07/20/12 – Over the last two weeks, citizens of Cherán–a semi-autonomous municipality in the state of Michoacán populated by members of the Purépecha indigenous group–have mobilized a series of demonstrations calling for state and federal authorities to secure their community against violent talamontes, the nickname for illegal loggers with links to organized crime. According to Informador, the public security situation in this rural enclave has been deteriorating for several years now. On July 8, Urbano Macías and Guadalupe Jerónimo became the latest targets of such violence as they went missing while working on reforesting efforts. Two days later, their bodies were found in the adjacent town of Zacapu bearing signs of torture. This event mobilized the demonstrations that followed, which were carried out by the beleaguered community.
The members of Cherán, who are referred to as comuneros, are the legal stewards of 69 thousand acres of forest, according to Prensa Latina. The comuneros have argued that unauthorized loggers have devastated nearly 50 thousand of these acres and have violently confronted their caretakers in the process, as is the alleged case with Macías and Jerónimo. In the last four years, 13 of Cherán’s members have been kidnapped and six have been murdered allegedly by armed loggers. Over the same period, Cherán’s leaders have repeatedly reached out to state authorities, requesting an increase in police presence in response to the attacks. As reported by Informador, the state of Michoacán failed to respond to Cherán’s calls for help. However, the killing of the two comuneros earlier this month, and subsequent community activism, seems to have led to a government response.
On July 13, the Cherán community members occupied the San Ángel Zurumucapio and Zirahuén toll stations along the Siglo XXI federal highway, and prevented the stations’ operators from collecting any money from motorists. This same group went on a silent march for peace through the streets of their municipality on July 18 with simultaneous solidarity marches taking place in Morelia, the state’s capital. During that same afternoon, members of Cherán’s Communal Council (Consejo Comunal) met with Obdulio Ávila Mayo, the Undersecretariat of the federal government at the Ministry of the Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación, Segob) in Mexico City. They presented Mr. Ávila Mayo with a document outlining their demands, which included “enhanced coordination of efforts between the federal government, the state of Michoacán, and Cherán’s governing council” to “control and dismantle” organized crime in their region and also a request to bolster funding of social programs that benefit the indigenous community.
The federal authority has quickly obliged to their list of needs. According to Trinidad Martínez, a member of the Communal Council of Cherán, approximately 80 officers from both state and federal police arrived in Cherán on July 19 to initiate the first phase of the new security plan. In addition to the police increase, large ditches were being created at strategic entry points to the forest in order to prevent the passage of trucks and load-bearing animals that are used to smuggle lumber, reported El Economista.