Residents of the town of Cheran in Michoacan, west Mexico, briefly kidnapped 16 police officers to demand an investigation into illegal logging in their community, following a clash between locals and a “paramilitary force” which left eight dead.
Cheran residents say that on April 18, a “community patrol” was ambushed by a criminal group, and at least eight people died in the ensuing struggle. The armed men were reportedly hired by local loggers, who Cheran residents say are destroying the forests that the community depends on.
One community leader told La Jornada, “It was an ambush of paramilitary groups associated with organized crime and the loggers who operate in the region.”
In protest, locals held 16 police hostage for less than 24 hours, releasing them on April 19 after a meeting with the Michoacan governor.
Last year, residents imposed a blockade, preventing outsiders from entering the town, amid reports that the Cheran loggers enjoyed protection from the Familia Michoacana drug gang. Residents say they have been threatened and attacked by armed men protecting logging interests since outsiders first began harvesting lumber in the municipality more than two years ago.
InSight Crime Analysis
The government has said it will investigate the deadly ambush and deploy the military and the Federal Police to Cheran. But, even though local leaders in Cheran have said that they want federal and state forces to intervene and stop the illegal logging, there have been reports of residents returning to vigilantism, blocking off the main roads into the town and conducting vehicle searches.
The kidnapping was clearly intended to attract the attention of authorities outside of Michoacan, and it appears to have been successful. But the re-appearance of vigilantism in Cheran is another clear expression of lingering distrust in government forces.
If the Cheran locals are correct, and the ambush was carried out by gunmen hired by loggers, it would represent a new escalation in violence against residents. There has been no official investigation into whether the Familia Michoacana is in fact involved in protecting the wood cutters. In one possible scenario, locals could be claiming that the loggers have links to organized crime in an effort to spur the government into taking action.