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.
Members of the Torres family in the hamlet of La Morena in Tiearra Caliente region of the state of Guerrero, Mexico. The area is a hotbed of marijuana and poppy growth, as well as pockets of leftist guerrillas. We filmed an episode of Fault Lines in the area earlier this year. Torres family members told us they feel trapped between the local drug kingpin Rogaciano Alba and the military, who they claim are in collusion. Members of the Torres family have been arrested by the military and others killed by both the military and local drug forces. (Photo by Josh Rushing)
The story about the 14-year-old in Mexico who’s on trial for beheading four people reminds of something Chuck Bowden told me when I interviewed him for this episode of Fault Lines:
He described Juarez as a ticking time bomb. The city’s thousands of murders each year create thousands of orphans. More children without parental supervision are created when families move to Juarez for low-paying factory jobs and find both parents have to work to make ends meet. While this may be common in the States, it’s a new cultural phenomenon in Mexico. Compounding this is the daily scene children witness: murders routinely in the street, violence gripping every part of the city. Yet as bad as it is now — more than 3,000 murders last year — many fear the worst is yet to come. The children of Juarez who are exposed to the violence are desensitized to it and are left with what Bowden says is the choice to live large and die young or be a slave to the factories and fear. A generation is at stake and the evidence from stories like the one today does not bode well for its future.
Episode two on Season 2011 of Fault Lines, “Mexico’s Hidden War,” aired tonight on Al Jazeera. Above is the full episode; please do reblog and share.
The spectacular violence of Mexico’s drug war grabs international attention. Some 40,000 people have been killed since 2006, when President Felipe Calderon deployed Mexican military and security forces in the so-called war against the cartels — often in gruesome and sadistic ways.
But behind the headlines, under cover of impunity, a low-intensity war is being waged.
In the second episode of a two-part series, we travel to the state of Guerrero to investigate claims that Mexican security forces are using the drug war as a pretext to repress indigenous and campesino communities. In one of Mexico’s poorest and top drug-producing states, where struggling farmers are surrounded by the narco-economy, we ask about the cost of taking the struggle against dispossession into your own hands.
Fault Lines explores how human life in Juarez, Mexico, has come to be worth so much less than the drugs trafficked through.
We film with the Canon 5D giving the show a cinematic feel which can only be fully appreciated in full screen HD. Both of these can be accomplished with toggles in the bottom, righthand corner of the video.
In the absence of justice society rapidly devolves into the dark heart of humanity. The Mexican government admits to investigating less than five percent of murders. Life has become worth so little in Mexico that the violence, which started as a result of economic and political forces, now clearly has an independent, sadistic component.
I’ll be live tweeting tonight at 6:30 pm EST during the airing of “Profits and Impunity”, Fault Lines first episode of the new season on Al Jazeera English.
In this image released by Mexico’s Defense Department, SEDENA, on Sunday, June 5, a makeshift armored truck is displayed after it was seized on June 4 in the city of Camargo, Mexico. According to Mexico’s Defense Department, two makeshift armored trucks were found in a clandestine shop that was being used to create these vehicles.