Armed groups in Mexico: what are they how they differ
The existence of armed groups in Mexico is very wide and varied: ranging from paramilitary groups linked to the political class, to private armies at the service of power groups and businessmen, through self-organization of indigenous communities and landowners, who also keep differences.
Although the term "paramilitary" is not commonly used in Mexico, the presence of irregular armies throughout the territory multiplied once the frontal strategy against organized crime began. As a result, cases of serious human rights violations were triggered.
The Mexican authorities have identified the presence of nine main groups linked to organized crime, but there is no accurate number of how many people have been turned into irregular soldiers for their services.
The deployment of these groups in the national territory is not new either: it is enough to remember their presence in the massacre of the student movement of 1971 called 'Halconazo', recently referred to in the film 'Roma'. Also, during the period of State terrorism in Guerrero, at the same time.
"The paramilitary groups are a network of small irregular armies that have commanders, made up of indigenous people and poor peasants, recruited from communities that benefit from the clientelist networks of traditional PRI [Institutional Revolutionary Party, hegemonic political force throughout the history of Mexico] ", explains the journalist and writer Luis Hernández Navarro in his book 'Hermanos en Armas'.
The members are "trained and financed" by a kind of strategic alliance between "the public security forces and the local power groups, whose main objective is to try to stop the expansion of the independent peasant and indigenous organization," Hernández Navarro points out.
The researcher reports that the formation of paramilitary groups in Mexico "comes from a strategic decision of power": with the help of these forces, they can act with the impunity that guarantees them to be out of public scrutiny.
"They are the instrument to make war that the Federal Army cannot do directly, to try to stop the expansion of the insurgency," says Hernández.
In his work, he differentiates other types of private armed groups. On the one hand, the white guards, identified as "gunmen at the service of farmers, large landowners or large farmers", who "act under their orders".
On the other hand, there are the death squads that are "clandestine groups that operate mostly in the urban environment, threatening and attacking popular activists and human rights defenders, and they are usually united by anti-Communist ideologies and integrated by elements of the public forces. "
Self-defense groups and community police
Perhaps the most complex phenomenon to understand about the armed groups are the self-defense groups and the community police.
Born in Michoacán, in 2013, self-defense groups were promoted by medium and large entrepreneurs and producers in the area, avocado trees, lemon trees, and local miners, who took on the State's discourse against organized crime.
"They arise here because in the Port of Lázaro Cárdenas the mining and drug interests converge, they share the same economic model, those who make the real money are those who distribute the merchandise in the first world, not these little boys of 13 or 14 years with Armando taking care of a field of marijuana in the hills, "said Raymundo Ortiz, a lawyer close to the Michoacan self-defense groups.
According to the work of the researcher Laura Castellanos, during the government of Enrique Peña Nieto, different self-defense groups were set up in 22 of the 32 states of the country, although not all of them remained active.
For Castellanos, they were "a manifestation of the crisis of the security system and the justice system" and made visible the dense network that unites "agents of the State, criminals, private initiative, parastatals for reasons of collusion or corruption."
Ortiz did not hesitate to point out the "social and ecological decomposition" caused by the mining exploitation in Michoacan territory as one of the factors that originated this crisis.
Hernández Navarro, for his part, maintains that there has been "clear coordination" between the military and some self-defense groups, both in terms of weapons and operational tactics. His presence is not legislated. By rising up and displacing the local police, the self-defense groups have mostly replicated the methods of the institutions they sought to combat.
One of its main highlights is the discretionary management of its own prisons, where convictions vary and physical punishment is applied. His patrols and surveillance tactics resembling the military are also controversial.
The community police, on the other hand, comes from an ancestral tradition. According to Hernández, the intellectual and Mixteco lawyer Francisco López Bárcenas, "they are a reality throughout the country, they have different histories and types".
López Bárcenas can mention cases in northern Mexico, such as the "traditional guards of the Seri and Yaqui peoples", as well as find these autonomous manifestations in the "traditional Mayan guard that protects Chan Santa Cruz, in the municipality of Carrillo Puerto".
"These are indigenous structures forged over the years, along with them there are the community police of the communities that year after year are appointed among their own members to take care of security," the lawyer explains Hernandez in his book.
That is the main difference with the self-defense groups, whose members are not elected by the people nor do they have to render an account before their assemblies, as it happens with the community police of the indigenous communities. Hernández Navarro also emphasizes that the self-defense usually do not have regulations or operating principles.
Castellanos said in a dialogue with Sputnik that the self-defense "have links with governments and some of them have been legalized, as in the experience of Michoacán", even if it was unconstitutional because they do not seek to overthrow the government of the day but demand that it perform its functions on security issues. "
The community police of the indigenous peoples are supported in the constitutional guarantee that allows them to maintain their own normative systems. In the case of Guerrero, there was a local law that recognized them, although it was recently modified to eliminate them from the legislation.
It was in this state that the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities (CRAC) was created, a unique system for imparting community justice and monitoring its application, which has been operating in several indigenous communities for 23 years.
This has not prevented its main referents from being persecuted and imprisoned, through falsified processes, in which high-impact crimes are attributed to them. One of his main references, Gonzalo Molina, of the community police of Tixtla, was released at the beginning of this month, after five years of arbitrary prison.
From his imprisonment, Molina insisted that the true vocation of the CRAC is to defend its territory, both from organized crime and from extractive projects that threaten the community, indigenous and mestizo life. For Molina, the basic issue is economic and seeks to stop the autonomous organization of the people.