A Mexican vigilante group reportedly forced eight teenagers to sweep a town plaza in punishment for working for criminal organization the Knights Templar, some indication of how the volunteer security forces in small towns are going about distributing justice.
As El Universal reports, the teens were accused of working as look-outs for the Knights Templar in Tierra Caliente, Michoacan, population 10,000. The town’s vigilante force also forced the teens to wear white t-shirts while sweeping, printed with declarations such as, “This is my punishment for being a hitman,” and, “Out with the Templars.”
According to El Universal, the volunteer security enforcers were first organized by businessmen in Tierra Caliente who were tired of being extorted by criminal groups. The town’s economy rotates around lumber production, and businesses were expected to pay 80 pesos (about $6.50) for every cubic meter of wood which they handled. Ranchers, meanwhile, were expected to pay up to two pesos (about 16 cents) per kilo for every animal they sold.
On May 15, the vigilante force temporarily took over the Tierra Caliente town hall in a demonstration of their strength. One vigilante leader told El Universal that in revenge for doing so, drug traffickers burned down several of the town’s woodmills.
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El Universal’s report sheds light on some of the pressures faced by small businesses in areas of Mexico where organized criminal groups are the de facto authority — and helps explain why these communities may be driven to form grassroot defense groups. In recent months, towns across Michoacan and Guerrero have seen the rise of vigilante forces who have pledged to defend their communities from organized crime, even as some authorities have accused the vigilantes of being criminals themselves.
The vigilantes in Tierra Caliente would not be the first organization to use symbolic punishments as a way of exerting order. The Knights Templar have allegedly used crucifixion as a way to “enforce the law” in rural Michoacan.