Constant extortion of public transportation operators has now triggered the formation of self-defense forces in at least nine Morelos municipalities, the newspaper Milenio reported today.
Residents of Totolapan, Tlalnepantla, Tlayacapan and Atlatlahucan formed self-defense forces last month to combat rising levels of extortion and other crimes allegedly committed by a gang known as La Maña.
Milenio said today that civilian security groups are now operating as well in the municipalities of Tetela del Volcán, Ayala, Ocuituco, Zacualpan and Yautepec and that residents of Temoac, Jantetelco, Jonacatepec and Axochiapan have attended meetings at which they expressed their willingness to participate in community-based security operations.
In Tlayacapan and Tlalnepantla — both located in the north of the state — armed and masked civilians have set up checkpoints where they decide who can and can’t enter their municipalities.
Community guards in other municipalities have employed similar strategies although some are armed only with radios rather than weapons and work with authorities rather than outside the law.
“We don’t use weapons, we don’t put hoods on, we’re people who just protect [the town], we’re eyes for the authorities, who intervene in the case of someone suspicious [being detected],” said Jair Villanueva, a community guard in Totolapan.
María de Jesús Vital, mayor of the same municipality, told Milenio that local authorities have decided to financially assist self-defense members who collaborate with official security forces so that their rudimentary blockades made out of sandbags can be replaced with formal security checkpoints equipped with cameras.
She said she was aware of the reports of extortion against local transportation operators but added that authorities couldn’t act because no official criminal complaints have been filed.
In Tetela del Volcán, a municipality in the northeast of the state that borders both México state and Puebla, local residents swung into action after twice being forced to collect 300,000 pesos (US $16,100) to pay off criminals threatening public transportation drivers and licensees.
Apart from forming a self-defense force, residents also held a mass protest on the highway to Cuautla and for a while detained two municipal officials.
They also declared they would no longer make extortion payments to criminals.
On July 16, a driver from Hueyapan was attacked by gangsters who warned him that the extortion payments would be permanent but residents continue to be defiant in their refusal to succumb to threats.
Ana Karina Pérez, a Hueyapan resident and wife of the Tetela del Volcán municipal assistant, said if they continue to make the payments extortion would become more widespread, affecting not just transportation operators but also shopkeepers and farmers, among others.
In the municipality of Ayala, located to the south of Cuautla where residents claim organized crime has a stronghold, a self-defense group has also sprung up to combat rising levels of extortion, homicides and kidnappings.
“Thank god, there are a lot of us. We’ve already put the first barricade in place in the neighborhood of Benito Juárez,” a masked self-defense leader known as El Comandante said in a video posted online.
“We’re going to continue neighborhood by neighborhood. Autodefensas will go to every street [if that’s what’s needed] to bring confidence and security [to the people] . . . We’re going to install loudspeakers and alarms so that if an asshole comes along and wants to charge extortion payments, the alarms will go off and we’re already organized,” he continued.
“Now, we’re ready for everything . . . If it’s a question of going to war with the government, we’ll do it. We’ve had it with organized crime.”
Source: Milenio (sp)