In Mexico, self-defense squads battle violence

Jan 22, 2013 - by - 0 Comments

Jan. 22, 2013 Associated Press

AYUTLA, Mexico — The young man at the roadside checkpoint wept softly behind the red bandanna that masked his face. At his side was a relic revolver, and his feet were shod in the muddy, broken boots of a farmer.

Haltingly, he told how his cousin's body was found in a mass grave with about 40 other victims of a drug gang. Apparently, the cousin had caught a ride with an off-duty soldier and when gunmen stopped the vehicle, they killed everyone on the car.

"There isn't one of us who hasn't felt the pain ... of seeing them take a family member and not being able to ever get them back," said the young civilian self-defense patrol member, who identified himself as "just another representative of the people of the mountain."

Now he has joined hundreds of other men in the southern Mexico state of Guerrero who have taken up arms to defend their villages against drug gangs, a vigilante movement born of frustration at extortion, killings and kidnappings that local police are unable, or unwilling, to stop.

Vigilantes patrol a dozen or more towns in rural Mexico, the unauthorized but often tolerated edge of a growing movement toward armed citizen self-defense squads across the country.

"The situation Mexico is experiencing, the crime, is what has given the communities the legitimacy to say, 'We will assume the tasks that the government has not been able to fulfill,'" said rights activist Roman Hernandez, whose group Tlachinollan has worked with the community forces.

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