A self-proclaimed citizen self-defense group in northern Peru has been storming brothels and whipping prostitutes, the latest example of a Latin American vigilante movement whose demarcations grow ever more blurry.
A video published by various newspapers shows the group of men in the neighborhood of Santa Elena in the Cajamarca region chasing undressed women out of the establishment and hitting them with sticks and whips. Outside, the women’s clients were forced to do push-ups while also being beaten.
The next day the same group entered another brothel, smashed its doors, removed furniture and sound equipment and started a fire, reported Peru 21. Prostitutes and other workers were also whipped.
The group is reportedly led by a man named Fernando Chuquilin Ramos, who was thrown out of Cajamarca’s Central Committee of Urban Patrol Groups, a vigilante umbrella organization.
Chuquilin told Canal “N” that the group would not stop until all such nightclubs were closed down, reported El Comercio. He added that officials from the Attorney General’s Office “should get out of their seats and get to work.”
The president of another urban patrol group condemned the actions of Chuquilin’s group, saying it was forbidden to hit women and to carry out operations with hoods or with faces concealed, reported El Comercio. A lawyer acting for victims of the group claimed the vigilantes had stolen many of the prostitutes’ cellphones.
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Citizen self-defense groups have a long history in Peru. “Rondas campesinos” — peasant self-defense groups — formed in the 1970s to protect farmers from cattle-rustling and went on to fight against the Maoist guerrilla army the Shining Path a decade later. In certain remote rural parts of Peru they still act as a de facto community police force, handing out traditional punishments such as whipping and forced-barefoot nighttime walks in freezing temperatures.
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Peaceful rural groups have been given rights to administrate justice under a national Peruvian law, while certain regional authorities, including Cajamarca’s, have also recognized urban patrols, a Cajamarca prosecutor explained to El Comercio. However, they must coordinate with local security forces and are not allowed to enact punishments.
As in other parts of Latin America, the groups occupy a grey area in which protecting communities can morph into committing their own abuses against fellow citizens — a prime example being the evolution of vigilante groups into paramilitary organizations in Colombia during the 1980s. The Peruvian rondas have faced allegations of torture and abuse in the past, and stealing property and beating prostitutes certainly strays a long way from “citizen self-defense.”