Since 2007 a group of armed men broke into the village to extort and kidnap, and against the inaction of authorities, the community created its own protection system
Opopeo, Mich .- The first scare came here with several trucks without license plates and tinted windows. Out of every vehicle four armed men got out and visited at least 15 furniture makers. It's been three years, when everyone was preparing to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the school in this village. The men, who identified themselves as members of La Familia Michoacana, said they had to "cooperate" because it would provide them protection.
One of the furniture makers recalled the armed men going workshop by workshop, asked for 10,000 pesos, depending on size. "We told them we didn’t even have enough to eat, nor to pay the light." The armed men told them that in the coming days they would hold a meeting on the outskirts of town to discuss the payment of "protection", and left.
That episode changed the history of Opopeo, a community that is located between the cities of Morelia and Uruapan. Today, this town and neighboring communities of Santa Clara del Cobre, San Gregorio, Santa Juana and Tepetate formed a grouped named "“la Resistencia” (The resistance) and each time they are visited by alleged members of La Familia Michoacana they regroup to demand the presence of federal authorities to protect them.
Each week they have meetings. They have sirens at strategic points, stones to block the roads. They have created a "Neighborhood Watch" program that signals the community when a stranger who has nothing to do in the community arrives. If necessary, they will ask them to leave the village.
In case of an emergency, the people organized and ring the bells. In a special ring, thousands of people will gather to demand that the Mexican authorities come to deal with anyone trying to extort them. "We will bring everyone together: couples, elderly, children, and women. How are we going to be slaves to them (capos)? We’re not calling victory; if we are organized it is because of fear, "says a representative of the community
Opopeo, which along with neighboring communities is part of the Meseta Purépecha of Michoacán, is a town full of families who work in wood shops, produce tables, chairs and benches and sale them on the side of the road from Morelia to Uruapan . According to the latest census, nearly 15 000 people engaged in trade, agriculture and furniture industry.
Fear to denounce crimes
Given the situation that exists in Opopeo, nobody wants to give their name, nobody wants to be named. They ask that this be known nationally to see if this helps, but appreciate if they remain anonymous.
"90% of the population feel embarrassed, scared, and much of the time is spent thinking about when it will be our day, our time to go. We dare not complain for fear itself, "says another of the inhabitants. The Human Rights Commission of Michoacán does not have a single complaint of extortion in this entity. Its president, Victor Serrato, says it is for fear, "No one wants to report."
Francisco Marquez Tinoco, a former congressman from that region and Opopeo native, says the fact that the population exceeds the authority could lead to deadly outcomes. "The issue is very delicate, because on one hand they can give a lynching against any offender and on the other; there is a serious risk that the villagers could be killed. There is a serious risk to the population," he says.
Hours after the visit of these men in 2007, villagers took the decision to block the roads to demand the protection of local and federal authorities. A unit of the Federal Investigation Agency (AFI) was there a few hours in the community, but left and once again the people were abandon. In the following months the community was visited on two occasions by organized crime. Several furniture makers were beaten and two of them kidnapped.
Armed "Against the Law"
The town was on the downfall, but for the first time in the violent history of Michoacán, fear had managed villagers to create their own system of protection: Opopeo had taken the initiative to arm themselves. The villagers began to buy fire arms for their protection, but last year the army raided houses in search of weapons. "The day after the military came, those people came again (organized crime)," says another resident.
The action of trying to disarm the village did not end the desire of protecting themselves. Today the people have guns to protect their families. "We are armed in the dark, outside the law," they say.
In Santa Juana, one of the villagers was asked by La Familia Michoacana for more than 70 thousand dollars or his child was going to be kidnapped, he says: "They give you 48 hours to four or five days maximum to get the money. Where is someone going to get that? ". He says several of his colleagues have been in the same situation, and that the authorities appear after the damage is done.
The Michoacanos are not challenging the La Familia, we just take simple measures so the federal government values the situation. "We are preparing ourselves for something big, but we hope that nothing happens. We are not against anyone or in favor of anyone; all we want is to live in peace, "says another representative of the community.
It seems that in Opopeo and neighboring communities there is no other options against the onslaughts of the crime. "We the people have the solution. What more would we like for the government or President Felipe Calderon to subdue the mafia, but it cannot be done. The only thing left is to organize to defend ourselves, because it is not only us, it's all over the country, "says a member of the resistance.
"Moreover, we do not know who to be on the lookout for or who we will encounter, we do not even know who to talk to. On the other hand, they know us pretty well, "says one of his companions.
In one of the wooden workshops of Opopeo a mother shows how all her children work making chairs. There are more than eight. Her family has been threatened by La Familia Michoacana. "How can I leave my children without food for giving money to these men? I have anger. What I want is for those people to show their face, because according to them they help the people, then why do they ask money from us?