Ten workers have been murdered at a farm in Guerrero state, southwest Mexico, in a manifestation of the criminal violence that has sparked the formation of citizen self-defense forces.
The bodies were found in a melon farm in the municipality of Ajuchitlan del Progreso on March 3. The victims included the man in charge of the farm, eight men aged between 15 and 40, and a woman of 54, according to Excelsior.
The state Attorney General’s Office initially attributed the deaths to a shootout between rival criminal organizations, but later retracted this statement, reported Jornada. The newspaper quoted government sources as saying that an armed group, bearing AK-47s, had killed the victims one by one.
Following the attack, an army unit was sent to the scene. Local campesino organizations condemned the killing, and blamed the government for its failure to provide security in the region, saying that this justified the rise of self-defense groups.
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Guerrero state has been plagued by drug-related violence in recent months, and last September it overtook Chihuahua as the state that experienced the highest numer of organized crime-related murders in one month — the first time in four years that Chihuahua had not topped the list. The rise of smaller splinter organizations, formed after cartel leaders are captured or killed, is one of the factors driving up killings in the state.
As violence has spiraled, the population has increasingly decided to take matters into their own hands. Citizens’ self-defense groups are now reportedly operating in 68 Mexican municipalities, in 13 states, and Guerrero is one of the focal points of the phenomenon. Bruno Placido, Union of Peoples and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (UPOEG), told EFE last month, “The movement [has arisen] to prevent crime and avoid deaths … to reestablish the right the citizens have to recoup their lost dignity.”
Crimes such as this farm massacre lend weight to the vigilantes’ argument that the self-defense groups are a necessary response to the Mexican authorities’ inability to guarantee their security.
However, concerns have begun to arise over the increasing sophistication of these groups, which have been connected to crimes themselves. Colombian paramilitary organisations sprung from purported citizens’ self-defense movements in the 1980s, and the head of Mexico’s Human Rights Commission, Raul Plascencia, has warned Mexico’s groups could go down a similar road.
The authorities’ initial response to the killing, classifying it as a shootout between criminal groups, is an example of the Mexican government’s tendency to accuse victims of having been involved in organized crime, often without basis.