By: Laura Reyes CNNMéxicoAlmost two months after the creation of the first civil defense group in Guerrero, there have been at least four more states in Mexico where residents of some communities are deciding to take public safety against organized crime into their own hands.
The common factor of the armed community police in the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Morelos, and Michoacán is the loss of confidence in the security authorities in those locations.
On January 5th of this year, residents of the municipality of Ayutla, located in the Costa Chica region of Guerrero, decided to cover their faces, take their weapons and place roadblocks—checkpoints— on the federal road that connects the resort of Acapulco with Pinotepa Nacional, bordering Oaxaca, in order to determine the whereabouts of a comisario (sheriff?) who had been kidnapped, but was released hours later.
That act caused only a day later, residents of Tecoanapa, neighboring municipality of Ayutla, to join the armed civilian monitoring group, security strategy that over the next few days had extended to 6 more municipalities of the region that composed of 15 municipalities.
The self-defense civilian movement, calling itself “Unión de Pueblos y Organizaciones del Estado de Guerrero” (Union of People and Organizations of the State of Guerrero), arrested and detained in casas de justicia (justice houses) 54 people for committing alleged kidnapping, extortion, robbery, and acts related to organized crime in Ayutla and Teconoapa.
On February 8, the civil group handed over 11 people who were held in detention. Yesterday (Tuesday) 20 people were made available to the authorities, and another 23 were released from the casas de justicia in Ayutla.
Crisóforo García Rodríguez, member of the Unión de Pueblos y Organizaciones del Estado de Guerrero told CNNMéxico that they would give their support to any new self-defense movements arising in the entity.
Since January 22, residents of some communities in the municipality of Tixtla, includes 16 villages and is located in the central region of Guerrero, have also joined the self-defense group and placed checkpoints on the main road.
Armed with masks, villagers of El Potrero, Zacazonapa, Tecozintla, El Troncón, Acatempa, and El Durazco monitor the road connecting the towns of Tixtla and Mochitlán, as part of the fight against organized crime.
In a statement issued last week, the mayor of Tixtla, Gustavo Alcaraz Abarca, was confident that the people would remove the surveillance on the road.
“I will continue helping citizen groups of the community police, but federal and state police conduct permanent patrol routes that the state government gave us” - Gustavo Alcaraz Abarca
However within a week, the self-defense movement grew from just 2 to 6 communities in monitoring.
States and self-defense groups
On February 10, in Morelos, residents of communities of Tetelcingo and Tenextepango, located on the east side of the state, set up surveillance sites for self-protection and inhibiting the crime rate.
A day later, in the municipality of Santos Reyes Nopala, in Oaxaca bordering the state of Guerrero, about 500 people also decided to monitor their villages on their own because of the alleged abuse from the army and state police.
Proposal for a regulation
On February 17, The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) reiterated its concern in a statement about these self-defense groups in Mexico, which warned that there is a “fine line” between these groups and paramilitary groups.
From the statement:
“This independent body expresses its concern about the existence of armed groups with different interests to self protection, which violate the stability of institutions, because there is a fine line between these groups and paramilitary groups”
Also, it requires the 3 levels of government to “comply” with the responsibility to ensure the physical integrity and property of the population.
In Congress, the senator of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) introduced a bill that proposes to allow indigenous peoples and communities to form their own security forces and justice.
The proposal of Sofio Ramirez, from the state of Guerrero, argues that communities have a constitutional right to organize in order to ensure the safety in places where they live. However, according to the legislator, the Constitution needs to be amended to detail how they can do it and coordinate with municipal, state, and federal authorities.
The document turned over on Tuesday to commissions on Constitutional Issues and Public Safety of the Senate plan on reforming Articles 21 and 115 of the Constitution to establish that public safety is not only in charge of the 3 levels of government, but to the people and indigenous communities, and that these tasks should receive state resources.
Ramirez said that the proposal has been preceded by the figure of the police community, established and regulated by Law 107 of Guerrero since the mid 1990’s.
Currently, according to the legislator, such systems operate in 107 communities in 13 municipalities of Guerrero.
“At this moment of governmental crisis, exponential increase in insecurity and violence in Mexico, such as community policing institutions are viewed with great reserve by the government” said the PRD
“Paradoxically, these actions help indigenous communities to build government and provide the opportunity to generate a government from below with greater social cohesion, and regaining the essence of the ordinary”
Both the Interior Ministry (SEGOB), responsible for domestic policy, as well as the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH), independent from the government, have pointed out that these groups operate outside the laws of Mexico.
The very coordinator of the senators of the PRD, Miguel Barbosa, expressed the distrust of police initiatives to raise community organizing.
The case of self-defense groups is not new in the country. Since 2011, residents of the town of Cheran, Michoacán, decided to come together to defend their forests from loggers, that they ensured were protected from the drug cartels in the state.
This act led to the creation of an independent group of defense, recognized by the authorities of Michoacán.
On this defense of the forests, villagers blocked access to the town and set up nighttime surveillance to counter illegal logging and even the presence of organized crime in the area.