Extortion, the increased presence of organized crime and overwhelmed police have triggered the formation of self-defense forces in four Morelos municipalities.
In May, several members of a transport union in Nepopualco — a small town in the municipality of Totolapan — received telephone calls from a criminal organization known as La Maña demanding 200,000 pesos (US $10,600) for each of two mototaxi stands in the community.
The charges were not quite as onerous in the municipal seat — also called Totolapan — where the same criminal group was allegedly charging 150,000 pesos (US $7,900) for each taxi stand.
Fearful that the practice would become more widespread, residents decided to stand up to the threat the gang posed. On June 6 they set up checkpoints manned by armed and masked civilians on the main roads leading into the municipality.
“. . . We thought that La Maña would later go to businesses and homes to ask for derecho de piso [extortion payments] and that’s why we decided at a general meeting to form self-defense groups and we said we’re going to defend [our towns] so that those people don’t come in,” a community guard identified only as Mateo told the newspaper El Universal.
“The police did nothing for us. In Totolapan, where the police base is, they couldn’t do anything and there is [only] one patrol car to take care of six towns. That’s not enough, that’s why we saw the need to form [community] guards with the agreement of the municipal assistant,” he added.
“All citizens aged over 18 have to cover a 24-hour shift as a community guard.”
Mateo also said that in the last week of June most of the members of the Totolapan self-defense force met with Michoacán self-defense force founder José Manuel Mireles, who advised them on strategies to defend their territory.
The new force is the first ever formed in the central Mexican state but it wasn’t long before other groups of disgruntled Morelos residents followed suit.
Beyond Totolapan, La Maña had also increased its presence in the municipalities of Tlalnepantla, Tlayacapan and Atlatlahucan, all of which are located in the northeast of the state, bordering both Mexico City and México state.
Residents of at least eight towns in those municipalities have also formed their own self-defense groups, claiming that officers from the state’s Mando Único (Single Command) force deployed in the region are no longer able to effectively combat the rising levels of crime.
Mateo explained that the groups are separate but they support each other if one asks for extra assistance.
The community guard defended the self-defense group members’ carrying of weapons, charging they could be attacked by the criminals against which they are defending their communities.
He also said the force of which he is a member only disarm — as an army general warned them to do — if their communities were afforded military assistance for public security duties.
“If they don’t want us to take care of [security], they should send us soldiers but they don’t want to. They say that we’re outside the law . . . but how do we defend ourselves from these people?” Mateo questioned.
So far, the new strategy appears to have been a success.
Other community guards who spoke to El Universal said that two weeks after they formed their self-defense groups, La Maña members stopped making extortion calls and no longer appear in their towns.
Source: El Universal (sp)