Vigilante groups in Guerrero state, west Mexico, have announced plans to band together under a unified command, in an effort to gain legitimacy and recognition from the government.
At a public meeting in the village of Brasilia on February 24, representatives of the new group announced that it would bring together "community police" from 20 villages around Acapulco and Coyuca de Benitez. A spokesman said that the people had decided to declare the area a "crime-free territory," and that the new force would begin patrols and set up security checkpoints the following week, reported Milenio. Their aim is to expand to include another 60 communities in the area.
The spokesman, Carlos Garcia Jimenez, pointed out that the group was independent from the firmly established self-defense forces in the mostly indigenous "Costa Chica" region of the state, and from the municipal authorities, reported El Informador.
Jimenez made several claims to legitimacy for the group, pointing out that though its formation was a response to the current situation of insecurity, self-defense forces have been operating in the area for more than six years. He also denied the group was a guerrilla organization, and said he wanted it to work towards legal recognition as a "community police force," and that its aim was for local communities to be recognized as a fourth level of government in Mexico.
Developments elsewhere in the country made the wishes for recognition of the Guerrero group seem within reach. In Chiapas, south Mexico, some 60 local ranchers and farmers were sworn in last week as members of a Rural Forces Squad (PFR), meant to work alongside local and federal police, reported La Jornada.
Government officials explained to La Jornada that the unit was set up at the request of local farmers, because the police in the area lack the resources to combat crime -- particularly cattle rustling -- with only 60 municipal police for a population of 50,000. The force will carry out patrols, but is meant to refer any crime apart from cattle theft to the appropriate authority.
The men are given arms and uniforms by the government, but will not be paid a wage.
However, in Michoacan, residents complained of armed masked men setting up road blocks and check points in the night, and in one area preventing municipal police from patrolling.
Community self-defense forces in Guerrero have been hitting the headlines in recent weeks, as they have increased their activity in response to surging crime in the area, and the government’s inability to guarantee security. The authorities have taken a conciliatory stance towards these groups, making agreements for the members to remove their masks and hand over criminal suspects, while members of Congress have proposed giving them legal recognition.