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Calls Grow for Legal Recognition of Vigilantes in Mexican State

Vigilante groups in Guerrero, Mexico Vigilante groups in Guerrero, Mexico

Some officials are calling for the legal recognition of vigilante groups active in the southwest Mexican state of Guerrero, suggesting increasing frustration with the local police and government's tactics to battle organized crime.

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Some 800 civilians in the so-called "Costa Chica" area of Guerrero have taken up arms to defend themselves against criminal gangs operating in the area, citing the ineffectiveness of local police forces, reported the AFP.

Speaking earlier this week, the governor of Guerrero, Angel Aguirre Rivero, acknowledged there is good reason for self-defense groups to exist, and said he wanted to propose a decree that would define how these "community police" are considered under the law. If grassroots self-defense groups are trained in human rights and other civil procedures, they could be integrated into the regular community police force, the governor added.

This idea has been gaining traction over the past two weeks. The mayor of San Marcos, Guerrero, declared, "It is right that community policing be legalized ... because [these groups] generate trust in society." The president of Guerrero state Congress' Justice Commission has also come out in support of the idea, stating, "We can't condemn anybody for defending ... their community," according to Milenio.

Mexico's interior minister, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, has rejected the idea of giving these groups legal recognition, saying, "they cannot take justice into their own hands, not in this country." Osorio met with Aguirre on January 23 to discuss the issue, although few details have been reported on the outcome of the meeting.

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These vigilante groups are typically organized due to local communities' frustration with the inability of the local police to fight crime. Such groups have sprouted across Mexico in recent years. Two self-defense forces appeared in the embattled state of Michoacan, most notably in the indigenous community of Cheran. In 2011, Guerrero reported the presence of civilian armed groups in the town of San Luis Acatlan.

The fact that Guerrero's vigilante groups are gaining some support from officials points to increased frustration with the federal government's ability to secure smaller, rural communities. By mentioning the possibility that these grassroots self-defense groups could be formally integrated into the local police, Guerrero's governor highlighted the lack of an effective police force in the area. Municipal and state police across Mexico are widely regarded as corrupt and outgunned by criminal groups, with many arrested for links to organized crime.

It remains to be seen whether the rhetoric will translate into a concrete campaign to win legal recognition for vigilante groups. So far, the federal government appears to have responded to the complaints from Guerrero by ordering a security surge to Costa Chica.

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