A vigilante group in southern Mexico blocked roads on Tuesday in a bid to provide security for protests meant to pressure the Mexican government to find 43 students who disappeared on Sept 26.
At least 30 armed men and women from the “Fatherland First” vigilante group shut down roads leading into the city of Tixtla for about 12 hours. Vigilante groups have regularly joined protests over the missing students over the past two weeks and conducted searches for them in hostile areas of Mexico’s Guerrero state.
“We are here in support of the students,” a masked commander who went by the nickname El Tejano told Fusion. “We want people to feel the pain that the parents of the missing kids are going through and we want them to react.”
Members of the group said they staged the roadblock in order to provide security to thousands who attended a march for the missing students in Tixtla. They held semi-automatic weapons and modern pistols, and stopped commercial vehicles, government cars and private cars from entering the town.
Local police forces did not try to break up the roadblock. During the march in Tixtla, which ended at noon, protesters took over City Hall, and put locks on the front doors so that city workers cannot enter until the missing students are found.
Protesters have shut down 16 town halls in Guerrero in the last two weeks, according to Mexican newspaper La Jornada.
At the roadblock near Tixtla, El Tejano and his comrades joined the protest. They unfurled a banner that accused Guerrero state governor Angel Aguirre of being responsible for the disappeared students.
“The students can be seen as martyrs,” El Tejano said. “They’ve spoken out against government abuses and that hurts politicians. And because it hurts them to hear the truth they’ve let organized crime attack and assassinate them.”
On Sept. 26 police from the city of Iguala attacked a group of more than 80 students from the Ayotzinapa rural teachers college after they had commandeered three buses in a protest.
Mexican investigators suspect that police detained 43 students who were in the buses and handed them over to drug traffickers who killed them and buried them in clandestine graves.
Officials have arrested more than 30 municipal policemen in connection with the incident, and Mexico’s federal police says they are searching for the missing students day and night.
But vigilante groups have little trust in police. They have scaled up their activities in several town across the state since the students disappeared, conducting independent searches for the missing students and also providing security to protesters.
In the rural areas around Iguala, the town where the students were attacked, vigilante groups affiliated with the Union of Guerrero Peoples’ found four clandestine graves on Oct 14. The vigilantes asked for officials to help check the identity of the bodies on the graves, as they were badly burnt.
In Tixtla, the town closest to the Ayotzinapa college, members of the “Fatherland First” vigilante group regularly provide security to the students, by patrolling the entrances to campus.
“The police also participates in crime here,” said another masked member of the vigilante group who goes by the name El Pollo. “We want people to feel free like they used to before.”
Guerrero is one of the states most affected by drug violence and extortion at the hands of cartels.
In 2013, at least 20 vigilante groups emerged around the state, with their members arguing that local police forces were no longer doing their job.
The “Fatherland First” vigilante group is affiliated with the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities (CRAC), an indigenous organization that has been running community police groups in its territories for the past 18 years.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.