“If the government doesn’t back us, we must do what we can”: Mexican Citizens Create Private Forces to Fight Cartels

Is it really "taking the law into your own hands" when nobody else seems interested in enforcing it?Fusion TVIn the face of kidnappings and extortion from cartels and a lack of reliable protection from the police and military, groups of Mexican citizens are taking matters (and weapons) into their own hands and protecting themselves. In Antúnez, Mexico, the military’s efforts to restore order – or really, to restore the primacy of their own authority – by disarming the vigilantes ended in the deaths of two civilians. The New York Times notes:

Word spread quickly: The army was coming to disarm the vigilante fighters whom residents viewed as conquering heroes after they swept in and drove out a drug gang that had stolen property, extorted money and threatened to kill them. They even had to leave flowers and other offerings at a shrine to the gang’s messianic leader.

Farmers locked arms with vigilantes to block the dusty two-lane road leading here. The soldiers demanded to be let in; people begged them to leave. Tempers flared, and rocks were thrown. The soldiers fired into the air, and then, residents said, into a crowd. At least two people were killed on Tuesday, officials and residents said.

“He was just a farmer, and now he died for a cause,” one resident, Luis Sánchez, said of Mario Torres, 48, a lime picker who was not part of the vigilante group but was among the two buried on Wednesday as mourners cried out against the government and the soldiers.

The Times notes that following the resistance from citizen in Antúnez, officials appear to have backed down.

Fusion, a new cable network targeting American Latino millennials who speak English, produced a video report back in December interviewing several of these vigilantes talking openly about their peacekeeping efforts. Watch it here, and note the early statistic that the Mexican police solve only about 5 percent of reported crimes.

In one of these towns the vigilantes are led by a community doctor, pushed toward his activism after seeing young girls brought to him after being kidnapped and raped by cartel members. He took a dim view of the Army’s efforts, telling Fusion’s reporter, “They don’t come here to dismantle criminal organizations. Their only mission is to protect federal roads.”

Mexico has extremely strict private gun ownership laws, which is why part of the news coverage seems focused on “disarming” the vigilantes. That the military is unable to even disarm its own law-abiding citizenry (other than the gun laws anyway), and that armed citizens appear to be a better choice to keep cartels at bay (they actually have a stake in the outcome) may indicate an important shift for Mexicans in fighting the violence in their country. The New York Times frets these vigilante leaders may have ties to other criminal gangs, but there’s little to indicate in either their story nor Fusion’s that they are victimizing these communities further or worse than what they had been living under.

A final reminder for people in Austin, Texas, interested in Mexican drug war reporting: Reason’s documentary, America’s Longest War, will be screened tonight at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. Reason's Jacob Sullum will be there! More information here.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • John||

    I don't think anyone on this board is as rah rah US as I am. So I speak with a bit of authority on this. But given the drug war, fast and furious and all of the other appalling things the US government has done, I really don't see how the average Mexican is not justified in hating the US's guts.

    Sadly, they probably hate the US for stupid reasons given to them by Marxists. But, at this point I really think Mexico would be within its rights to declare war on the US.

  • Jordan||

    You can add supporting the Sinaloa drug cartel to the list of grievances.

  • John C. Randolph||

    Within their rights? Sure, but they probably don't want to lose a million people in a war they know they can't win.

    -jcr

  • Drake||

    But then we would feel guilty and spend a trillion dollars to rebuild their infrastructure. Might be a good deal.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: John,

    I really don't see how the average Mexican is not justified in hating the US's guts.


    We have been justified ever since the State Deparment decided to vote a president for us every six years, 100 years ago. You can thank Wilson for that: Woodrow and Henry Lane.

  • pmains||

    Any recommended reading on that topic?

  • OldMexican||

    It's all in Spanish.

  • Marty Rheaume||

    Leo español.

  • BardMetal||

    Oh John you just want them to declare war so that we have an excuse to annex them.

  • Pro Libertate||

    More right-wing militias, eh? Fucking Republicans.

  • John||

    The proper term, if I remember the 80s correctly, is Right Wing Death Squads. That was how the media described anyone in Latin America who refused to take being murdered by the communists lying down.

  • Pro Libertate||

    All the same thing, whether domestic, Central American, or Mexican.

  • SIV||

    Yeah, back in the 80s if you didn't support the commies you were for nun-raping.

  • John||

    They constantly bitched and moaned about the people killed in Argentina and Chili. But never did they bother to mention that the communists in Cuba murdered ten times that number.

  • Restoras||

    Come now John, communists want society to progress beyond the contraints of the past. All those human deaths were justified in order to advance humanity.

  • Raven Nation||

    Yep, eggs/omelette, etc.

  • KPres||

    Most importantly, they CARE! They kill out of love for all of us!

  • ||

    They kill out of love for all of us their fellow travelers!

  • pmains||

    Or how about a modicum of sympathy for the victims of Allende's roving gangs of young psychopaths throwing acid in the faces of their political opponents in Chile? Nope. Too right-wingy.

  • pmains||

    People killed in Chili? Are we talking chili con carne? if so, it sounds like the joke about the Irishman who fell into the vat of Guinness. Nine men tried to save him, but he fought them off valiantly.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    I worked at a place in the mid-90's where the security guard was a former member of a Salvadoran death squad. Every morning, and every smoke break, we'd greet by mumbling, "Fucking communistas..." to each other. Nice guy.

  • playa manhattan||

    You covered by smoke yet?

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Que?? Is there a refinery fire or something?

  • playa manhattan||

    Glendora fire. See my pic below. The fire is only 4 hours old, but it is already visible on satellite.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Yeah, just saw your post. It's pretty clear down here. I can see a little smoke to the North. Although it does explain my watery eyes and scratchy throat.

  • Sudden||

    Walking into work this morning, the cloud hanging about the sky to the east cast this eerily beautiful orange tinge on the buildings and street. It was like something out of a graphic novel.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Holy shit! The light in my living room just changed over the last 3 minutes. Everything is a lovely orange. It smells like BBQ.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Sky is clear now above Long Beach. I can see the ash cloud blowing West toward the South Bay.

  • Sudden||

    Yea, mine cleared pretty quickly this morning. Walked my dog by Pershing Square at 8:00, no sign of a fire. Walked to work at 9:00, the city dripping in orange glory, by 9:45 no sign of the cloud whatsoever from my office window on the 14th floor.

  • ||

    That's a bummer. GMR is one of my favorite twisty roads.

  • playa manhattan||

    You ever done Palm Desert to Idyllwild? I always see tons of bikes there year round.

  • ||

    Yes, but I don't get down south too often. Most often I ride the 33, Lockwood Valley, and Cerro Noroeste.

  • John||

    If we had no shit communists trying to take over the country and make it into Cuba, I would join a death squad too.

  • Loki||

    I'm sure if something like this happened here that's how the media would portray them. Unless the government was being run by a Rethuglikkkan president, in which case they'd be freedom fighters.

  • rts||

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    There's going to be slaughter. Yep.

  • ||

    It's good to see that there's only so far you can push people until they push back.

  • playa manhattan||

    Congrats, dude! You got top billing in the new video.

  • ||

    I wish I knew what you were talking about. And I'm not even stoned.

  • playa manhattan||

  • ||

    What's so amusing about Mary is how hard we troll her without even trying.

  • playa manhattan||

    And that she sees herself as the victim.

  • ||

    I'm top billing! I'm the greatest! Suck it, Marlon Brando! Where's my SAG card?!?

  • Swiss Servator, Befehl!||

    Epi is ready for his close up, Mr. DeMille!

  • JW||

    I'm SO proud of you guys right now. So proud.

  • Snark Plissken||

    Where's my SAG card?!?

    The Film Actors Guild is much more prestigious.

  • SugarFree||

    It's all projection, yet again. She stalked me online, tried to hack into my gmail and facebook accounts. She outted John's real name and she tried repeatedly to get heller kicked out of school. She harassed, griefed, and trolled the board under hundreds of different handles for years, getting as nasty and a personal as possible. She's even wormed her way into grylliade.

    And she still does it to this day, albeit in a reduced capacity because of registration and enhanced banhammer activities.

    Under this new handle she goes onto to other boards and tries to direct commenters to come here and troll us; she reports back to the authors of articles we post here to mock.

    She is a seriously disturbed individual.

    I will never to to a public Reason event. Never.

  • ||

    Did you notice that she's starting saying we're the ones who are projecting?

  • Zeb||

    Yeah, that's funny. We were so mean to her just because she dared to have non-libertarian views. Nothing to do with a fucking year of trying to fuck up a blog.

    I just can't fathom what would motivate someone to behave like that. But that's probably because I am such a dateless aspy, socially retarded libertard.

  • SugarFree||

    Did you notice that she's starting saying we're the ones who are projecting?

    Of course. That is what she always did. Call her a narcissist for posting 117 times in a 190 comment thread, and we are actually the narcissists for complaining. She stalks us, but we are the stalkers. She doxxes us, but we are the doxxers.

    When she finally snaps it is going to be really ugly.

  • tarran||

  • Zeb||

    It mostly just makes me sad at this point that whoever this person is is so damaged and deranged that they still are obsessed with H&R.

  • ||

    What the fuck, I didn't even get mentioned? This is an outrage.

  • Enough About Palin||

    Join the club, friend. Join the clob *sniff*

  • Loki||

    I love the sad background music. As if anyone's going to feel sorry for her stupid ass.

  • ||

    I feel sorry for her (but not because some libertarians were mean to her). She's clearly got a serious mental health problem.

  • ||

    Ha ha, I just went through her library. Turns out I got the lead off for "wit & wisdom".

    God that's pathetic.

  • ||

    Mary I guess.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Oh yeah. It's Mary alright. Boy is she sad that she can't come around here and poop on the threads any more.

    Fuck off Mary!

  • John||

    It is. If it hadn't been for Mexico's gun laws, this would have happened a lot sooner.

    The US government likes to pretend that the cartels keep their behavior somewhat in check in the US because they are afraid of the US government. I think that is horseshit. The governments in Latin America are just as nasty and brutish as the US government and have even fewer legal restraints on their behavior.

    I think what keeps the cartels from trying too much shit here is that Americans, unlike Mexicans are armed and would take matters into their own hands if the cartels ever tried the shit here that they do in Mexico.

  • ||

    As I understand it, John (and bolstered by the pictures and actions of these "vigilantes"), most Mexicans completely ignore the gun laws in Mexico and have surprising amounts of guns. Like, blatantly, ridiculously so. So it was just a factor of pushing them too far, just like it would be for Americans.

  • John||

    I know possessing a gun will get you two years down there. But like all prohibitions it is completely ineffective I am sure.

    I do think the gun laws down there made it harder for the Mexicans to organize and resist in a really public way since any of them could be arrested by some cop on the cartel payroll for having a gun.

    IN the US, that wouldn't be a problem. Open carry is legal in most places and most of the US has a very strong gun owning and self help culture.

    But yeah, point taken. The Mexicans are not exactly unarmed no matter what their law says.

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    According to Wikipedia, Mexicans actually have a constitutional right to bear arms, but apparently the right is weaker than in the US. If I remember correctly, the Army has the power to decide which types of guns are lawfull, or something.
    Unfortunately, the article didn't go into much detail about it.

  • ANGARR||

    Transplant here. According to my mother, a native, she has always been under the impression that no one is allowed to have guns - even for sport. It may be wrong technically, but I'm reasonably sure that this is the accepted truth down there. At least to the common folk.

  • Rasilio||

    I grew up in Lowell Ma (no I don't know Joe so far as I know), when I was a kid Lowell was a well known Heroin trafficking center. Funny thing is even though it was a welfare city (close to 65% of residents were on public assistance) there was almost no violent crime (at 1 point we went more than a calendar year between murders).

    There were also shockingly no major busts of trafficked Heroin.

    The rumor on the streets was that the reason for this was the cops had a deal with the cartels, you guys keep the hardcore drugs and violence off the streets and we won't investigate any of your activities.

    Given we now know that the Feds were working with at least some of the Cartels it seems likely that at least some of the reason the cartels don't get too out of hand here is that it is simply more profitable for them to not do so. Much easier for cops to ignore them and take bribes when no one is getting killed.

  • Rotbard||

    I need a ruling: does the commentary above qualify as puppets dancing, and if so, has the Terrorist Who Shall Not Be Named won?

  • Irish||

    “They don’t come here to dismantle criminal organizations. Their only mission is to protect federal roads.”

    I knew it!

  • UnCivilServant||

    TEH ROADZ!

  • Homple||

    With roads unprotected Mexico would soon become like Somalia where they have no roads because libertarians not-run the government there.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I still love how a failed communist state is the prime example of libertopia.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    Detroit?

  • BakedPenguin||

    okay, two failed states.

  • Agammamon||

    Heh, the wreckage of a failed communist state.

  • kinnath||

    groups of Mexican citizens are taking matters (and weapons) into their own hands and protecting themselves.

    unpossible

  • Irish||

    The New York Times frets these vigilante leaders may have ties to other criminal gangs, but there’s little to indicate in either their story nor Fusion’s that they are victimizing these communities further or worse than what they had been living under.

    Of course they do. Because obviously the members of that community would stand in front of army trucks in order to help a criminal gang.

    The New York Times just doesn't want to admit this is an instance of gun owners defending themselves against organized violence because that would undercut a narrative the Times has worked so hard to establish since Newtown.

  • ||

    Frankly, I'm surprised the Times isn't just ignoring this story as hard as they can.

  • Restoras||

    Thay can't help themselves when it comes to anything where 'vigilantes' are successfully opposing 'government', keeping in mind that in the eyes of leftist/proggy/fascists/communists it is only the government that can get things done, organize society, keep the public 'safe'.

    I bet the NY Times will ignore this story really hard.
    Local Opposition Stymies NY SAFE Act Gun Law

  • Raston Bot||

    Locally, sheriffs said they aren’t actively enforcing the SAFE Act, which means they’re not running stings or looking for violations as they would to combat drugs. Instead, they are enforcing violations of the gun law they encounter as they enforce other laws….

    That's not exactly what I had in mind.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Well of course they're "Criminal" gangs, they're ignoring the gun laws, duh.

  • Swiss Servator, Befehl!||

    dejar de resistirse!

  • sarcasmic||

    Now if only there was a way to deprive these cartels of their income.

    Hmmmmm....

  • Swiss Servator, Befehl!||

    A WAR ON DRUGZ!!!!

    /DEA

  • Snark Plissken||

    AND EMBARRASS MORE DEA AGENTS AT INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCES?!?!?

  • Paul.||

    Fusion, a new cable network targeting American Latino millennials who speak English,

    *head spins*

    What about transgender?

  • UnCivilServant||

    Too niche a niche, even for cable.

  • playa manhattan||

    Some a-hole arsonist couldn't restrain himself today, so this is the view from my doorstep. It just started raining ash.

  • ||

    I've been saying for a while that if terrorists wanted to fuck with LA, they're not going to be hanging around the subway taking pictures of turnstiles. A $20 box of road flares is all they need burn down a big chunk of LA when the Santa Anas are blowing.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Didn't California already ban road flares under the idea that anything illegal vanishes when it crosses the border?

  • ||

    Nah, they just stuck warning labels on them, along with every other object in the state. "This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm." In fact, I should make a T-shirt that says that.

  • BakedPenguin||

    With a "down" arrow pointing at your junk.

  • Sudden||

    I still want to make a t-shirt that says "Boston Marathon 2012 Participant: It was the bomb!"

  • Paul.||

    What the hell is that yellow thing in the sky?

  • Swiss Servator, Befehl!||

    Wow, you live on Mars?!

  • Gadianton||

    I grew up in the San Fernando Valley. The last time I saw a sky that color was when some idiot tossed his cigarette into the brush in Big Tujunga Canyon in the 1975 or 1976. We went out on the playground for nutrition, and the sky looked like that, and big fluffy ash was falling from the sky.

  • Loki||

    The soldiers fired into the air, and then, residents said, into a crowd.

    Sounds like a modern day Boston Massacre. We all know how well that worked out for the British rulers. This could get interesting. Sounds like the governmen's backing down for now, but how long will that last?

    note the early statistic that the Mexican police solve only about 5 percent of reported crimes.

    I wonder what percentage of reported crimes actually get solved here? I know when my car was broken into a few years ago the Aurora, CO PD was useless.

  • Surly Chef||

    There was an article here stating recently that it was over half. Doing some quick googling, ~40% of murders go unsolved in the US so, over half when you combine all violent and property crime sounds right. I'm too lazy to do anymore research.

  • Surly Chef||

    The real question is how much higher would the solve rate be if you put all of those cops on property and violent crime and removed all the violent and property crimes directly caused by the black market?

    It's a trick question. There'd just be more citations of traffic violations and jaywalking.

  • R C Dean||

    Reason might want to reconsider its adoption the State's nomenclature. These sound to me much more like militias than "vigilantes", at least at this point.

    And, naturally, the State manages to muster a lot more energy to go after these people than it seems to have to go after the drug cartels.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Los vigilantes haven't made any payoffs.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    They paid taxes to the State, right? That wasn't enough?

  • Swiss Servator, Befehl!||

    That wasn't enough?

    In Mexico, no.

  • Paul.||

    And, naturally, the State manages to muster a lot more energy to go after these people than it seems to have to go after the drug cartels.

    If your choice was to chase down ruthless Mexican drug cartels who will behead your family members, or a couple of farmers who picked up an antique shotgun and maybe a winchester 30/30... who do you go after?

  • ||

    Neither of those things generate revenue for the state. So they'll concentrate on fining food trucks, speeders, and people who take photos of public buildings.

  • Agammamon||

    Dude this is Mexico, the only one of those things they do is fine speeders and usually only if they're tourists (actual speeding optional).

  • Paul.||

    Are we talking about Mexico or California?

  • ||

    Mexico. I got carried away with my snark.

  • Paul.||

    Oh, and y'all thought I was kidding about the antique shotgun.

  • KevinP||

    The antique shotgun is just as deadly, if not deadlier than the snazzy looking MP5 at short range.

  • Agammamon||

    And, naturally, the State manages to muster a lot more energy to go after these people than it seems to have to go after the drug cartels.

    Well of course - the narcos shoot back.

  • Zeb||

    Can't a militia also be a vigilance committee? Vigilantes have gotten a bad name in the US for various reasons, but I don't think that it is always a bad thing.

  • pmains||

    Hm. I wasn't aware that "vigilante" necessarily had a bad connotation. The dictionary says, "a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily." Maybe change "suppress and punish crime summarily" to simply "suppress crime," but, otherwise, sounds good to me.

  • Invisible Finger||

    The New York Times frets these vigilante leaders may have ties to other criminal gangs,

    If they did, people wouldn't be calling them vigilantes, they'd be calling them "police".

  • Sudden||

    Pretty soon, when the militias successfully fend off the cartels and are considered heroes in Mexican folklore, the narrative will be rewritten by NYT to state that it was all the result of Obama's F&F operation, which was specifically designed to arm heroic peasants in their fight against organized crime.

  • ||

    Obama would have fought those cartels himself if he wasn't so busy.

  • Loki||

    Obama would have fought those cartels himself if he wasn't so busy nobly fending off efforts by racist Rethuglikkkan members of Congress to undermine his administration at every turn.

    FTFY

  • R C Dean||

    No peasant who is defying the State can be heroic.

    Unless, of course, the peasant is a useful idiot for Marxists trying to take over the State.

  • Paul.||

    +1 Subcomandante Marcos

  • Anonymous Coward||

    In one of these towns the vigilantes are led by a community doctor, pushed toward his activism after seeing young girls brought to him after being kidnapped and raped by cartel members. He took a dim view of the Army’s efforts, telling Fusion’s reporter, “They don’t come here to dismantle criminal organizations. Their only mission is to protect federal roads.”

    ROADZ! If you citizens must sacrifice your lives in the name of ROADZ, you should proud to be given that opportunity!

  • Agammamon||

    See, its always meddling no-nothing people like this that screw up the implementation of the grand plan to reach utopia.

    I know it sucks to see your daughters raped and your sons murdered, but you have to understand that this is all *part of the plan* and stop freaking out.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Yes. The utopia egalitarian socialist omelette requires that a few eggs be broken in its making.

    But never the are the eggs of the socialist elite broken. They are the thinkers and planners and who would guide the peasants to the glorious future to come if not the elites?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    It's not the army's fault that the vigilantes were too cheap for a bribe.

  • Flatulent Monkey||

    If there is an honest to god coup in Mexico it will be interesting to see the new and creative ways the administration's foreign policy brain trust can find to make it way worse.

  • Agammamon||

    Oh, a coup would be *illegal* so we'd have to intervene to restore the 'rightful' government.

  • Flatulent Monkey||

    Oh I don't doubt that'd be the end result. However, the interesting part would be all of the hand-wringing, ineffectual half measures and outright screw-ups that would occur on the way to this inevitable conclusion.

  • Flatulent Monkey||

    Speaking of dicking things up in another country... Almost on cue, there's Secretary Kerry reading a statement regarding Syria.

  • OldMexican||

    He took a dim view of the Army's efforts, telling Fusion's reporter, "They don't come here to dismantle criminal organizations. Their only mission is to protect federal roads."


    Mexico does not have a Posse Comitatus rule or law that precludes the government from using the army as a policing force. Mexican soldiers are not really trained as peacekeepers or with the procedures followed by regular police members. Unfortunately, in Mexico and especially among the cultural elites (which are even more obnoxious and petulant than the ones in the US), private individuals that attempt to establish some sort of order with guns are always seen as lawless "vigilantes" (unless the vigilantes happen to be leftists, like the Zapatistas.) This situation lends itself to the sort of conflict that you read above, as army people treat these citizens with the upmost contempt especially those citizens that are not armed.

  • Agammamon||

    Its kind of funny, but I've traveled down to AlGolfo a couple of times and had to go through their checkpoints.

    Their soldiers are more polite than our CBP police.

  • Agammamon||

    I guess they get real ugly real quick when there's a challenge to their authority though.

  • creech||

    Good for the vigilantes. Remember those old oaters on tv or in the theater where three or four outlaws would ride into a town, kill the sheriff, and harass everyone? You always had twenty or thirty men, armed with Winchesters, who would stand around doing nothing because
    "you can't take the law into your own hands." Eventually, Paladin or the Rifleman or Clint Eastwood or John Wayne would show and resolve the issue by filling up Boot Hill. I always wondered why the twenty guys with Winchesters didn't just blow the punks away the next time
    the left the saloon to take a piss.

  • Response||

    Why are the Democrats not rushing into Mexico to convince the people to lay down there weapons? Think of the children.

  • Ken Shultz||

    This isn't unprecedented in Mexico, even going on elsewhere right now.

    I believe the Zapatistas are still autonomous within their part of Chiapas.

  • D. M. Michell||

    Let's see? End the unconstitutional and rights violating "war on drugs" and end the violent drug cartels. Nah! That would never work.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement