DIY justice: Mexico town expels cops, reclaims forest from illegal loggers
Loggers who terrorized community for years are protected by a criminal organization and given free pass by government, residents of Cheran say
CHERÁN, Mexico — The woman’s exhausted eyes reflected the flames dancing in front of her. A 38-year-old grandmother, she is also a leader of the civilian insurgency that has taken over this mountain town in the state of Michoacán, 310 miles west of Mexico City. Sixteen months of cold and sleepless nights at Bonfire No. 17, one of a number of permanent burning barricades set up here, have taken their toll.But like the rest of the residents, she cannot afford to let her guard down.
On the morning of April 15, 2011, using rocks and fireworks, a group of women attacked a busload of AK-47-armed illegal loggers as they drove through Cherán, residents said. The loggers, who local residents say are protected by one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal organizations and given a virtual free pass by the country’s authorities, had terrorized the community at will for years.
Video: New president says Mexico needs larger police force (on this page)
- Only on NBCNews.com
- Child labor: Small hands legally picking our food
- Teddy bear war between Belarus, Sweden heats up
- Eagle Scouts split over returning medals in protest
- An Internet sales tax is all but inevitable
- On a mission: Jogging across the US in name of veterans
- Baby elephant orphaned in slaughter finds a foster mom
- Supporters, opponents face off over Chick-fil-A
What happened next was extraordinary, especially in a country where the rule of law is often absent and isolated communities are frequently forced to accept the status quo. Organized criminal syndicates, like the drug cartel La Familia, created in Michoacán, act like a state within a state, making their own rules and meting out grisly punishments to those who do not obey.
14 dismembered bodies found in truck in northern Mexico
But here in Cherán, a group of townspeople took loggers hostage, expelled the town’s entire police force and representatives of established political parties, and forcibly closed the roads.
“I felt my knees shake like castanets,” said the woman standing vigil at Bonfire No. 17, Rocio, who, like others here, withheld her last name for fear of reprisals by the criminal networks they are resisting. She recalled her overwhelming fear during those first days of revolt, when residents gathered around as many as 200 bonfires set up at every intersection in town to prevent the loggers from retaliating.
Inside the town, they say, crime is now down almost to zero and most residents seem to feel safe. In recent days, however, people from nearby communities have taken several federal police officers captive, demanding that the newly instated forest patrols be canceled so that they can continue their logging activities. (The officers have since been released.) It is unclear if the hostage-takers were illegal loggers, but tensions are flaring in Cherán as the rest of the country looks on with concern.
Last November, in a court appeal, Cherán acquired a degree of autonomy from the Mexican government; the town still receives federal and state money, and its people must pay taxes, but they are allowed to govern themselves under a legal framework called “uses and customs” that has been granted to some indigenous communities.
REST HERE: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/48478168/ns/world_news-the_new_york_times/t/diy-justice-mexico-town-expels-cops-reclaims-forest-illegal-loggers/#.UBvZBd4lmOh.email