Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Cherán, Michoacán: Indigenous Town's Environmental Revolt

Yaqui from Borderland Beat from:
When illegal logging turned their green, pine-covered hills into an ecological wasteland, the people of the Mexican indigenous town of Cherán, Michoacán decided to arm themselves with rifles and reclaim their land.

Today, eight years after rising up against illegal loggers and the drug cartel behind them, Cherán is practically an independent enclave tucked into the lawless mountains of western Mexico. Its residents have their own system of government based on community assemblies. They have their own police force. Plus, they run ambitious environmental programs that have begun covering their bare, charred land in verdant pine trees again.

"As you can see, the forest has grown back. Everything is green again. We've worked hard to rescue our environment," said Luz Torres, a 43-year-old housewife who keeps an organic garden and gathers medicinal plants.

The area has been transformed since the days when hitmen from the Familia Michoacána cartel armed with AK-47s showed up, seeking to branch out into other illegal activities as the Mexican government waged an all-out war on drug trafficking.
The gunmen lorded over an illegal logging operation that felled vast swathes of forest to sell the wood on the black market.

The loggers then burned the remaining tree stumps, possibly to make way for avocado trees, a lucrative but environmentally taxing crop caught up in bloody turf wars between rival drug cartels in Michoacan, the violence-plagued state where Cherán is located.

"They were taking out 100 or 200 truckloads of wood a day, and (the authorities) didn't say a word," said Torres.

The drug traffickers "said that after they finished cutting down the pine trees, they were going to kidnap the women they liked and take the houses they wanted."

Then, at dawn on April 15, 2011, the church bells of Cheran rang out: the signal to launch the revolt.
- Call to arms -
Armed residents blocked the roads into the Purepecha indigenous town, set up checkpoints and lit bonfires to stand guard overnight at every intersection.

The rebellion led to a series of shootouts between townspeople and cartel gunmen. Two residents were killed in the clashes. Since then, another six have been murdered, allegedly by illegal loggers seeking to reclaim the land, according to indigenous authorities.

But Cherán has managed to wrest back control.

Residents now patrol the forests armed with 7.62-caliber rifles.

They have set up a "Great Council" modeled on their ancestors' system of government.

And communal companies now protect the environment and run one of Mexico's most advanced recycling programs.

"Things had gone too far. They were threatening to kidnap our children. Now we can live our lives in peace," said one community guard, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, toting her nine-millimeter pistol.

The community has reforested more than half the 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of pine trees that were lost -- reclaiming an area the size of more than 17 Central Parks.
- Forbidden fruit -                 In Cheran, it is now illegal to farm avocados.

Mexico, the world's largest producer of the fruit, exported $2.4 billion in avocados last year, but Cheran took a collective decision to ban the crop from its territory.

Avocado trees consume too much water, are too resource-intensive and draw too much unwanted attention from cartels, they decided. Avocado plantations and their growers are extremely popular with the dreaded extortion fees of the cartels. They know owners will pay rather than have a season's crop go to waste. 

"It is the opposite of the pine tree. Pine trees give us water and oxygen," said Miguel Macias, 62, head of the community tree nursery. "This is like an island of pines,  We fought to make it that way."
- Zero waste -                                               Samuel Martinez 
At the town's recycling center Samuel wipes the sweat from his forehead as he finishes his shift.

The center's workers have limited safety gear and rusty composting equipment, but Martinez says he is "proud" to help implement another of the community's key environmental policies: Zero waste.

Cheran separates its trash into six categories -- twice as many as Mexico City households. The goal is to reuse, recycle or compost everything.

"It separates waste better than any other municipality in Mexico," said Ana Martinez, head of the Inclusive Recycling Program at AVINA, a sustainable development foundation.

The town has even given birth to a new verb in Spanish: "cheranizarse" -- "to become like Cheran."
Pine Tree seedlings grown in Cherán's nurseries where thousands of them are lovingly cared for by community members before the are set out to replant deforested areas. The forests are also guarded against intruders, poachers and illegal loggers by armed community guards which include women.
Environmentalists use it to describe a no-holds-barred approach to wresting back control of a blighted environment.
Yaqui's special wish to Santa: Happy Holidays and Please Recycle !


  1. That story makes my heart happy. We can all learn a lot from their example.

  2. Great story and example for others! Merry Christmas Feliz Navidad to all...

  3. Now these people are an example to the rest of mexico. Look, listen and learn mexican govt. Im glad to learn theres people making a difference in there community.

    1. Absolutely.
      We cannot achieve zero recyclable in the States.
      What ? We ship it all over tarnation before sending it to China....( until recently)

  4. Taraumaras should do that with the Sinaloas that are in CHIHUAHUA killing them and taking their land

  5. Thank you Yaqui. It’s good to see some hope but it is also proof that the most serious problem in mx is not el narco but paid politicians

    1. Anyone old enough to remember REDWOOD SUMMER in Nor Ca. ??
      We saved alot.
      There is always hope, but it takes action, ya know ?
      like these community example of Cherán.

    2. Ya no.. the narcos ARE a SERIOUS problem.

  6. As soon as the trees have grown enough the cartels will be back. Why? Because in Mex some governor at state level will be on the take.

  7. Merry Christmas to the staff

    1. have NO idea how we luv it when you call us "staff".

  8. once those pine saplings reach maturity the logging cartels will be back.
    so, be prepared.

    1. They won't be back, most trees have matured already. They won't come back, as the town has its community police and people to protect the land, as it said in the article, the cartel got lucky once, but no more, government can't take care of the town or it's eco reserve.

  9. Sadly, on the US, the pines are dying all over the place in the cities and the suburbs,
    oaks are getting black fungus on their leaves, and there seems to be no money or intentions for any programs to investigate or remedy the problems.
    Who cares about the trees? "They don't let you see the forest" said a celebrated wise ass...

    1. There's a plague slowly killing hundreds of ponderosa in Phoenix

    2. 9:15 we need observers from all over the US,
      please report at least here, I don't read or google much more than this,
      the plague may be the world heating up with global warming.
      If pines can't take it, ya nos llevo la chingada...

  10. Feliz Navidad. Sounds Utopic. How did they do it and sustain it...? What's the population ? How do the councils feel about gringas moving into town? Contestame!...But I didn't want to bother you on Christmas eve so I poked around for intel.. the population varies according to reports but somewhere between 12-20 thousand. Como. La Pregunta con tanta respuestas. Primero, Las Duenas. Women, according to BBC article, first tried diplomacy with La Familia, failed, so then formed the first barricade and took the first hostages, and as the bells rang and the fireworks exploded and tensions escalated, the citizens cried for blood but the women were able to maintain an uneasy peace by encouraging restraint. No one was hanged in the schoolyard. There were many machetes but non that disconnected skulls from spines.That seems like a significant detail.. More significant is they then banished the crooked cops and banned political parties, which was upheld by courts, so they are able to receive state and federal funding without having to participate in local, state or federal elections. Gave back to the earth. Trees. Contrary to the statement that good fences make for good neighbors, I maintain fences are fecking ugly and useless; trees make far better neighbors. Entonces: Women, trees, restraint, recycling, y finalmente, unity. "Social mores dictate that locals marry locals - there are very few outsiders here. Families are large, and they are close. Everyone knows everyone else. And that is the foundation of the town's unity."
    Pues, muchas duenas ( oh my mother-in-laws) pero creo que no muchas gringas. Damn.

    1. You sound like a good hearted person. I'm more than sure there are MANY who would want to be apart of that community. Unfortunately they don't let outsiders in because most have other objectives. I did see a Chinese guy in a photo of that town years BACK.. I wonder what his role in the community is?..

    2. Thank you sooo much for your comment !@9:34

    3. Sounds racist to me...

  11. Arriva Michoacan y sus verdes cerros!

  12. It's smart for them not to grow avocado, cartels are looking to tax the population around them. Illegal logging is profitable but not enough to go to war with Curran. On the other hand, if they had avocados... Cjng, la familia michoacana, la nueva familia and CT would be lurking around until they found a weak spot and take hostages or kill the leaders

    1. Illegal logging is more profitable but obviously not sustainable. Cartels did not go to war because there would be a blood bath of indigenous people fighting to keep their trees. Not exactly a good look for the cartels/gov. Many neighboring town’s biggest source of income is through the sale of products made by wood

  13. I’ll visit next time I’m in Zacapu! Viva Michoacán


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