05/17/19 (written by kheinle) — The Mexican Government’s ongoing battle to quell self-defense groups (grúpos de autodefensa) continues to make news. Such groups rose in 2013 and 2014 when community members took up arms to protect their communities. They quickly turned, however, into a three-front battle between such groups, organized crime groups, and government forces.
Autodefensas in Guerrero
More than six years later, parts of Mexico are still grappling with autodefensas. A recent shootout in the state of Guerrero, for example, made headlines when two groups battled in the streets of Xaltianguis, Acapulco in the early morning of May 7. The fight between the Unión de Pueblos y Organizaciones del Estado de Guerrero (UPOEG) and the Frente de Policías Comunitarios del Estado de Guerrero (Fupceg) left two or three individuals dead and several more wounded. The fight resulted in schools suspending classes and businesses closing up shop while the police and military forces secured the area. According to El Proceso, the confrontation allowed a competing autodefensa group, Los Dumbos, to assume control of that plaza. Guerrero Governor Héctor Astudillo Flores then called on the State’s District Attorney’s Office (Fiscalía General del Estado, FGE) to act against the self-defense groups operating in Acapulco and Chilpancingo.
In response, the State Board of Coordination for the Construction of Peace (La Mesa de Coordinación estatal para la construcción de la Paz) took swift action, agreeing to create a Mixed Operations Base (Base de Operaciones Mixtas) in Xaltianguis. La Jornada reports that it will be staffed by elements of the Mexican Army (Ejército Mexicano), Navy, (Secretaría de Marina Armada de México, SEMAR), the State’s Attorney’s General Office (FGE), State Police (Policía Estatal), and Acapulco’s Secretary of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP).
Autodefensas in Michoacán
Other states, meanwhile, have made more progress against self-defense groups. In Michoacán, for example, the autodefensas are on the decline. The Diario de Yucatán reports that only three self-defense groups are still active in that state, a 90% reduction from the 32 groups initially registered there in 2013. Operating in Coahuayana, Ostula, and La Ruana, these groups formed in response to the violence unleashed by the Knights Templar Organization (Los Caballeros Templarios). Now, continues the article, the three groups are all that remain. Although the autodefensa in Coahuayana has helped to maintain peace, the ones in Ostula and La Ruana are bringing more violence. Meanwhile, the other 29 groups have disbanded or the members have joined the municipal police, street gangs, or organized crime groups.
Still, the self-defense groups continue to pose a problem for the Mexican Government, in part because they blur the line between authority and civilian. Guerrero’s Governor, Héctor Astudillo, had to recently deny that his administration was protecting autodefensa leader Daniel Adame Pompa of Los Dumbos, a rejection that Adame Pompa confirmed. Instead, Adame Pompa took the opportunity to reiterate his reasoning for joining and leading the self-defense group. “Our safety and security are in the hands of authorities; but we’re not going to gamble with our integrity. If [the authorities] don’t do it, we’ll do it ourselves,” he said. For its part, the Fupceg self-defense group saw itself working more closely with the government when the group formed in late 2018. “We declare ourselves allies of the government and not enemies,” it wrote in a public communique. “…That is the only way the Mexican community is going to pursue cohesive development and peace for all,” reports La Jornada.