A member of a self-defense group in Mexico

Citizens' self-defense groups are now reportedly operating in 13 Mexican states, as fears intensify that they may turn into paramilitary organizations or be co-opted by criminal gangs.

Vigilante groups, whose purported aim is to protect their communities from criminals or guard its natural resources, are now present in 68 Mexican municipalities, according to newspaper Reforma. At least three groups have themselves been accused of crimes as the self-defense movement has intensified, said the newspaper -- two for murders in Guerrero state, where the phenomenon began, and one for taking weapons from police in Michoacan state.

The appearance of a new group with "suspiciously sophisticated weapons" and "specially-designed clothing" has caused concern in the western state of Michoacan, reported the Washington Post. Members of the group, which has set up checkpoints on roads in the town of Tepalcatepec, are equipped with assault rifles and professionally-printed T-shirts labelled "Community Police," says the newspaper -- contrasting this to the historic self-defense groups formed of farmers in "muddy boots" carrying pistols and machetes.

Manuel Olivares Hernández, a representative from the Guerreo Network of Civil Organizations for Human Rights criticized one group in the state for arbitrarily detaining two people who had not done anything wrong, in an interview with newspaper La Jornada March 3. "It seems that they are governing themselves under a paramilitary or judicial style, which is being implemented to commit abuses," he said.

Thousands of people marched in support of self-defense groups over the weekend in Guerrero state, reported the Associated Press.

InSight Crime Analysis

The reports of sophisticated weaponry and uniform are a worrying development in the self-defense movement, suggesting a shift towards a more military style of operation. As the groups have multiplied in recent months, there have been increasing fears that Colombia's history, in which citizen vigilante groups morphed into brutal paramilitary organizations, will repeat itself in Mexico. After 25 years, Colombian society realized there was "no greater threat to a country than civil groups who take up arms with a discourse of self-protection," said a recent article about the Mexican movement in magazine Excelsior.

The head of Mexico's Human Rights Commission, Raul Plascencia, warned last month there was a "very thin line between these self-defense organizations and paramilitary groups." Mexico's constitution "categorically establishes that no one can carry out justice for themselves nor use violence to reclaim their rights," said the Commission in a statement.

However the government, has so far adopted a relatively friendly approach to the groups, making arrangements for the handover of detainees and swearing in around 60 ranchers and farmers in Chiapas state as a "Rural Forces Squad." Some regional politicians and members of Congress have called for the groups to be legally recognized.

Monitoring these groups' tactics as their numbers continue to increase is of crucial importance to this debate, and the future security of Mexican citizens. 

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Rodrigo Tovar Pupo never imagined it would come to this: dressed in an orange jumpsuit in a Washington DC courtroom and standing in front of a United States federal judge, the grandson of a wealthy Colombian cattle rancher and nephew to a governor was facing a possible...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Like any arm of the justice system, the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) had its battles with elites who used their charm and their muscle to try to influence what and who the celebrated commission...

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

This project defines organized crime as: a structured group of people that associate on a regular and prolonged basis to benefit from illicit activities and illegal markets. This group can be local, national or transnational in nature, and its existence is maintained using violence and threats; corruption...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala is Central America’s most populous country and its largest economy. But an intransigent elite, an ambitious military and a weak state has opened the way for organized crime to flourish, especially since the return of democracy.

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Organized crime is not an abstract concept for me. I grew up in Oak Park, a leafy suburb of Chicago with a population of about 60,000. In general, it was a very low crime city, which is perhaps why many mobsters made their homes there, among them...

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC have always had a love-hate relationship with drugs. They love the money it brings, funds which have allowed them to survive and even threaten to topple the state at the end of the 1990s. They hate the corruption and stigma narcotics have also brought to...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

In the northwest corner of Guatemala, a little known criminal organization known as the "Huistas" dominates the underworld, in large part due its ties with businessmen, law enforcement officials and politicians.

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

By the end of 1993, Pablo Escobar was cornered. The cocaine king -- known as "El Patrón" -- was running out of money and options. His top assassins were either dead or had turned themselves in. Almost all of the senior members of the Medellín Cartel were...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

As it tends to happen in Honduras, the news began as a well-heeled rumor: Javier Rivera Maradiaga, the oldest of the three Rivera Maradiaga brothers still alive and leader of the feared and powerful Honduran drug trafficking group known as the Cachiros, had handed himself in to...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

On the morning of April 5, 1988, Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros left his palatial Tegucigalpa estate for a jog. Matta Ballesteros was wanted for murder, drug trafficking and other crimes in several countries, but in Honduras he felt safe. He regularly hosted parties for high-level officials at...