Two Years of the Autodefensas Movement in Michoacán, Mexico: Persecution and Politics

(via Upside Down World)

autodefensas community self defense groups in michoacan, mexicoOn February 24, 2013, the citizens of the municipality of Tecalpatepec, in the heart of the Tierra Caliente region of the Mexican state of Michoacán, rose up in armed resistance against the Caballeros Templarios [Knights Templar] cartel. Sick of the violence, the abuses and the indifference and complicity with which the authorities were treating the narcotraffickers, the citizens decided to solve the problems that none of the three levels of government: municipal, state and federal, had dared to confront up to that date. The Autodefensas [Self-Defenses] of Michoacán had been born.

The news spread quickly, and in fewer than three months the municipalities of Buenavista Tomatlán, Coalcomán de Vásquez Pallares and Apatzingán de la Constitución, members of the regions of Tierra Caliente and Sierra-Costa also rose up. 2013 was, on the side of the citizens, a year of confrontations against the criminals; on the side of the governments, on the other hand, it was a year of reflection about the possible solutions to this crisis of legitimacy, which put in doubt nothing less than the monopoly of the State over violence.

In January of 2014, after a period of relative calm, the Self-Defense groups rose up again. The problem that the president, Enrique Peña Nieto, had tried to ignore in 2013 re-emerged in an even more urgent way: the fever of the armed fight had spread in the whole area and the municipalities of Meseta Purépecha, in the mountains [Sierra] and the coast [Costa]. Conscious that the armed movement could not be stopped in any way, the federal government launched a series of means to disarticulate it from within: it created a register for citizens who intended to continue fighting the Templars and detained all those who refused to register themselves in this list; it named a special Commissioner for the pacification of the State, Alfred Castillo, an obscure functionary who had never been involved in “Michoacán issues;” it founded a new police body, the Rural Forces, with the objective of coopting the armed citizens, giving them uniforms, and submitting them to the command of the State.

In mid-December, 2014, for the third time, an ample number of “legitimate” Self-Defenses rose up again and, with more than 30 highway blockades, manifested their disagreement with the governmental management of the crisis, demanding the liberation of the more than 400 members of the Self-Defenses that still remain in prison, the exit Commissioner Castillo and the extinction of the Rural Forces, which had soon revealed itself to be a perfect shelter for those ex-Templars intending to continue committing crimes and abuses, only this time with uniforms and permission to carry guns. A little more than a month later, the federal government satisfied two of these three petitions. Never the less, it was done in a way that, for the zillionth time, confirmed to the citizens of this region, the uselessness of turning to the authorities to solve their problems.

If, by the end of December, the Rural Forces had effectively disappeared, it wasn’t because there was an end to the assassinations, massacres and disappearances: according to the statistics of the Secretary of the Government, Michoacán in 2014 continued to occupy the second highest rate of homicides, with 2,634 cases, and was confirmed as one of the 10 states with the highest rates of kidnapping (121 cases) and extortion (275 cases). On the contrary, the Rural Forces was eliminated to permit that the creation of the “sole command,” a pillar of a pending police reform dating from Felipe Calderon’s “War On Narcotraffic” and inherited by Enrique Peña Nieto. The reform hopes to do away with the country’s 1,800 municipal police departments, putting them under the direct control of the state police of each region. The disrepute of many state police entities, like their proven participation in various crimes, causes the population to see the disintegration of the Rural Forces and the activation of “sole command” only as a subsequent re-structuring of special interests and forces in the countryside. […]

Read full article at: Valentina Valle Baroz. Two Years of the Autodefensas Movement in Michoacán, Mexico: Persecution and Politics. Upside Down World, 24 March 2015.

Popular resistance in Cherán K’eri, Michoacán: communal television & indigenous self-defense forces

Community-television-popular-media-cheran-michoacan-resistenciaIn April of this year, the Purépecha municipality of Cherán K’eri, Michoacán is celebrating four years of its uprising to end the presence of organized crime in its territory. Following the uprising, indigenous women and men not only managed to throw out to the narco cartel, but also expelled all authorities (police, local government and political parties) that supported the illegal activities in the community. They decided to retake their traditional forms of self government to start a long process of building their autonomy. A few months back they inaugurated a new weapon to continue defending their traditions and reaffirm their rejection of the institutional political method: a communal television.

When the community of Cherán K’eri began to organize, one of the fundamental demands of the population was security. The process of self defense that initiated and remains in effect today has results that cannot remain unnoticed: the smiles of the people and the life that animates the plazas and streets is noticeable starting at the entrance of the town.

Local youth conduct a televised interview with one of the members of the local community self-defense group.
Local youth conduct a televised interview with one of the members of the local community self-defense group.

“We now have confidence in our peace, our children walk to school without worry, as does everyone else. We no longer feel that fear that we once had”—shares one member of the community.”

The council of Honor and Justice is in charge of the security of the municipality: while the communal patrol (ronda communitaria) is controlling the city’s entrances and exits, as well as resolving the internal problems of the community. The “Guardabosques” (guardians of the forest), are in charge of protecting the rural zones furthest from the center of town, where the forest is. Each day and by turns, two groups of six people patrol the territory with their truck. It should be noted that for the indigenous Purépecha men and women, the protection and preservation of their forest is both a traditional and spiritual obligation, and therfore it is an essential part of their struggle. Their defense not only includes their security, but also the enormous work of reforestation, whose effects can already be seen.

Members of a community self-defense group (autodefensa) who are tasked with guarding the forest from illegal resource extraction, drug cartels, etc. The community of Cheran has kicked out the local police and government, and has created democratically run community self-defense forces in their place.
Members of a community self-defense group (autodefensa) who are tasked with guarding the forest from illegal resource extraction, drug cartels, etc. The community of Cheran has kicked out the local police and government, and has created democratically run community self-defense forces in their place.

In addition to having strengthened their system of communal security, the people of Cherán changed their entire system of governance. The main council, formed by a group of 12 individuals, lxs K’eris, coordinate the actions of the other councils and commissions. However the ultimate authority of the community is the assembly: in each one of the four neighborhoods that form Cherán, the communards come together to carry forth proposals and make decisions at the general assembly. “Previously, to my memory, never did a municipal president convene a neighborhood general assembly, and much less allowed the people to say what was on their minds. The people couldn’t give an opinion, they (the municipality) only did what was convenient to them.” commented a member of the community. Now, “the agreements come directly from the coordinators of the bonfires, from the bonfires, from the neighborhood reunions”, states another.

It is worth remembering that thanks to the community pressure that was also exerted in the legal arena, the municipality of Cherán K’eri was completely recognized on a federal level as an autonomous municipality. With this victory, Cherán achieved setting a national precedent so that other indigenous municipalities of Mexico can also exercise that right to free self determination.

Even though there has been great advancement in the construction of a new world, the residents of Cherán also know that their struggle is barely starting, and that surely they will have to confront more challenges in the future. The upcoming year is particularly critical: while the Electoral Institute of Michoacán had agreed that the appointment of the authorities of Cherán shall be created by practices and customs, the residents know that the political parties will try to take advantage of the municipal elections that will take place in the state to attempt to return to their community.

Nevertheless, their position is firm: they will do all that is possible to impede their entry. In a system in which the drug traffickers, political classes and transnational businesses work hand by hand to impose their control upon the territories and plunder the natural resources –in this case the forests- the residents are conscious that to return to a system of political parties would represent a huge risk for the defense of their territory.

“For us here in the town the political parties are dead, because they never did anything when we began to defend the forest. Why? Because all of the parties are backed by organized crime. And whoever does not want to see that wants to remain blind to what is happening. That is what I think of the parties: that they are shit.” declares one woman. A youth also comments- “They have asked me many times: What will you do the day that this town returns to the parties? What would I do? I would be the first fucker to return to the front and say “no fucking way here”. No to the political parties, no to that bad government, no to that narco-government”.

people's media producers in cheran - jovenes youth editing at computers video

goals and concepts of community media in cheran - resistance unity organization

[…]

Photos credit: Niñx Salvaje

Read the rest of the article at: El Enemigo Comun and see all of the photos from the series at Agencia Subversiones

Breaking the Curse of Forgotten Places: Reflections from the Comunitario Movement in Michoácan, Mexico

Comunitario at barricade in Michoacan, Mexico“The first successful strategy for community based self-defense against the Knights Templar cartel in Michoacán came about on April 15th, 2011 in the indigenous Purépecha community of Cherán, Michoacán. The implications of the success of this original uprising against the Knights Templar and the narco-government are immeasurable; however, what is evident today is that the strategy has spread contagiously throughout the state and has now even inspired non-indigenous mestizo communities to replicate it. Since February of 2013 a variety of communities, both indigenous and mestizo, have risen up in arms, evicted municipal police from their municipalities, have evicted the Knights Templar cartel from their territories, and have begun to engage in self-governing strategies founded upon a consensus-based general assembly model. Most non-indigenous mestizo communities in the state of Michoacán have been known to be racist towards indigenous peoples and communities of the state. To now see these mestizo communities exercise indigenous strategies for community liberation is truly historic and ground breaking. […] “

Read full article at El Enemigo Común.

Deconstructing recent propaganda surrounding “vigilante groups” in Southern Mexico

The corrupt local government was kicked out of the town, and replaced with a traditional indigenous form of communal self-governance, centered around democratic community assemblies.
The corrupt local government of Cheran, Michoacán, was kicked out of the town, and replaced with a traditional indigenous form of communal self-governance, centered around democratic community assemblies.

There is a lot of propaganda in the corporate media right now regarding community self-defense groups (“autodefensas”) in Mexico. Papers such as the LA Times, the Guardian, and Washington Post are calling them “vigilante groups” to give the image of random gangs of people running around with guns and arbitrarily shooting people they don’t like, and is talking about how the government is coming in to “restore peace”.

First of all, regarding the term “vigilante”, most of these groups are not random individuals with guns “taking the law into their own hands”. They are well-organized groups of trusted/respected citizens, who have decided that they want the cartels out of town. They have also decided that the police and government are controlled by the cartels, and so they need to go as well. Autodefensas are the result of community members coming together and deciding that they wanted to take their town back from the cartels, and that the only way to do this was to take up arms against them.This movement for self-determination and community self-defense is spreading like wildfire, in dozens of towns across southern Mexico.

Formerly housing the corrupt, cartel-controlled local government, this building has now been converted into a community building.
Formerly housing the corrupt, cartel-controlled local government, this building has now been converted into a community building.

Second, regarding the military coming in to “restore peace” — they are talking about the “peace” of living under constant terror from the cartels controlling these towns, people being tortured and beheaded, laws made by corrupt politicians and cops that work for the cartels. This is what the military is coming in to restore. The drug cartels, the rich, and the Mexican government cannot be considered as separate groups — at the top, you have the same people benefiting from all three. These criminal elites are terrified about what is happening in Michoacán — people taking back community power by force, kicking out the cops and governments that give the cartels/rich their power. This is why there is suddenly this wave of propaganda coming out of the corporate media in both Mexico and the U.S. trying to paint these groups as “vigilantes”. This is why the Mexican government is sending in the military to restore the “order” of their criminal syndicates controlling the towns. When you hear the corporate media say that the Mexican army is coming in to “restore order”, know that this is code for the cartel-dominated army coming in to put the cartels back in charge of these towns, and brutally kill all of the people who tried to take back their own communities.

Please, whenever you see your friends sharing these propaganda articles from the NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times, etc. regarding “vigilante groups”, help them understand the reality of the situation. Deconstruct the propaganda for them, and promote the use of the term “community self-defense” instead of the loaded term “vigilante”.

Here is a great documentary (~45 minutes) about the community self-defense groups in the town of Cheran, Michoacán: