The New York Times today has a fascinating story of a town in Mexico where women have taken over in an armed occupation. They report that the people of Cheran, in the state of Michoacan, had been harassed by armed, illegal loggers for years:
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.
Cherán’s residents said they had been subjected to multiple episodes of rape, kidnapping, extortion and murder by the paramilitary loggers, who have devastated an estimated 70 percent of the surrounding oak forests that sustained the town’s economy and indigenous culture for centuries.
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.
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.
The piece goes on to mention the idea of community rule isn’t new to the area. In fact, in the Fault Lines episode above we explored the issue in the neighboring state of Guerrero. (Warning: The show contains some footage that is pretty hard to watch.)
This reminds me of a recent story out of southern Colombia where indigenous people took over a mountain, kicking out both the Colombian military and the FARC.
I’ve covered war for many years. One of the first realities you learn when covering conflicts is that no matter what the fight is for, or where in the world it is, those that suffer war’s horrible effects the most are the people caught in the middle. I now find it heartening that at least in a few quiet corners of the globe that some of those people are starting to take back what should have been theirs all along.