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A well ordered militia?

23 May 2013

With all the spin being put on every news story about the right to carry firearms, in a way I’m surprised the U.S. media hasn’t picked up on the controversy here over “communal police” in Guerrero and Michoacán. On the other hand, north of the border, while the story does involve the gringo’s favorite Mexican obsession (narcotics traffickers), it doesn’t feature any of the blood and gore that is so essential to U.S. reportage from Mexico, so maybe it’s not surprising at all that this has been ignored.

From yesterday’s Milenio (my translation):

A 24-soldier military patrol was detained by residents of the municipio of Buenavista Tomatlán, Michoacán for over five hours today.

The Michoacán state government had reported this morning that the army had captured the four armed community police men at a roadblock the communal self-defense force had mounted at the outskirts of Buenavista Tomatlán to prevent drug traffickers from passing through their town.

The four community police officers were taken to Morelia, where they were handed over to the Attorney General of the Republic, sparking anger from their peers and inhabitants of the municipality.

The protesters blocked the road linking Tomatlán Buenavista road to Apatzingán, paralyzing traffic for more than eight hours.

The military patrol, part of a federal operation that began this week in the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacán, asked members of the self-defense force to clear the road and to participate in a dialogue in the center of town.

After several [failed] attempts to justify the arrest of the four community police officers, the soldiers opted to set up a base in the Municipal Police office, where they agreed to remain until the detainees were released shortly after 9 P.M.

The 24 soldiers never gave the protesters their radio equipment, guns or rifles, and had received orders stand down because of the presence of women and children among supporters of community policing.

I haven’t been following the Communal Police story all that closely myself, but Frontera NorteSur wrote about (and I pasted into this site) a story on what they called “anti-crime uprisings” last November:

This year’s uprisings in Michoacan and Guerrero happen in a rural Mexico where erosion of governmental support for small farmers and the increased integration of the country into the global economy has created power and justice vacuums.

In many places, formal state authority has been largely supplanted by parallel governments involved in drug trafficking and other criminal enterprises. Indigenous communities are also increasingly resisting threats to their community integrity and social fabric from over-logging, new highways, mines and other large development projects imposed by outsiders.

Analysts and close observers had mixed reactions to the surge in armed citizen uprisings. Tlachinollan’s Abel Barrera said it was a positive development that the people were standing up, but that a danger existed of bloody confrontation and the “law of the jungle” prevailing if grievances were not seriously addressed by the authorities.

Columnist and legal consultant Alfonso Zarate wrote that the Michoacan and Guerrero uprisings presented the incoming PRI administration of Enrique Pena Nieto with the challenge of “strengthening municipal authorities” and crafting public policies that “reverse the profound social dislocations which the communities live in and that constitute fertile ground for the interests of criminal bands.”

In addition to the threats to communal resources (and lives) from outside economic forces (including narcotics traffickers), indigenous communities have a right to “apply their  own standards in regulation and solution of their internal conflicts” ,  which many feel is best served by local communal defense groups rather than state or federal police who are likely to be outsiders, unfamiliar with the folkways and traditions of the community they are supposed to protect and serve.

Even when the communal police serve the modest purpose of  resolving disputes in a traditional fashion and preserving peace among neighbors the self-defense and communal police units are being seen as a challenge to the authority of the State.  Much was made by the mainstream media (especially Televisa) of  masked communal police dragging in reluctant defendants before “people’s courts”. That the justice was swift and generally not all that harsh (normally fines, or a few hours in an improvised jail), suddenly was a human rights violation to a government that never has much concerned itself with the slow legal process and often barbaric conditions of incarceration in the “official” system.

And, while the allegations of collusion between official police and gangsters (including the multinational corporations and mining companies) are widespread, rather than respond to the allegations, the critics… i.e., the communal self-defense organizations… are blamed for violence (and sometimes accused of collusion with the gangsters themselves).

Add in on-going dissatisfaction with the “reforms” — including the educational “reforms” that have led to rioting by student teachers in Michoacán — and you have an uprising waiting to happen.  And should that happen, the Army has more guns… and airplanes… and a U.S. government itching to find a new “insurgency” to put down in the name of preserving “stability”.  Which doesn’t mean the armed units in the rural areas don’t have an issue, but does mean the Army showed good sense in backing down this time.

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