Vigilante Movement Grows in Mexico


Mexico's president recently completed his first year in office. While some media outlets have been lauding his efforts to overhaul the country's education system and open its oil fields to foreign investment, lots of questions remain about whether Mexico is actually becoming a safer place to live.


Kidnappings rose by 25% in Mexico this year, according to the government's own figures. In many parts of the country, the taxing of local businesses by drug cartels has been such a serious issue that dozens of communities have formed vigilante groups to protect themselves from gangs that give them a dire choice: Cough up large amounts of cash for "protection" or pay with your life.

These vigilante groups are mostly formed by local farmers, business leaders and indigenous groups who have gathered funds to buy weapons to defend themselves and do the job that the government ought to be doing.

Journalists in Mexico suspect that some of these groups have been infiltrated by cartels or have made pacts with them, creating a confusing and dangerous situation.

As the map below shows, vigilante groups have spread fast during Enrique Peña Nieto's first year in office.

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

Red states have vigilante groups. Source: Excelsior newspaper, Mexico

Accounts of how many vigilante groups exist in Mexico vary. The Reforma newspaper estimates there are self-defense organizations in at least 68 counties and 13 states across Mexico, while a recent report by Mexico's National Human Rights Commission states that in Guererero state alone, there are 48 counties where local people have armed themselves and formed vigilante groups.


Another place where vigilante groups are spreading is the western state of Michoacan, known for producing large quantities of lemons and avocados.

In a warm valley of this state known as Tierra Caliente, drug cartels weren´t just taxing farmers. According to several local groups we spoke to, they were also kidnapping people for ransom and in some cases, raping local women.


We recently visited three towns in this part of Michoacan state to understand why vigilante groups are exploding and will not calm down any time soon.

In the towns we visited, vigilante groups created by lemon farmers, cattle ranchers and local businessmen, are waging a deadly war against the Knights Templar drug cartel. See the video above for more.


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.