruana in Michoacan state lined the main road to greet more than a dozen troop transports and heavily armed Humvees with applause and shouts of joy. The town’s supplies had been blocked after the Knights Templars cartel declared war on the hamlet. The cartel dominates much of the state, demanding extortion payments from businessmen and storeowners, and even low-wage workers.

In February, the town formed self-defense squads to kick the cartel out, drawing the wrath of the gang. Convoys of cartel gunmen attacked the town, which was forced to throw up stone barricades and build guard posts. Supplies like gasoline, milk and cooking gas began to run low as cartel gunmen threatened to burn any trucks bringing in goods. On Monday, hundreds of soldiers moved in, erecting checkpoints on the highway leading into La Ruana and setting up an operating base in the town.

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Mexico’s dissident teachers: Unruly southerners

protest -- stroke -- resistanceThe Economist, 4/18/13

Some wear genteel straw hats, others red bandanas hiding their faces. Some carry parasols, others sticks and metal rods that they brandish sullenly. The motley crew of middle-class teachers and their rough-necked supporters in the south-western state of Guerrero hardly look like a force to be reckoned with. Yet their protest represents a challenge to the new government of Enrique Peña Nieto. How he copes will influence a reform agenda that he is pushing forward at lightning speed.

The protests come from an unexpected quarter. When prosecutors arrested Elba Esther Gordillo, the caudillo-like head of the National Education Workers’ Union (SNTE), on February 26th on charges of embezzlement and money laundering, it looked as if Mr Peña had removed the main obstacle to a constitutional reform on education signed the day before. The reform’s backers were delighted that he had struck against a union that for decades had held sway over education policy.

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Vigilantes Seize Mexican Town (Video)

Duncan Wood
Duncan Wood

HuffPost Live, 4/1/2013

Mexico Institute Director Duncan Wood joins Juan Salgado, Kathleen Lowenstein and Sanho Tree on HuffPost Live to discuss the latest move by vigilante groups in Mexico. Vigilantes have seized a Mexican town, arresting the police and brandishing automatic weapons. Is this Mexico’s last hope in the drug war?

Watch here…

Mexican vigilantes seize town on highway from Mexico City to Acapulco

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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Study describes growth of community foundations in Mexico

Charles Stuart Mott Foundation, 5/20/2009

studentA newly released study offers an in-depth look at the community foundation field in Mexico, describing the emerging field and offering recommendations to help its further growth.

The study of 21 community foundations reports that, according to 2007 financial information, these organizations have raised more than $30.8 million (U.S. dollars) in assets, principally from local, private sources. That figure places Mexico at the forefront of Latin America’s grassroots philanthropy.

This achievement is especially noteworthy because many of the foundations are still emerging and have small staffs. Nevertheless, the foundations are strengthening the civic fabric of Mexico, according to the study, and playing a pivotal role in growing a philanthropic culture.

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