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Twenty-two Nahuas communities of the Montaña Baja region – in the state of Guerrero – rebelled against the power of drug trafficking. They chose to expel the cartels from their territories and are currently resisting the armed onslaught. Los Ardillos – a former faction of the Beltrán Leyva cartel, renowned for their violent acts – surround the region and fight with the communities over paths, dirt roads, and motorways. From the trench, where there is no presence of the National Guard or any other police or military force, the Nahuas inform Contralínea that there is no way back.

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Montaña Baja, Guerrero. Some of them are just over 18 years old; some others are turning 60. In the roofless trenches, men employ plastic bags to protect themselves from the rain. They stay alert, hiding behind sandbags or small stone fences. These people defend key positions to avoid that the killers hired by drug traffickers retake possession of the indigenous territory.

They hold their AK47 and R15 assault fusils, some Uzis, or mainly, sawed-off shotguns and 22 caliber rifles. Compared to them, their opponents have more powerful guns. Los Ardillos and Los Rojos, former factions of the Beltrán Leyva Cartel, rely on pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns, armored cars, and 50 caliber Barrett fusils. No hired killer would ever use shotguns.

“However, they do have what matters and, instead, we do: the mandate of the communities and their assemblies,» points out Juan Hernández, who is over 50 years old and leader of the group defending this trench. The name has been changed, as all those written in cursive, for safety reasons.

So far this year, in this region of Montaña Baja in the Guerrero state, almost 30 people have died following violent events. Amid the municipalities of Chilapa de Álvarez and José Joaquín Herrera, three massive confrontations have occurred between the Nahuas and the hired killers. In each of them, Los Ardillos tried to seize a population or enter some areas of the already freed community territory.  They could not achieve it.

Only in one incursion, on January 27 this year, 12 members of the cartel died. Hence, Los Ardillos have intensified their assaults against the populations and started hunting the indigenous leaders one by one, or two by two. Furthermore, they keep the people in a state of anxiety.

Since January, drug traffickers have murdered at least 12 people and kidnapped one, whose whereabouts are unknown yet. Ten of the victims are indigenous people belonging to the twenty-two communities that are members of the Indigenous and Popular Council of Guerrero-Emiliano Zapata (Spanish: Concejo Indígena y Popular de Guerrero Emiliano Zapata, Cipog-EZ). Most of them are also members of the Regional Coordination of Community Authorities-Community Police of the Founding Populations (Spanish: Coordinadora Regional de Autoridades Comunitarias-Policía Comunitaria de los Pueblos Fundadores, CRAC-PC-PF). The remaining two belong to the political parties of the region.

Among the communities, there is peace and security. Nonetheless, the inhabitants cannot freely go out. They stopped selling their products in the municipal capitals. Nor can they travel there to manage works, social support, or request a round table with the local government. Teachers and doctors cannot travel to any other community, and the electric service continually interrupts.

Los Ardillos’ checkpoints are located in Atzacualoya, El Jagüey, Hueycantenango, and Tlanipatla. It is mandatory to pass by these locations to get to the municipal seats of Chilapa or José Joaquín Herrera. At the checkpoint of El Jagüey, drug traffickers have built temporary homes, and 150 members of their troops are permanently there. Such a place works as an operational center of the cartel’s armed wing. The militaries of the National Guard stopped patrolling the area.

Communities have to defend themselves. According to the federal government, officially, there is no proof of the existence of Los Ardillos, and in the region, there are no confrontations nor armed groups. The National Guard does not enter the area. Nor do soldiers nor police officers.

Throughout its tour, Contralínea has found just one checkpoint of the National Guard at the entrance to the village of Tlapa, at around 110 kilometers from the region. Such an area lives in a state of emergency without support from any of the three levels of government. Approximately 50 thousand people live in the twenty-two towns.

Los Ardillos do not exist, affirms the federal government.

Since the past June 28, Cipog-EZ, through the Centre of Human Rights Fray Bartolomé de las Casas (Frayba, for its Spanish acronym), has requested cautery measures to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in favor of the twenty-two Nahuas communities and the members of the organization.

However, on August 19, the Mexican State asked the IACHR –during the current government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador – «to decline the request for cautery measures for the region,» according to Jesús Plácido Galindo, state leader of Cipog-EZ.

According to the indigenous activist aware of the process, firstly, the federal government does not recognize Cipog-EZ as a representative community group in discussion panels. Therefore, it denies the existence of narco-paramilitary groups and armed-civilian groups.

Moreover, López Obrador’s administration affirms that a Mixed Operating Base (integrated by militaries and federal and state police officers) has settled in the region. What is more, they assure that the forces of the State Secretariat of Public Security patrol the area.

Although the government of the“fourth transformation” asserts that Los Ardillos do not exist, within the region, every citizen of all ages knows who they are and feel anxious when someone speaks of them.

The obscenities that Los Ardillos and Los Rojos have committed – quartered corpses, rampant violations, tortures with instruments, indiscriminate attacks – have been documented by the local and national press.

Currently, the confrontations are mainly with Los Ardillos. After the detention – in the Morelos state – of Santiago Mazari, el Carrete, leader of Los Rojos, this cartel withdrew from the area. On the other hand, Los Ardillos, without any opponents, got more powerful and acquired more control over this area.

The community representatives, in assembly, feel first astonished and then angry when Jesús Plácido informs them that for the federal government Los Ardillos do not exist. Their faces of incredulity would convert into a loud laugh if only their lives and their families’ were not in permanent danger.

The Celso’s brothers, Jorge Iván and José Antonio Ortega Jiménez, are the leaders of Los Ardillos. They are Celso Ortega Rosas’s sons, the so-called Ardilla, murdered in 2015. They have another brother, Bernardo Ortega Jiménez, who is the current deputy coordinator of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD, Spanish: Partido de la Revolución Democratica) in the Congress of the state.

Those Nahuas, members of Cipog-EZ in Montaña Baja – Guerrero – for who cautery measures had been requested, live in the Nauhuas communites of Xicotlán, Tula Guerrero, Terrero 1, Ahuehuitic, Papaxtla, Acahuehuetlán, Rincón de Chautla, Zacapexco, Buena Vista, Xolotepec, Xulchuchuio, El Paraíso de Tepila, San Jerónimo Palantla, Ahuixtla, El Jagüey, El Paraíso, Tepozonalco, Santa Rosa y Mexcaltepec 1, located in the municipality of Chilapa de Álvarez; and Xochitempa, Ayahualtempa and Hueycantenango, in the municipality of José Joaquín Herrera.

In these communities, two organizations embody the crucial principles of the National Indigenous Congress: CRAC-PC-PF and Cipog-EZ. The former focuses on security and justice matters. The latter, on the political processes, to achieve indigenous peoples’ auto-determination. They work in synergy.

Cipog-EZ was established on April 10, 2008, following the dissolution of other indigenous and peasant movements in Guerrero. It employs the entity’s previous organizational experiences, but also including the principles of the National Indigenous Congress.

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Papaxtla

The clouds approach the slopes. The dew makes cardboard roofs drip. Trees, animals, and people are all wet. It is past 9 pm, and the assembly of representatives holds the meeting outdoors. They decide whether it is possible to move to another village, in the heart of the  Montaña region. They need to gather a conspicuous number of forces to avoid a potential attack by drug traffickers.

The village is in the proximity of the Tlapa-Chilpancingo state highway, at around 8 kilometers from the city of Chilapa. The nearby communities said that each one of them would send a sufficient number of Community Police officers to move to Acahuehuetlán. There they are celebrating an assembly with the representants of the twenty-two communities to install a radio communication system. The latter is vital to coordinate the defense before the attacks of narco-traffickers.

Regino Santos, the municipal delegate and leader of the town of Papaxtla, gives directions to integrate a guard at the entrance of the village for security reasons. The assembly ends, and they wait for the arrival of further Community Police officers to start the move.

Representants go to the police station, a concrete building surrounded by cornfields. Some of them are tired. At least inside of it, it is dry and warm. They sit back in the plastic chairs and close their eyes, but their right hand never stops touching the weapon placed under the chair or between their legs. Others entertain themselves by talking in small groups.

In this region, corn stalks already show young corn. The rainy season is about to end, and corn is on the point of ripening. A soft wind gently moves across the cornfield. The rustling of stems and leaves attract people’s attention and warns some others.

With 25 years old, he already represents the authority of the community of Papaxtla. Thin mustaches, black eyes, a tanned and slim face, Regino Santos explains that since the population established their Community Police, the insecurity within the town has ended. They were living with the fear of being attacked by criminals in their own houses.

They have never received support from any organization. On the contrary, the police entered the community only on one occasion and caused problems and scared children. In 2015, by mistake, the state police carried out an operation in the town. They entered to find Los Ardillos’ hired killers who had seized the capital of Chilapa some previous days. They mistreated the population and destroyed the community warehouse.

It was a breaking point for the community that had asked for security for a long time. However, when the police arrived, it was to attack the village. For this reason, the people decided to create their Community Police, and they incorporated to CRAC-PC-PF and afterward to Cipog-EZ.

He remarks that the mere function of the Community Police consists of protecting the people. He denies that they set up checkpoints or patrol outside the communities. In this village, no confrontation with hired killers occurred. People see them pass by the highway, but they have never fought.

“As long as they do not attack the town, the [Community] Police is not confronting someone they do not know […]. If they do not mess with us, we do not mess with anybody.”

He smiles while saying that the radio communication system – that the communities of Cipog-EZ will install will allow them to «rely on coordination for any issue that may arise within a community. This way, we will avoid losses. For instance, if they attacked, we would be coordinated”.

Suddenly dogs incorporate. They bark and get courageous. Their minute bodies do not allow them to appear aggressive. Although malnourished, they hear the sound of approaching cars before any person. Around thirty members of the Community Police arrive by three stake bed trucks to check that the transfer advanced smoothly. At the front, there is Pedro Ramírez, a tanned man, 54 years old, commander, leader, and organizer of the Community Police of Acahuehuetlán. His communities and all the other members of Cipog-EZ and CRAC-PC-PF respect Mr. Ramírez.

Everyone arriving shakes the hands of the people receiving them. The Nahua protocol is rigorous, and fellowship is crucial. They only speak broken Spanish when they need to communicate with journalists or with Na’saavi or Me’phaa indigenous communities with whom they collaborate as well.

It is almost midnight, but they need to gather in an assembly again to evaluate whether the security conditions are adequate. They discuss keeping their lanterns on their heads, as they were miners, and with the weapons in their hands. Most of them wear ski masks but not to hide their identity. They have AK47, R15 and Uzi assault fusils, guns, 22 caliber rifles, and pellet guns. “However, they shoot too,» firmly say the people holding them.

The transfer begins toward the heart of the Montaña region. It is almost a two-hour trip, and it is tense, especially along the dirt roads and narrow paths in dispute. In these areas, it is likely to bump into Los Ardillos’ patrols. The youngest and best-armed people are upfront with their cars.

The drizzle turns into a downpour, and at times, the vehicles skid on the paths. They keep going on the mountainside full of mud and through the darkness. The Nahuas communities adopted a security frame in some areas to ensure the transit of the caravan. The convoy passes by the checkpoints installed by the communities. In each of them, it is mandatory to stop and shake the carers’ hands.

In another part of the trip, it is impossible to foresee what the passage hides. The caravan can only hope not to meet the hired killers, but if so, they should desire to outnumber drug traffickers to avoid a confrontation. The fear of an ambush disappears as soon as entering the community of Acahuehuetlán. It is 3 am, and the organization of the villages organized in Cipog-EZ and CRAC-PC-PF works smoothly.

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Acahuehuetlán

The sun rises, and the Community Police officers focus on the center of the town. Groups of clouds approach this area and slowly disappear throughout the morning. Delegates of dozen communities arrive, each of them escorted by 7 to 12 Community Police officers. They cannot walk through this area with no protection. They are all threatened by drug traffickers.

They gather to implement a project which is currently crucial to them. In other words, they will install, with the support of the Indigenous Governing Council and the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), a radio communication system to coordinate defense before drug smuggling and to support each other in the daily agricultural tasks.

The drizzle is persistent. The slopes drip. Despite the Montaña Alta region, Montaña Baja is vigorous. The cornfields in this community have already ripened. The pixca (harvesting) is beginning in a week — a countless variety of quelites (edible herbs in the Nahuatl language) springs throughout this season. Guava trees are already full of fruit even though it is not ripe yet. Red beans hang by Guaje trees. Chickens walk upfront their chicks.

Pedro Ramírez points out that the Community Police did not intend to fight directly against drug trafficking. It occurred to defend the communities. If drug traffickers do not mess with the populations, the Community Police officers do not mess with them either. He argues that the confrontations of the communities of Cipog-EZ have always been in response to the hitmen’s attacks.

Before they organized and reestablished their assemblies, the communities suffered extortion at the hands of drug smugglers. Criminals entered the towns inviting commissioners to join the cartel.

«They offered me two cars and eight AK-47 assault rifles (the so-called Goat’s Horns in Mexican Spanish) […]. I did not accept […]. As a population, as authorities, we have implemented this strategy not to fall in the criminals’ hands.»

Pedro is aware that if communities had not organized in Cipog-EZ and CRAC-PC-PF, drug traffickers «would have already murdered some of them.» He explains that in some towns, they do not allow teachers, nurses, or doctors to pass by.

“They only say: ‘You cannot cross here. Come back. And if you desist, the next time we see you, we will kidnap you’. So, yes, criminals are threatening them.»

These unfortunate events commonly occur in the town of Tula Guerrero. Carlos López explains that no one can go out but through lanes, trying to avoid the drug traffickers’ checkpoints. The village is at the borders with the freed territory. Los Ardillos’ primary objective is to seize the community, as they tried to on the past July 20.

«The people who attacked us were roughly 500 meters from the town. They stay there, on the mountain opposite to the community. They have their trenches, and they are still there […]. The government should intervene.

He adds that due to their presence, it is impossible to go out. They are subject to criminals.

«We suffer as we cannot go to Chilapa to shop. The citizens’ needs cannot be [satisfied]. At the crossroads, they have their trenches on the mountainside and have already sequestered many people. Our towns have lost many people who [drug traffickers] kidnap, torture, and kill. They bring them along and abandon their bodies along the motorway.»

—How can you survive if you cannot exit the community – Pedro is asked.

—We find the way, gathering all the food we can among the towns. We plan how to find food and the products employed at home.

—Do teachers and doctors get to the town?

—Due to the insecurity that they encounter along the path, they no longer come. The past week the teachers in El Jagüey crossing told us [that] drug traffickers had stopped them for over an hour. The situation did not get out of control, but still, they no longer come. As a result, currently, children do not have class.

In this season of the year, the community of Acahuehuetlán does not suffer undernourishment. Families’ daily diet consists of eating eggs (from chickens and turkeys) soaked in green pepper sauce, corn tortillas, black beans, and quelites (edible herbs in the Nahuatl language). What is inappropriate in this diet are the large quantities of Coke ingested daily: on average, 1 liter per person per day. However, people who hold a (political or religious) position drink even more Coke: every time they close a deal, they celebrate with this beverage — the cases of diabetes multiply.

The assembly convenes. They inform that, according to technical assessments, the radiocommunication tower must be installed on a mountainside in another village: Xolotepec. Since the representatives of this village did not arrive in Acahuehuetlán, everyone moves to the appointed town.

The Community Police officers’ caravan is wandering around dirt tracks. They look out, but they seem more relaxed. In this area, the communities control the majority of the paths.

One can observe stone or sandbag trenches on the banks of the roads, in the crossings, and at the entrance to towns. Young people, almost adolescents, defend the trenches, but adults give order to them. They greet the convoy and report that there is no news; today, drug traffickers did not attack the area. They cover from the rain with some plastic bags. The caravan moves on with more confidence.

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Xolotepec

Women walk faster and barefoot. They have braided hair and wear colorful, pleated dresses. They carry wood and prepare the tlecuil (brazier in the Nahuatl language). Visitors arrived suddenly, and they need to make some food.

Francisco Álvarez, the commissioner of this community, points out that there are no cases of violence among the people. He explains that they are organized in the Cipog-EZ and CRAC-PC-PF to avoid that violent acts may occur in their area. Their most compelling problems are of another nature.

“There is no school, nor clinic. The local government offers no support. We have never received any aid.”

The commissioner adds that the cooperation of the whole population was determinant to establish the office for the delegation, police station, and the command headquarters of the Community Police. They did not receive public resources.

The representative of San Jerónimo Palantla, Luisa Vázquez, arrived secretly in Xolotepec. Her community is divided into those who support the indigenous resistance, and those who flank drug traffickers.

In this dispute, Luisa lost her parents, uncles, and a sister. Indeed, criminals keep the town under control, whereas the indigenous resistance militates secretly.

Fernando Pérez, of the community Terrero 1, says that they face many issues. Yet, they have found a way to defend themselves and improve the situation for the Nahuas in the region.

«We understood that only together, we can do and achieve something. It is what I observed so far. We could set up our organization thanks to the support of the National Indigenous Congress. We are thriving and participating along with the other fellows. We believe that it is vital to give one’s life for this project”.

The assembly decides the place of the antenna installation and discusses other projects. With their fusils on their shoulders, they informally discuss topics well beyond security. As if their lives were not at stake, the following themes deal with production processes and the establishment of an autonomous government.

Commissioners and representants of the twenty-two communities organized in the Cipog-EZ do not hide their enthusiasm in seeing their project, the community communication system materialized. They agree on the tower and the collocation of solar cells and the repeater station. Each commissioner receives a portable radio so that they can react more efficiently to emergency cases.

The cost of the project reaches 283 thousand pesos. The supporters of the indigenous movement and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), on request of the CNI, financed the project.

The Nahua communities of Montaña Baja in Guerrero requested a meeting with the federal government. They have only met Misael Rojas Mejía, the personal secretary of Alejandro Encinas, deputy-secretary of the Human Rights Department of the Ministry of the Interior (Segob for its Mexican acronym). The reunion occurred on May 30. The representative of López Obrador’s government only listened to and said that he would communicate the information to his superiors. He promised that he would contact them. The official has never contacted them, nor has he answered the locals’ calls.

On July 12, the spokesperson of the Indigenous Governing Council, María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, the so-called Marichuy, stopped the human caravan that wanted to enter the towns in Montaña Baja-Guerrero. She then pointed out the lack of guarantees from the Mexican State and the wave of violence that has spread across the country.

The sun begins to set, and visitors must leave the area secretly. Only a small group of community members, those in charge of taking them out, knows the right time and direction.

Children under ten years old run barefoot. They laugh and hide among the cornfields. The clouds never disappeared entirely and already tend again. At times they reveal the golden slopes: the corn stalks have sprouted throughout this area. “Timoitase [goodbye]; ma qualli ohtli [good way],» the last exchange between those who stay and those who leave.

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Violent events in Montaña Baja

February 8, 2015. The first confrontation between Los Rojos and CRAC-PC-PF in the village of San Jerónimo Palantla. The government of Guerrero issues 67 warrants for arrest against the members of Cipog-EZ and CRAC-PC-PF, even against women who were not in the village the day where the unfortunate events took place.

May 2015. Los Ardillos seized the municipal seat of Chilapa. They call themselves Paz y Justicia (Peace and Justice). Around 30 people disappear.

December 2018. Los Ardillos kidnap Lorenzo Ramírez Rodríguez, commissioner of the town of Zacapexco. They torture and extort him.

January 2019. The Community Police officers try to arrest Lorenzo Ramírez’ kidnappers, so causing a shooting.

January 2019. Los Ardillos set up a camp in Paraíso de Tepila with 150 hired killers. From there, they threaten the communities of Zacapexco and Rinón de Chautla.

January 27, 2019. Los Ardillos try to enter Rincón de Chautla with 16  pickup trucks mounted with machine guns and five armored vehicles. During the confrontation, 12 hired killers die.

February 5, 2019. Los Ardillos kidnap and torture Pedro Ramírez, along with another person of the community. The Community Police officers arrest ten shooters of Los Ardillos. Eventually, CRAC-PC-PF exchanges the ten gangsters for the two members of the village.

May 4, 2019. The assassination of José Lucio Bartolo Faustino and Modesto Verales Sebastián, delegates of the CNI. The former is the state leader of Cipog-EZ; the latter is the regional leader of the same organization. They had gone to the municipal seat of Chilapa, summoned by the municipal government, to finalize the fertilizer delivery process for the communities.

May 23, 2019. The kidnapping and murder of Bartolo Hilario Morales and Isaías Xanteco Ahuejote, CNI delegates, and regional promoters of Cipog-EZ.

June 2, 2019. The killing of Eugenio Máximo Hilario, a member of CRAC-PC-PF.

From the 5th to the 12th of July 2019. Threats at the detriments of Jesús Plácido Galindo, state leader of Cipog-EZ and CNI delegate. Through messages and calls either directed to his mobile phone or the other organization members’, Los Ardillos inform him that «they are searching him throughout the whole state to quarter him.»

July 8, 2019. Kidnapping and assassination of David Domingo Alonso and Marcelino Pedro Rojas, local leaders of Cipog-EZ, and CNI delegates. The abduction occurred at the crossing of El Juagüey. The following day their corpses were found close to the village of Chiautla, a municipality of Chilapa de Álvarez.

July 10, 2019. The assassination of Juana Hernández Ambrosio and Alberta Matías Tendón, local leaders of Cipog-EZ, and delegates of CNI. Their kidnapping took place at the crossroad of El Juagüey. Their remains were found in the Corral de Piedra neighborhood in Chilapa de Álvarez.

July 20, 2019. Los Ardillos’ armed forces besieged the town of Tula but did not manage to seize it. There were no dead people, but some wounded from bullets out of danger.

August 8. The assassination of Hilario Marcos Tepetitlan. They sequestered him at the crossing of Tenipatla. His body was found in the Corral de Piedra neighborhood in Chilapa de Álvarez.

August 22, 2019. Murder, in the municipal seat of José Joaquín de Herrera, of the leader of the Social Encounter Party (Spanish: Partido Encuentro Social, PES), Leocadio Hernández Bolaños. The same day, the assassination of Orencio Bello Sánchez, the former candidate to the municipal presidency of Chilapa by the National Regeneration Movement Party (Spanish: Movimiento Regeneración Nacional).

September 14. The disappearance of Silvano Ahuejote Morales. Some members of Los Ardillos kidnaped him in Tlacimaltepec. Up to now, his whereabouts are unknown.

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The communities are already reacting: Cipog-EZ.

Jesús Plácido Galindo, state leader of the Indigenous and Popular Council Guerrero Emiliano Zapata (Cipog-EZ), points out that the communities are already reacting to drug traffickers.

However, the Na’saavi originating from the Costa-Montaña region recognizes that it is a very complicated process. The Nahuas indigenous communities, indeed, cannot even rely on some municipal authorities as they agreed on a compromise with delinquents. Plácido Galindo also explains that Los Ardillos receive public resources directly from the federal programs of the Expenditure Budget of the Federation – named Ramo 33 and 28 – awarded to the local governments of Chilapa de Álvarez and José Joaquín Herrera.

During the interview with Contralínea, the indigenous leader, native from Ejido Buena Vista, in San Luis Acatlán, remarks that drug traffickers remained with no place for sowing and transportation of drug once the organized communities expelled them. Moreover, it is essential to factor in the drop in prices for the rubber to make heroin.

As they do not rely on the same quantity of resources they used to, they now directly go to the municipal seat to take it. What is more, they carry out kidnappings and extortions to the detriments of the population.

Jesús Plácido Galindo rules out a disagreement between Cipog-EZ and other social organizations located in the region. He explains that they do not compete with any other organization, but they try to create a sort of organization where there is not.

«It has been five years since we arrived there to organize the Community System of the Founding Populations. We found a municipality [Chilapa]  presenting 149 communities, 20 of which were suffering aggressions by Los Ardillos and Los Rojos.”

He remarks that the communities were sowing poppy because they did not have other ways to survive,  and also because Los Ardillos controlled the towns and the whole region.

«In these communities, the social fabric of the community assembly had already broken. Hence, it was created and processed with community authorities, and they generated the community system. Such a system was made up of coordinators, regional commanders, and regional counselors. Four to five populations joined the system until reaching 20 communities. Furthermore, at the same time, they expelled delinquency, which was harassing, kidnapping, extorting them, as well as raping kids and women.”

It surprises the contrast between poverty and abandon in which the communities live and the 270 thousand pesos that the local government receives annually from the Federation. «Neither Acapulco nor Chilpancingo receive such an amount of funds,» he assures. The communities were left alone by all three levels of government.

The more abandoned were the communities, the more subdued they were by Los Ardillos and Los Rojos. Many families had already been displaced. Although the complaints before the municipal, state, and federal authorities to provide security to the region, they never received an answer. The people who went to the municipal seat to buy or sell were assaulted, kidnapped, or extorted throughout the way.

—Has anything changed? Is someone currently listening to them?

—As they are now organized, they are respected. However, before we had arrived, there was no such respect towards the communities. There was a lack of schools, healthcare centers, highway, and pavements.

—Where is the power of Los Ardillos generating? Is everything coming from drug smuggling?

—Three years ago, it was 20 thousand pesos to buy a kilo of poppy rubber. Now, they no longer fight to control the rubber or its selling since the community has already renounced to sell it – which they used to produce heroin in the laboratories of Los Ardillos. It seems that they are currently fighting to control the local government, as big money is there. Their power is growing with the days go by. They control José Joaqín and Chilapa. Some communities do not want to support Los Ardillos, but these criminals oblige them. If they do not obey, Los Ardillos kill them.

—How did communities free from cartels?

—We began to hold assemblies in the towns. We approached the Indigenous National Congress. In 2014, 2016, and 2017, when the independent candidate of the Indigenous Governing Council, Marichuy [María de Jesús Patricio Martínez], started her campaign, the Nahuas fellows of these communities participated in support. Furthermore, they began to watch and participate in the meetings of the Congress in San Cristóbal de las Casas, in Chiapas; they started to participate in many events. The Congress held an assembly.

—How did municipal and Guerrero state’s authorities react?

—The government wanted to control the community system and Cipog-EZ as it observed that they were growing. They created little by little paramilitary groups to divide the communities. Among others, there is a sharp division within the town of San Jerónimo [Palantla], where arrest warrants have been issued without any justification. Women are accused of carrying R15, AK47; however, they dedicate to weave hats and bedrolls. Their only crime is to be organized and defend their rights as a population.

—How do Los Ardillos control the local government’s resources?

—Directly. When the resources of the Federal program Ramo 33 arrive, they go seeing the [municipal] president. They steal money to pay their hired killers, buy their cars, their weapons, as well as control the local government and subdue communities. However, after they killed some of us, the leaders, some problems have aroused. They have already realized that it is difficult to pass by the community territory and take control of this area. For this reason, Tula is fighting against Los Ardillos. They want the local government at any cost so that they can benefit from the resources. It is their business. They do not employ the resources to carry out works but to subdue the communities.

—Is there any other budget for the various communities?

—There is not. At all. The few works carried out within the communities have already been managed for two or three years. They consist of delivering food; nonetheless, they never foresee to build a school for children, a hospital, or a clinic. Moreover, every commissioner that arrives at the local government to ask for what their communities need, they are threatened. The municipalities of Chilapa and José Joaquín are experiencing such a situation.

—How could communities get organized, considering all the adversities?

—When we began to discuss security matters, they realized that their security and justice systems could grow. They observed that in the local governments of Chilapa and José Joaquín, there was no justice; on the contrary, they steal their money. They were filing complaints, but no one was solving their problems. Hence, when the populations received the proposal to create a community system, their own Home of Justice, their security body, they decided to establish the Community Police in assembly. And it is during the meeting that the population chose who was going to hold the position of commander, counselor, coordinator, or community police officer. It was clearly stated that it is crucial to select honorable members of the towns who have served the communities to become a Community Police officer. We noticed that it was achievable. However, we also realized that it was difficult as before reaching our objective, we lost many of us; some others were kidnapped. The government was worried as well, and for this reason, they co-opted, tried to divide us, and messed with us.

Los Ardillos are searching Jesús Plácido. As for other leaders of Cipog-EZ and CRAC-PC-PF, he has received death threats. He knows he has to be vigilant. He points out that drug smuggling penetrates politics. Indeed, he remarks that during the past elections, Los Ardillos supported the candidate for the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), whereas Los Rojos, the candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

“Los Ardillos began to threat the community saying that if they did not vote the PRD, they would kill them. Los Rojos did the same but obliging people to vote the PRI. [These threats] awoke people”. The communities realized that they had no other choice but to get organized: they were among two fires.

Plácido Galindo is not a triumphalist. He is aware that the communities cannot control everything. The assassinations of leaders of Cipog-EZ and commanders and members of CRAC-PC-PF are hard to overcome. They were leaderships that emerged from the communities with years of hard work.

“We are afraid since Los Ardillos were also able to kidnap community system leaders. They keep on killing all the citizens who do not let these criminals control them. However, we are in a process where other communities are getting organized. Populations are becoming increasingly more aware and courageous.”

—This process could create even a more violent response by those trying to hinder such an organizational process. Are you ready for this?

—We are aware that [this organization] also worries the government. We know that this comes with a price; that it is not going to be easy for us and for other fellow authorities that are providing community service. The government fears that the National Indigenous Congress is spreading the awareness of the struggle for the people. For us, it has been hard as there have already been [murdered] councilors of the Indigenous Governing Council. Moreover, they have already killed four fellows of CRAC. We are aware that this will be a long process. We have to keep on building our autonomy as a population and community assembly. It is not going to be any easy. They will continue to attack us.

—Do you expect any change with the arrival of the Morena party (National Regeneration Movement) at the federal government?

—Andrés Manuel [López Obrador] said that there were going to be changes as soon as he became president. However, we cannot see them. Not only is the Mayan Train, but also the land dispossession for mining in the Montaña region, and the community displacement to control the towns. Such a situation is not only attributable to the governor but the presidency as well. The government claims that they are carrying out consultations with us, but this is inaccurate. We keep on being juridically discriminated.

—They arrested the leader of Los Rojos. Was not it a good piece of news for the region?

—Although they arrested the leader of Los Rojos, repression, extortion, kidnapping, and assassination are still taking place. They gave power to someone else. Now that Los Ardillos have entered the area, they keep on kidnapping and murdering our Nahua fellows who go to the municipal seat to buy gasoline or sell their products. Men cannot get off their cars. Women have to. If a man hops off his vehicle, they immediately kill him. Nothing has changed since they arrested the leader, as someone else keeps on committing such felonies.

—What relationships does Cipog-EZ have with other movements that are alike present in the region, or organizations that are not related to the CNI but are committed to other struggles and also have a presence there?

—We have clearly stated that Cipog-EZ is the house of the peoples. We work in synergy with the assembly, and we deal with the peoples’ struggle, rights, and culture. We consider keeping on resisting by organizing ourselves. We have been respectful to the other organizations because, yes, as we said, there are others. Nonetheless, we have nothing against them. We will continue to commit to our mission, along with the communities and their assemblies. Let it be the peoples who have, maintain, and exercise their power. Let the assembly decide. The peoples are the leaders, not a single person. They have to make their decisions in their meetings.

—What about the other organizations that were already working in the area? Have not they felt to be harassed or questioned?

—Let us be honest. We coexist with fellows who, a long time ago, were part of the EPR [Revolutionary Popular Army] and who believe that this is their territory. We wonder why we found a population dominated by violence, kidnappings, assassinations if they were taking care of the region. For this reason, we established the community system, Cipog. We are respectful. We do what people want. If they have a plan, we will keep following it. We are not accusing them of being bad people either; they are fellows. We give and demand respect.

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—What do the 22 communities organized in Cipog-EZ aim? Do they strive to defend from cartels and count on security?

—The next step is to build our autonomy: our schools, our education system, our healthcare community system, our community radio. We also hold this right. We must broadcast our messages in our language; it must be a community broadcaster. There is not any other way, but this one and we are not waiting for the government to solve our issues. It is possible to carry out a struggle as the Indigenous National Congress, and the CIG did. These fellows showed that it is possible to do it even without government support. Indeed, the current government does not represent people; they only take care of their business. People can experience a change only if they can elect the government. However, although they claim to be a west-wing government until they do not consult people before making decisions, they are not. It is clear to us that only we, the people, will keep on making steps forward and fighting.

By Zósimo Camacho, text, and José Luis Santillán, photos/correspondents

(Translated by: Federica Antoniani)

 

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