Mexico has been experiencing a violent and ongoing drug war for years, fueling continued armed conflict among drug cartel rivals. Cartel groups such as the Los Zetas and Knights Templar, have been fighting each other for regional control, as well as engaging in conflict with government forces and civilian groups. Mexican drug cartels now dominate the illicit drug market, in 2007 they were in control of 90% of the cocaine entering the United States.
Mexico also has strict gun laws, which limits the options for its people to effectively protect themselves and their families when the police or military are unable or unwilling to do so. Many lawyers, judges, and others in the criminal justice fields wont attempt to seek charges against any cartel members in fear for their life and that of their loved ones. Many politicians, judges, and even police chiefs have been executed.
“Organized crime’s greatest penetration has been among police and politicians” – Jorge Fernandez, for Judicial Studies in Mexico City
However, despite the impending danger of doing so, citizens have begun to form militias in order to protect their communities, and battle the cartels. More than 100 women in the Southern town of Xaltianguis have taken up arms to protect their community from organized crime. They learn how to use firearms, and work to schedule their guard duty around their home lives.
‘We have an average of 9 groups or community police, each one made up of 12 women, the women will work in the daytime in the neighborhoods” – Miguel Angel Jimenez, community self-defense force commander
“Women are brave and we are capable of defending our town” – Silvia Hipolito, mother of 2 who joined the self-defense group
Self-defense groups in the hills of central Mexico have also been battling with cartels. Vigilante groups have started appearing in several Mexican states, with the majority appearing in Guerrero and the Western state of Michoacán. The militias have become increasingly well-armed and coordinated in an attempt to end the constant violence that has plagued their communities for so long. What began as a handful of self-defense groups has grown considerably in the recent months. This is unsurprising, with cartels allegedly taxing locals for everything from tortillas, cows, and other common supplies and items, and executing those who do not comply.
After years of fighting, federal security forces have failed to quell the violence. The local self-defense militias seem to be having more success. Volunteer fighters have been using old hunting rifles, armored trucks, and other items they seize from the cartel. The groups appear to be coalescing under the leadership of a 55 year old surgeon, who worked for the Red Cross in California, Jose Manuel Mireles.
“We are coming together with one thing in mind: kill or be killed” – Jose Manuel Mireles.
“We won’t drop our guard until we see results,” Antonio Rodriguez, a 37-year-old avocado grower and member of the community force.
Interior Minister Miguel Angelo Osorio Chong has insisted that the authorities would disarm and detain anyone with a weapon, and several self-defense members have been arrested, prompting anger in the community. But community members insist that they are not disarming until they feel safe in their communities again, and they are tired of paying to the cartel.
“We got tired of paying the quota.. Anyone who didn’t pay would be kidnapped and ‘bang, bang,’ they’d kill him,” – Adriana, a 32-year-old woman working in a pharmacy.
“They should first disarm organized crime, then the people,” – A young self-defense group member
Cartels have accused the self-defense groups of being backed by rival cartels, but the self-defense militias deny any links to drug traffickers. The defense minister has also suggested that some might be receiving support from dubious groups, but the drug cartels are slaughtering innocent individuals daily, and the government seems incapable of being able to prevent their crimes and the ongoing violence. Their first objective should be to disarm and eradicate the drug cartels, instead of arresting citizens who are trying to keep their communities safe.