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Column 021113 Wall

Monday, February 11, 2013

In Guerrero, Mexico, Locals Take up Arms against Gangsters

By Allan Wall

Nature abhors a vacuum.  In human society, if one group doesn’t take control another will.

This is what has occurred in the area around Ayutla, a town in Mexico’s mountainous Guerrero state, south of Mexico City (see map here).  Guerrero is one of Mexico’s poorest and most indigenous states.

Ayutla is located about two hours from Acapulco on the Pacific coast, the latter now reported to be the second-most violent city in the world.

The problem in the Ayutla region was the infestation of drug gangs and the resultant crime, which terrorized the population.  The criminals would kidnap, rape, extort money from ranchers and merchants, and murder.  Security authorities were unable to stop them or bring them to justice.

When an ad hoc group of armed locals was able to rescue a kidnapped official, the armed militias formed and began to take control.  As militia leader Bruno Placido puts it, "This was the turning point, the moment everything exploded here.  We had shown the power armed people have over organized-crime groups."

What they are doing in Ayutla is distinct from simple lynching or spontaneous mob action, which occurs from time to time in Mexico.

The Ayutla model is that of organized militias taking the place of local police, which still exist but are relegated in the town of Ayutla to the direction of traffic at the plaza.

The militias in the Ayutla region wear masks and bear weapons such as rifles, shotguns, machetes and some AR-15 semiautomatics.  They are financed by donations of food and money from the local population.

Ayutla militias' patrol and man checkpoints, controlling access to the area.  They don’t even permit the Mexican army, federal police or Guerrero state police to enter, and so far none of these groups have attempted to enter by force.

The militias make arrests and keep prisoners in detention as they await public trials and sentencing.

As a result of the militia takeover, crime has dropped.  The Ayutla model has spread to other parts of Guerrero state.  Angel Aguirre, the governor of Guerrero state who is supportive, has met with the Ayutla’s militia and he finds justification for it in Guerrero state law.

It’s not without criticism though.  Raul Plascencia is president of the CNDH (National Commission of Human Rights), an autonomous government agency.  Presumably from the safety of his Mexico City office, Plascencia has criticized the existence of the Guerrero militias.  The real solution, quoth Plascencia, is that if one level of government can’t handle things it should seek support from a higher level.

But what if even the federal forces can’t control the problem?  They haven’t.

Might not one solution be to deputize the militia, like in the Old West when a posse was assembled?  Rather than try to dismantle the militias, confer upon them at least a temporary legal status and work with them to fight crime.  If the situation improves, militias could be either dismantled or placed or maintained on a more permanent basis, depending on the situation.

That would be more practical and effective than going after groups that have actually reduced crime.

Recently, negotiations were held involving the Mexican federal government (represented by Secretary of the Interior Miguel Angel Osorio Chong), the Guerrero state government, and the militia umbrella group UPOEG (Unión de Pueblos y Organizaciones del Estado de Guerrero) represented by its leader, the aforementioned Bruno Placido.  The militia network agreed to stop wearing masks, turn over detainees and maintain dialogue.

Later, the militias turned over 11 of their 53 detainees to the authorities.

On February 8th, Interior Secretary Osorio Chong announced that the government means to “regularize” the militia network “so that they can continue to assist authorities.”

It sounds like the deputization option mentioned earlier.

The militiamen have made a real breakthrough, provoking the government to recognize their contribution to fighting crime in troubled Guerrero state.

As one of the militia officers put it, "We brought order back to a place where there had been chaos.  We were able to do in 15 days what the government was not able to do in years."


Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at

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