On January 6, residents of several indigenous towns in the war-torn state of Guerrero followed the example of Cherán in Michoacan and took up arms to defend themselves against organized crime.
The following is meant to be a primer on the uprising and provide the background needed to understand the context.
Guerrero's indigenous were the hardest hit by Mexico's Dirty War in the 1960s and 1970s. Guerrero is the only state to be under continuous military occupation since the Dirty War. The effects of this military occupation are painfully obvious: the rape and torture of indigenous women at the hands of soldiers, the murder of human rights defenders, and the murder and torture of studentsprotesting for the right to study. It was, then, to be expected that when former president Felipe Calderón declared war on drugs, Guerrero's Dirty War would dovetail into the Drug War with disastrous consequences.
Guerrero has a rich history of armed, autonomous, and social movements. It was where one of Mexico's most beloved guerrilla leaders, Lucio Cabañas, organized and fought until the military murdered him in 1974. Guerrero, like Oaxaca, has a strong democratic teachers union, one of the most powerful social-political organizations in the state. It went so far as to go on strike against organized crime in 2011, something few workers have been valiant enough to do when threatened with extortion. Guerrero is also home to the autonomist Community Police, a citizens crime-fighting initiative based on indigenous governance that pre-dates the drug war and ardently supports the Zapatistas.
The Community Police appear to be somewhat involved in this new uprising, although they don't lead it. As their legal advisor explains in the second article below, they are wary that the Guerrero state government is attempting to co-opt the young movement, much as it does with indigenous groups in Chiapas in order to prevent them from allying themselves with the Zapatistas.
- Kristin Bricker, Editor
My Word is My Weapon
Fed Up with Narcos, Townspeople Take Up Arms in Guerrero
by Ezequiel Flores Contrera, Proceso
January 9, 2013
Chilpancingo, Guerrero (apro). Five days ago, inhabitants of Ayutla de los Libres and members of the Community Police took over public security in this municipality located in the Costa Chica region with the goal of expelling organized crime groups that have devastated the region.
This incident once again demonstrates the lack of authority and the government's indifference towards the levels of impunity and violence that persist in the area.
Citizens are fed up with the incessant wave of murders, extortion, and kidnappings, which has set off a series of social movements, mainly in the la Montaña region, where armed townspeople seek to lock up organized criminal gangs, a situation that has shed light on alleged links between local authorities and criminals.
Last year, inhabitants of the municipalities of Huamuxtitlán, Xochihuetlán, Cualac, and Olinalá decided to arm themselves in order to kick out the criminals that operated with impunity in that zone in the la Montaña region.
Now, that same phenomenon is repeating itself in Ayutla de los Libres, the place where on March 1, 1854, the Ayutla Plan was proclaimed by Florencio Villareal and Juan N. Álvarez to disavow Antonio López de Santa Anna as president of the country.
A series of extortions and kidnappings came to a head on Saturday, January 5, when Eusebio Alberto Alvarado García, commissioner of the town of Rancho Nuevo in the Tecoanapa municipality, was kidnapped, according to official reports.
Immediately, close to 400 townspeople from three municipalities, Tecoanapa, Ayutla de los Libres, and Florencio Villareal, with the support from members of the Community Police, mobilized to rescue the commissioner.
Due to the fact that they put up checkpoints along the federal highway that joins these municipalities in the Costa Chica region, Alvarado García was freed and the kidnappers fled.
Notwithstanding, the townspeople and members of the Community Police maintained the checkpoint in Ayutla and, on Sunday, January 6, they shot a taxi driver who refused to be searched, according to the state Attorney General's Office.
The justice agency opened a criminal investigation into the death of 40-year-old Cutberto Luna Chávez.
Notwithstanding, on Tuesday, January 8, governor Ángel Aguirre justified the Ayutla townspeople's actions, stating that armed self-defense "sheds light on citizens' desperation with organized crime and the absence of a response from the authorities," according to local media.
Some 200 armed civilians currently maintain a checkpoint at the entrance and exit of the municipal seat of Ayutla de los Libres and they claim they will not leave until they permanently drive out members of criminal groups that operate in the zone.
The Example of Armed Self-Defense Spreads in Guerrero Communities
by Sergio Ocampo Arista, La Jornada
- The protection measures prove the government's failure against organized crime, says NGO
- Local groups say that Governor Aguirre Rivero doesn't listen to them nor does he follow through
Nahuas from about 30 communities created the Popular Citizens Police this past December 2 in Temalcatzingo, Olinalá municipality, in the Montaña Alta. Photo: Sergio Ocampo
Chilpancingo, Guerrero, Janurary 12. Dozens of communities in the la Montaña and Costa Chica regions of Guerrero have once again become the scene for actions of armed self-defense due to a lack of response from the three levels of government to deal with the people's demands for security against the organized crime that operates in those two regions in the southeastern part of the state, where Me'pha (Tlapaneco), Ñuu savi (Mixteco), and Amusgo indigenous peoples and Afro-Mexicans live.
Led mainly by contingents from the Union of Peoples and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (Upoeg in its Spanish initials), the communities joined the movement of citizens who are tired of crime, violations, and extortion at the hands of criminal groups.
Vidulfo Rosales Sierra of the Tlachinollan Montaña Regional Human Rights Center spoke about the causes of the popular uprising that began on January 6 in the municipal seat of Ayutla de los Libres following the kidnapping of Eusebio Álvarez Mendoza, a rancher and commissioner of the Rancho Nuevo community in the Tecoanapa municipality: "That is due to a vacuum of federal and local authority in the exercise of their functions in public security."
Without doubt, he added, "the security model and its policies have failed; regarding Operation Safe Guerrero, it's important to remember that last year it was in effect, but there weren't considerable advances. What is happening is proof that the criminals were not apprehended nor did it have an impact on crime levels in that zone; on the contrary, [organized crime] was strengthened."
Townspeople from Ayutla de los Libres in the Costa Chica work a checkpoint installed in the Guerrero municipality without the Community Police.
Photo: Lenin Ocampo Torres
Rosales Sierra complained,
"It can't be possible that peasants who are organized with low-calibre guns are standing up to the criminals in a matter of two days, while the Army, the Navy, and police with high-powered weapons haven't had an impact in three years; that is impossible, it doesn't merit further analysis. That indicates that there is a high level of complicity and a total lack of authority; for example, the state Attorney General's Office does nothing, it knows about the relationships its police force has and it refuses to remove its personnel, and here we see the consequences."
He insisted that it is evident that "there is a high level of coexistence and complicity between the state authorities such as the Ministerial Police and the state police assigned to the El Limón community in Ayutla with the public prosecutors and judges which generated an environment that allowed organized crime to freely move in those places as if they were at home. All of that complicity allowed crime to reign and abuse the population."
That vacuum created by the government led to locals organizing themselves. "The people were fed up and decided to take security into their own hands, to rescue the principles of justice for the indigenous and mestizo peasants."
Perhaps the most important part of this popular uprising is that it demonstrates to Mexico that organized crime is not invincible and that once the people organize, they can keep crime in check, and that society shouldn't be paralyzed by the scourge "as they did these past months in the municipalities of Huamuxtitlán, Cualac, and Olinalá."
But he warned that "when the people return to their communities, [criminal groups] could react and put the safety of the peasants and their families at risk. We will be watching to see how the authorities react, because this is not about sending in more police."
He proposed that the peasants strengthen themselves and respect "the systems of uses and customs [traditional indigenous governance], to resume the peoples' traditional justice systems, and to not simply organize in the heat of the moment without creating their own justice institutions to avoid that crime threatens them."
The Organizing Process
The first manifestation of the organization of the indigenous, mestizo, and Afro-Mexican peoples was the creation of the Regional Coordinating Body of Community Authorities-Community Police (CRAC-PC) in October of 1995; the municipalities of Huamuztitlán followed their example this past September 17 with their Popular Citizens Police (PCP), as did thirty Nahua towns in Temalacatzingo in the Olinalá municipality this past December 2.
One of the almost 300 volunteer guards from the town of Tecoanapa, in the Costa Chica region.
Photo: Lenin Ocampo Torres
In Huamuxtitlán the PCP was created with over 100 members on September 17, 2012, following the kidnapping of 18 people by an organized crime group. Guerrero's ex-Attorney General, Alberto López Rosas, was even given a file with over thirty violent crimes, including the kidnapping of former mayor Juan Carlos Jiménez, murders of taxi drivers, the appearance of cadavers in the municipal seat, home burglaries and stolen cars, extortion of business owners, and alleged threats to the ex-mayor Soledad Romero and her husband Víctor Echeverría Valenzuela, a former leader of the teachers union.
On November 25, over 200 Mixteco peasants from at least 30 communities in the Ayutla de los Libres municipality were sworn in as new members of the Community Police to combat organized crime.
With the Mixteco communities joining the CRAC, its territory has grown to 107 towns in thirteen municipalities in Costa Chica and la Montaña: San Luis Acatlán, Marquelia, Metlatónoc, Cochoapa El Grande, Iliatenco, Malinaltepec, Altamajalcingo del Monte, Tlapa, Tlacoapa, Acatepec, Ayutla, Azoyú, and Tlacoachistlahuaca.
The municipalities that have joined the Popular Citizens Police are Huamuxtitlán, Cualac, and Olinalá, which are on the border with the states of Morelos and Puebla.
Over a Year Without a Meeting
Valentín Hernández, the CRAC's legal advisor, recalls that almost as soon as Governor Ángel Aguirre Rivero took office on April 1, 2011, they requested a meeting with him, "and it wasn't until May 28, 2012, when CRAC was given its one and only meeting, although afterwards there have been a few meetings with the compañeros with the goal of following up on the demands that were presented, which have only been minimally fulfilled."
He stated that the governor has not complied with the agreements that have been reached, "he only granted a budget of $500,000 pesos, which was given in very small payments; they only gave part of the 500 radios that they had promised, and beyond that, nothing, no uniforms, no weapons, no rations, no vehicles. As a result of this breach of agreement, we give him the authority that someone who makes promises and doesn't follow through deserves."
He believes that the governor's indifference contrasts with how the towns of Ayutla and Tecoanapa have treated the uprising, which Upoeg is leading. "Some of these issues have been raised in the Community Police assemblies, and others have come out in the media. We don't care if attention is payed to other groups as long as it isn't detrimental to the CRAC's demands and organizing process.
"We've seen that while spaces for dialogue and fulfillment of agreements have been closed to the CRAC, other groups where the Community Police has a presence are given full support; this makes it clear that the rumors that have been circulating since December 22 when the regional coordinators and commanders were appointed in the El Paraíso House of Justice in Ayutla de los Libres are true: that the Upoeg is practically working with the state government."
"What's happening in Ayutla," he stressed, "is proof of that. If you analyze the declarations the Upoeg has made this past week, it's clear that they were behind the uprising from the beginning, and that they are even inviting towns from the region, including those that belong to the CRAC, to join their movement."
Nonetheless, Valentín Hernández announced that CRAC will soon announce its official position. "There was already a meeting where it was agreed that a position that has been condensed upon between the coordinators and the council members will be given, and we'll probably emit a formal communique on Monday."
Regarding the presence of organized crime in the communities that belong to the CRAC's houses of justice located in San Luis Acatlán, Espino Blanco in the Malinaltepec municipality, and Zitlaltepec in the Metlatónoc municipality, "there's tranquility, although we are on alert due to the situation in Ayutla, it's business as usual."
According to the lawyer from Tlachinollan, Aguirre Rivero has had a very distinct attitude towards the CRAC: "the insensitivity and lack of interest in the people's normative systems is plainly evident. The government has distain for the CRAC's normative system, when it is a model that could put security back on track and show us how to resolve the problem of insecurity."
Instead, he insisted, the government, far from addressing problems, has criminalized social struggle, "it has designed and maintained the peoples in oblivion, and now it's going to have to face the problem because it's just around the corner and it has to deal with the communities' uprising, because it has to respond to this problem that demonstrates the failures of the state's justice system."
Source: My Word is My Weapon