How young is too young to begin training to learn how to fight back against a violent criminal gang? In the mountains of Guerrero, the answer is 5.
Nineteen children aged between 6 and 15 were presented as community police-in-waiting in the municipality of Chilapa on Wednesday.
Dressed in t-shirts of the regional community police force CRAC-PF, wearing kerchiefs that partially covered their faces and wielding shotguns or large sticks, the children marched along the Chilapa-Hueycantenango highway and through Alcozacán, hometown of 10 indigenous musicians who were murdered in Chilapa last Friday.
“Weapons to your shoulders now!” was one of the orders shouted during the march in which the youngsters from Xochitempa, Chilapa and Ayahualtempa, a community in the neighboring municipality of José Joaquín de Herrera, showed off some of the self-defense and policing skills they have learned over the past two months.
CRAC-PF coordinator Bernardino Sánchez Luna explained that the children are in training so that they know how to defend themselves in the case of an attack by Los Ardillos, a drug gang whose members were allegedly responsible for the murder of the musicians from Alcozacán.
“The children sometimes go out to the fields to keep an eye on the animals and they find criminals there so it’s better for them to know how to defend themselves . . .” he said.
Dozens of people have been killed in confrontations between Los Ardillos and community police over the past four years, widowing at least 24 women and leaving more than 60 children without a father.
Sánchez said the decision to train the minors was taken because the army, National Guard and state police have all been unable to stop the attacks perpetrated by the gang, which is also engaged in a turf war with a criminal organization known as Los Rojos.
He conceded that the children would be better off at school but teachers are no longer showing up for classes out of fear they will come under attack.
The purpose of the mobilization of the budding vigilantes on Wednesday, the CRAC leader said, was to call for a visit to Chilapa by President López Obrador, to whom the CRAC has already presented a list of 29 demands aimed at reducing violence.
“We’re waiting for the president in the community . . . We want him to attend to our demands,” Sánchez said.
“. . . We’re waiting for a response from the government, from President López Obrador and from Governor Héctor Astudillo . . . they have the solution,” he added.
The presentation of the up-and-coming community police was not the first time that the CRAC-PF has publicly shown that it is preparing children for combat in Chilapa. Videos that circulated last May showed children undergoing training to defend the town of Rincón de Chautla in case of an attack.
In response to Wednesday’s march, the Guerrero government called on the CRAC-PF to respect the human rights of the children involved.