Tag: Mexican self-defense groups

Chaos in Michoacán—but why?

A Mexican friend of mine argues that there will be nothing but social chaos if the self-defense groups of the Mexican state of Michoacán are allowed to retain their weapons—now symbolized by the plentiful and much photographed AK-47s. In many regards, he is right. After all, how would the U.S. government react if armed citizen militias began to form and openly patrol towns and neighborhoods they considered insecure?

I asked him why the State was not equally as worried before, when the drug mafias ruled freely in Michoacán, and in many other parts of the country, with their extortions, kidnappings and killings—certainly definitions of social chaos.

He returned to his point. The self-defense groups have to be disarmed.

I replied, “Won’t the cartels just sweep in a kill every single one of them, in revenge and to reestablish their reign of terror, and their control?”

“They are breaking the law, the self-defense groups. There have to be laws to prevent social chaos.”

I replied that Mexico has very good laws, exemplary laws—but that the State has failed to enforce them, failed to protect the citizens of Michoacán.

I drew diagrams, I brought in my thin knowledge of Hobbes and Locke, I asked whom the laws were for and where laws came from. I said there was another category, in addition to la ley, the law. There was also el derecho, a person’s rights.

My friend said you had to have laws and they had to be followed in order to have a stable society. I said, in the case where the State does not enforce the laws, then rights had to supersede laws—as in the case of the right to self-defense, not to mention the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

My friend said the laws were there to prevent social violence and, again, chaos.

I argued that chaos already reigned, the moment the State failed in its responsibility to enforce the laws, especially those conceived for the protection of the citizens.

My friend had calmed down. He asked how I would solve the problem. I said I had no solution. The problem, I said, had to do with cultura, the culture of considering the law as something that applies to the other fellow, but not to oneself. Culture, I said, could only change through education. And that that was my position.

In the meantime, if Mexico is to prosper, so investment comes and there are jobs and education, the government must decide who is the enemy in Michoacán: the drug cartels or the self-defense groups? And apply the law equally. And if it can’t do that, then it needs to examine itself and see why it is not enforcing existing law equally.

Some things seem to have changed. It is likely the federal government wants to change the topic away from admission of past failed policies. And so, they say, the mafias are not the real problem; the self-defense groups are.  At the same time, to its credit, the government has begun to make arrests of some mayors and some politicians who in fact appear to have been aiding the criminal cartels. It is too early to tell whether this is show or not.

They have also arrested a few self-defense leaders and some of their self-defense foot soldiers, accusing them of murder and putting them in jail. There are complaints that some of the latter have been mistreated and abused by federal police: for example (Proceso): “…evidence of injury around the neck, air pipes,  and the inner ear…” of a leader of the self-defense forces in Yurécuaro. Defense lawyers claim the men are being framed, as a way of removing self-defense leadership.

It is also not entirely clear to what extent government is thinking about and making distinctions between the three elements in the triad: the law, individual rights and the underlying culture of impunity. What is needed, of course, is years of education on the merits of social responsibility.

In the midst of all this, ninety percent of the self-defense groups say they have no intention of disarming or being disarmed. At a recent meeting of CAM, the General Council for Self-Defense of Michoacán, self-defense leaders have given the federal government the same deadline the government had given them. Federal Commission Alfredo Castillo had given them May 10 to respond to disarmament demands. CAM has now given him May 10 to respond to their counter-proposals: 1) Legalization of the self-defense groups; 2) Release of self-defense forces imprisoned by the government; and 3) Putting an end to the entire Knights Templar structure in Michoacán.

The Cockroach Effect

I can remember my most significant cockroach experiences. One was in Greece, on the Peloponnesus—in a bathroom. In desperation, we had knocked on the door of a fine stone house in a coastal town to ask for information about local lodging. An ancient, educated-looking woman opened the door. She said yes she herself rented rooms but none were available at the moment. I remember lingering, on the cultural theory that people often say no at first then change their minds when they begin to feel more confident about you. Finally, we went back down the stone steps that had led up to her door.

“Wait!” she said. “I will give you my room. Come back in a quarter of an hour, I can sleep on a couch.”

We were very tired, still we protested, looking up at her. But she insisted and, still apologizing, we returned about twenty minutes and brought in our bags.

She showed us the bathroom, to be reached by going outside, crossing a short open breezeway to a small separate room—which I visited soon enough. While seated inside, contemplating a Greek generosity that may have been older than Homer, I looked down at the floor and saw the largest cockroach I have every seen in my life, with ancestors, I have read since, from the tribe of βλάττη (bláttē), going back 295–354 million years.

I don’t remember whether this prehistorica hexapod was dead or alive. Many cultures now use a brew of disinfectant and insecticide to clean around toilets, and so it is very likely this particular descendant would have his or her genetic line cut short.

The second time was in Guanajuato, Mexico, in the same type of location—in all respects—a bug the length of my middle finger, which would be three and three-quarters inches. Since I tend to exaggerate size of fish and other things, let us cut that length in half, and still have a cucaracha that exceeds anything listed by Wiki-whatever. In my own defense, I should add that just the sight of one of these creatures physically increases its size, and so I shall revise upward to two inches, as my final figure. Maybe two and a half.

I believe this chestnut-colored blattoid was also fairly dead. Vital statistics are not critical in these matters. When you see one of these creepy-crawler forward scouts, the reaction is visceral and must have been hard-wired into our sensibilities when we first stood up on our hind legs to gain some perspective. Time and place are of little importance, a cockroach can appear anywhere, dead or alive, but when it does, we fear (or welcome) that the abnormal (indifference, cruelty and violence) can become the normal, and we suffer from what Jeffrey Alan Lockwood refers to as the “infested mind.”

People refer to the cockroach effect during the current crisis of governability in the Mexican state of Michoacán, where now citizen self-defense group carry forbidden AK47’s and AR-15’s, military grade assault rifles. These are citizens that are no longer willing to put up with the years of extortion, kidnapping, rape, disappearance and murder.

Police use cucaracha efecto to describe the relocation of criminals when the authorities put pressure on them—when the criminals slip away and take up their activities in other areas and out of sight of the pickup-mounted machineguns of the Federal Police and the truckloads of Army soldiers.

In a second way, the Mexican government uses the term to confuse the public by equating the self-defense groups with the armed drug cartels, thereby de-glorifying the former and continuing to ignore the latter. There is evidence that the self-defense idea is spreading. A large portion of the citizenry is willing to turn to vigilantism if the government, at all levels, is too weak, incompetent, indolent and corrupt to defend them from devastating criminal activity.

I would add a third meaning—the irruption of something abhorrent, predatory and relatively indestructible (cockroaches can live several days after having their heads cut off; instead of starving, they eat each other), that lacks all conscience or empathy—something like a man, worst of all an adolescent, with an AK47 assault rifle, a weapon capable of shooting through the walls of two houses and still kill you—with indifference.

I shall add a fourth meaning: Cockroaches don’t like to be seen, they come out at night, they live right under our noses but flee when we turn on a light. In fact, they can serve as a two-edged metaphor for 1) corruption, breath-taking graft—but also 2) at the same time, in Mexican folklore, for opposition to colonialism.

Think of colonialism as the extraction practiced by drug cartel rule (extortion, kidnapping, taking women and girls) and State rule (skimming the people’s resources, funneling profits toward the rich).

Think of the cucaracha as 2) citizen opposition to the political structures and attitudes that permit that extraction, that extortion, that skimming.

There is a difference, though, and that is that the self-defense cucarachas do not hide when you turn on the light.