High in the jungle-covered mountains of central Veracruz, a community security force repels would-be criminals with nothing more than stones, slingshots, machetes and courage, keeping crime down and ensuring the municipality doesn’t succumb to the influence of organized crime.
For the past 10 years, men and women have worked day and night as guards to patrol the 158 communities that make up the municipality of Zongolica, a region where 90% of the population is indigenous.
The strategy, the people say, has been successful.
“Here there are no assaults nor the presence of organized crime,” asserted Liborio Panzo Sánchez, a resident of the small town of Chicomapa Uno and a proud member of the community guards.
The force has grown to almost 1,000 members, all of them democratically chosen by their communities and 40% are women. Nahua women wearing distinctive black skirts and typical blouses and wielding machetes have become a common sight in the region.
“The women have to be brave,” said Carmela Quicahua, a Nahua woman and community guard from the community of Tlanecpaquila.
Apart from fighting crime, the community force also defends against the dispossession of land, she said. The sounding of a cohete (rocket or firework) alerts men and women, young and old, to the location of any problem.
“We don’t use violence but we do protect our lands and ourselves,” Quicahua insisted.
The commitment of citizens, courage and their desire to protect their homes — rather than any government strategy — has ensured that Zongolica doesn’t feature on any lists of the country’s most insecure regions.
Despite scant economic resources and primitive weapons, they are determined to prevent the kind of violent crime that has impacted other parts of the state and country.
In Tezonapa, which borders the municipality, crime including murders and assaults are relatively common but the community force has largely prevented such activity from spilling over into Zongolica.
“Criminals are afraid of approaching because they know that if they come in and try to commit a crime, they will be detained and handed over to police,” Panzo said.
Before the establishment of the community force, there was little deterrent.
“It was impossible for the police to arrive. The criminals were coming in all the time and robbing us for as little as 50 pesos. So we decided to organize and defend ourselves. There are no high-caliber weapons, those who carry guns are central [command], there are only machetes and slingshots,” Panzo explained.
The results achieved by the community force have been so good that mayor-elect Juan Carlos Mezhua Campos — set to be sworn in on January 1 — said he will give community guards the tools they require, training and a salary to carry on with their work.
Mezhua said community guards should not provoke fear but could actually serve as a model to “solve . . . the security issue.”
“We’re going to propose that Zongolica be an example for our country, of how people can look after themselves. We’ll be the spearhead.”
Source: El Universal (sp)