Self-defense groups continue to show force in Mexico

Two self-defense groups took to the streets on May 7 in Xaltianguis. Source: David Guzmán González, EFE.

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.


Ocampo Arista, Sergio. “Forman comunitarios el Frente Unido de los Pueblos de la Sierra.” La Jornada. December 5, 2018.

“Los autodefensas se niegan a morir.” Diario de Yucatán. May 2, 2019.

De Dios Palma, Arturo. “Aumenta la tensión en Xaltianguis, Guerrero.” El Universal. May 8, 2019.

Briseño, Héctor. “Tras enfretamiento de autodefensas, refuerzan seguridad en Xaltianguis.” La Jornada. May 9, 2019.

Trujillo, Javier. “Los Dumbos no somos delincuentes: Daniel Adame.” MPS Guerrero Noticias. May 9, 2019.

Flores Contreras, Ezequiel. “Gobernador de Guerrero se deslinda del caso de las autodefensas.” Proceso. May 10, 2019.

Mexico ranks poorly in WJP’s Rule of Law Index™

A car is set ablaze in Ajalpan, Puebla in October 2015 where two men were lynched, reflecting Mexico's poor ability to uphold rule of law. Photo: Saul Munoz, Agence France-Presse, Getty Images.

A car is set ablaze in Ajalpan, Puebla in October 2015 where two men were lynched. Photo: Saul Munoz, Agence France-Presse, Getty Images.

01/24/16 (written by kheinle) — Mexicans have long been frustrated with the government’s perceived inability and ineffectiveness in upholding the rule of law. This oftentimes results in civilians taking the law into their own hands and sometimes through violent vigilantism. This has manifested itself in recent years with the emergence of self-defense groups (grupos de autodefensa), many of which rose in 2013 and 2014 in Michoacán and Guerrero. While such groups have been largely brought under government regulation through the Rural Defense Corps, for example, civilians have also been expressing their frustrations more recently through lynchings.

According to a report by The New York Times, lynchings have been on the rise in Mexico. “By some accounts, there were more public lynchings this past year [in 2015] than at any other time in more than a quarter-century,” writes The Times. “There were at least 78 lynchings last year in Mexico,” it continues, “more than double the number the previous year, according to data collected by [professor and author] Raúl Rodríguez Guillén…” The most recent lynching to make national news was the burning alive of two brothers in Ajalpan, Puebla in October 2015, who were mistaken for criminals by residents. After local police stepped in to provide protection to the brothers, the town rioted, seizing them back and setting fire to the brothers, government building, and nearby library. This case also came on the heels of two lynchings the month before in Chiapas. While such incidents represent civilians operating above the law, they also represent the people’s mistrust and lack of confidence in the government to hold criminals accountable. “The mob actions were born of a sense of hopelessness and impotence shared by many in Mexico, where 98 percent of murders go unsolved and the state is virtually absent in some areas,” explains The New York Times. “By some estimates, just 12 percent of crimes are even reported in Mexico, largely because of a lack of faith that justice will ever be served.”

World Justice Project’s “Rule of Law Index™”

Photo: World Justice Project.

Photo: World Justice Project.

The World Justice Project’s annual report, “Rule of Law Index™ 2015,” released in June 2015 demonstrates Mexicans’ disappointing experiences with their country’s rule of law, based on eight factors: constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice, and criminal justice. According to the WJP, Mexico ranks 79 of 102 countries worldwide in rule of law in general, and 14 of 19 countries in the Latin America and Caribbean region. What more, Mexico ranks 99th worst worldwide for Order and Security, 93rd for Criminal Justice, 88th for Absence of Corruption, and 82nd for Civil Justice. At the regional level, Mexico ranks the lowest out of 19 countries for Order and Security, 17th for Absence of Corruption, and 14th and 13th for Criminal Justice and Civil Justice, respectively. Compared to “Rule of Law Index™ 2014,” on the international level, Mexico fares the same in overall ranking (79 of 99 countries), and better in 2015 than its ranking in 2014 in Criminal Justice (97 of 99), Order and Security (96), and Civil Justice (88). Regionally, Mexico fares worse in 2015 than its 2014 overall ranking (12 of 16), Absence of Corruption (13), and Civil Justice (12), and the same for Criminal Justice (14), and Order and Security with the lowest ranking.

With civilians thinking poorly of its country’s rule of law, including the government’s ability to provide safety, security, and accountability, they continue to operate by taking the law into their own hands, thus only perpetuating Mexico’s low rule of law ranking.


“Rule of Law Index™ 2014.” World Justice Project. Summer 2014.

“Rule of Law Index™ 2015.” World Justice Project. June 2, 2015.

“Rule of Law Index™ 2015: Mexico.” World Justice Project. June 2, 2015.

“Cinco detenidos por el linchamiento de dos encuestadores en Puebla, Mexico.” Univisión. October 23, 2015.

Ahmed, Azam and Paulina Villegas. “As Frustrations With Mexico’s Government Rise, So Do Lynchings.” The New York Times. January 23, 2016.