La Policía Comunitaria: Self-Defense Groups in Mexico; The Aftermath of a Poorly Designed Policy by Mauricio Mering & Jaime Hernandez Colorado

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Mauricio Merino is a professor and researcher at Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) in Mexico City. His most recent book is El Futuro que no Tuvimos. Crónica del Desencanto Democrático en México (Editorial Planeta, 2012).Jaime Hernández Colorado holds a BA in Political Science and Public Administration from El Colegio de México. He has published reviews in Foro Internacional, Historia Mexicana, Estudios Sociológicos and Gestión y Política Pública. His main interests are Federalism and Local Government.

"Self defense groups represent a social response to the failures of the State security agency in ensuring peace and order..."
"Self defense groups in Mexico should be considered a unique phenomenon..."
"The community police groups that emerged in 2012 can be seen as a traditional response to the crisis of violence in 2008- 2009..."

On 4 January 2013, in the Mexican state of Guerrero, armed men calling themselves the “Ayutla de Los Libres Community Police Force” took self-defense into their own hands, sensing the inability of their government security forces to crack down on the violence of organized crime. In a total of nine states, the press has since documented additional community self-defense groups that have risen in response to the insecurity in Mexico, subsequently posing a challenge to the new government. This article examines the formation of community self-defense groups in light of the failures of the security policy implemented during the Felipe Calderón administration. This security policy resulted in the fragmentation of organized crime cartels and an increase in violence triggered by the diversification of criminal activities, leaving a trail of death, corruption, and human rights violations. The rise of these self-defense groups lends credit to the idea that vigilantes themselves can serve as an antidote to insecurity, particularly in rural communities.

Across Mexico, groups seeking justice by their own hands have experienced widespread legitimacy, as exemplified by Javier Sicilia, who led the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity and demanded justice for the victims of Calderón’s security policy; and Isabel Miranda, who became a Mexico City government PAN candidate in the 2012 elections after singlehandedly seeking and delivering her son’s kidnappers to the authorities. These are just two cases of civilians who were victimized by organized crime and who therefore had to use every means necessary to mobilize society, highlighting the ineffective Mexican police force and the nation’s judicial system. The leitmotif of urban social movements seeking for justice is not the same as that of the community police - but both are seeking justice and security because official security agencies have failed. Community self-defense groups are security corps composed by citizens working in their specific regions according to traditional rules and often recovering indigenous customs. These groups base their efforts upon civil society participation, solidarity, and other values that survive in rural Mexico, such as family relations, friendship, and social trust among the inhabitants of a town or region. It is important to state that these values as the basis of self-defense groups remain because members of these groups are members of the community too. The expansion of community groups is both old and new - these groups integrate romantic notions of justice with the more modern conception that society must participate in the fight against organized crime. These two opposing dimensions are harmonized in the wake of an ineffective security policy, forcing society to reach beyond public protest so as to organize community police groups... (purchase article...)