Hundreds of armed men belonging to community self-defense groups occupied eight small towns near Chilpancingo, capital of the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, and detained a dozen suspected extortionists, a spokesperson for the vigilantes said.
The action was taken due to the “federal government’s poor response” in ensuring the security of the state’s inhabitants, Gonzalo Torres, a coordinator of the Citizen Safety and Justice System, or SSyJC, organization, said Friday.
The vigilantes said they seized control of the towns, all part of the municipality of Chilpancingo, because their residents are the victims of criminal gangs that extort and kidnap business owners.
The SSyJC was founded in Jan. 4, 2013, in the town of Ayutla de los Libres to combat the criminal outfits and has since extended its reach to communities located near the cities of Acapulco and Chilpancingo.
“Our presence here is because citizens in this area asked us to come, because they’re tired of there being extortions, payment of protection money and kidnappings every day,” Torres said.
Roughly 500 inhabitants of the town of Ocotito gathered Friday in the main square to express their support for the community self-defense groups in their struggle against the Los Rojos gang, the former armed wing of the now-defunct Beltran Leyva cartel.
The vigilantes are patrolling the streets and also maintaining checkpoints on the federal highway linking Chilpancingo and Acapulco.
Chilpancingo Mayor Mario Moreno acknowledged that the community self-defense groups already control the towns of Cajeles, Buena Vista, El Rincon, Mohoneras, Dos Caminos, Carrizal, La Haciendita and Ocotito, local media reported.
But he said his government was in talks with their leaders and hoped an agreement could be reached this weekend.
Community self-defense groups and community police forces have also been formed in more than a dozen of the 113 municipalities in the neighboring state of Michoacan.
A federal offensive in that western state began Jan. 13 with an attempt to forcibly disarm militias that arose to defend communities from the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) cartel, but after four people died in a confrontation with soldiers, the Mexican government changed tack in favor of cooperation with the vigilantes.
Mistrust persists, however, and the militias, who get financial backing from business owners tired of paying protection money to the Templarios, say they will hand over their weapons and stand down only after the entire cartel leadership is behind bars.