Any Michoacán municipality that can boast of five years of freedom from organized crime, kidnappings or extortion must be utopian, but that is the reality for Cherán and its nearly 20,000 inhabitants.
In 2011, they decided that they’d had enough of crime, the depredation of their forests and government ineptitude, and decided to rise up in arms.
“The conditions united us and that helped us to really see the truth of what political parties are,” said Pedro Chávéz, one of the 12 members of the Great Council of Cherán. “We are more united than ever.”
The council is the highest authority in the municipality, and its members are chosen by their neighbors in a revolving manner.
Council members know that what power they have is theirs only for a short period, and that their appointment can be revoked at any time. In Cherán, the accountability of its government representatives is demanded every week, not just annually.
Entry to the town, an hour and a half away from the state capital Morelia in the Purépecha region, is monitored by heavily armed and camouflaged personnel who could pass for members of an official police force but in reality are volunteer members of the 80-strong community watch.
José Magaña, 26, is one of those volunteers. “We check every vehicle that intends to enter our community,” he told the newspaper Milenio.
“We’ve eradicated all kinds of crimes here, like homicides, kidnappings, disappearances and especially illegal logging . . . [criminals] think twice before entering.”
The singular administration of Cherán has allowed its people to focus on greater issues. In coordination with the Mexican Institute of Water Technologies, the town is about to use the crater of a dormant volcano as the largest rainwater collection system in Latin America.
With a capacity of 20 million liters of water, the crater could well satisfy Cherán’s needs during two months in the dry season.
The water will be channeled to a purification plant and, once bottled, distributed in schools and government facilities.
Cherán has also a nursery that produces 1.5 million trees every year, which are either sold or used in reforestation efforts.
The indigenous community also has a sawmill and resin processing and construction block manufacturing factories.
Despite having eradicated political parties and a standard form of government from their municipality, the people of Cherán maintain a collaborative relationship with the state and federal governments.
Communities in the region are eager to follow the model of Cherán, which the locals say is possible: “It’s only a matter of coming together and fighting together.”
Source: Milenio (sp)