Residents of a municipality in southern Veracruz have taken up arms to defend themselves against crime.
According to a report by the news website Animal Político, residents of at least seven communities in Santiago Sochiapan are unable to go about their day to day activities due to the threat posed by criminal groups.
“We’re afraid because they threaten us . . .We can’t go anywhere,” said octogenarian Eduardo Santiago Romero, adding that an ulcer developed on his foot because he was unable to seek medical attention for an injury.
Many Santiago Sochiapan residents are still not going to school or work, visiting friends and even shopping, Animal Político said, even though a community police force is now carrying out patrols, setting up roadblocks in order to keep tabs on who is coming into and out of the municipality and completely shutting down access to towns at night.
One woman from the town of Benito Juárez said she had taken both her children out of school due to security concerns.
There is no high school in the community, forcing older students to travel to the town of María Lombardo del Caso in Oaxaca to attend classes. However, most have decided to give up their studies due to insecurity on the highway between the town and Santiago Sochiapan.
Animal Político reported that the catalyst for the formation of a community police force was the disappearance on July 18 of two ranchers in the neighboring municipality of Playa Vicente and an armed attack the same day on the home of a family member of the abducted brothers.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the family member – a Santiago Sochiapan resident – said that residents of the municipality have joined a larger community police group known as Towns United Against Crime.
“We’ve taken up arms in 12 or 13 towns, we’re united with the municipalities of Las Choapas, Jesús Carranza, San Juan Evangelists, we’re more than 1,000 people united against crime,” he said.
One community police member wielding an AR-15 style rifle he said that he seized from a criminal after a confrontation told Animal Político that he hadn’t been able to operate his business buying and selling cattle for six months “because organized crime won’t let me anymore.”
He said that criminal groups had demanded an initial extortion payment of 500,000 pesos (US $26,400) from him as well as 50,000-peso monthly payments.
Gangs of criminals are not just extorting and kidnapping ranchers but stealing their cattle as well.
In San Juan Lalana, Oaxaca, which borders Santiago Sochiapan, there was a clash on December 1 between the army and a criminal group traveling in a convoy of 10 vehicles transporting stolen cattle.
Four suspected criminals were killed in the confrontation and four others were arrested, Oaxaca authorities said.
There have been several other recent clashes in the area and a suspected local leader of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) known as Doble Cero (double zero) was arrested in southern Veracruz on December 6.
Community police in Santiago Sochiapan and other nearby Veracruz municipalities have been on high alert ever since.
Veracruz Public Security Secretary Hugo Gutiérrez Maldonado warned that violence could spike due to a “re-arrangement” in the local power structure of the CJNG.
Source: Animal Político (sp)