We are made to believe that we must rely on government. This dependency is the root of their power. No matter how bad the powers that be are, we must have a ruler.
When pushed humans are capable of remarkable things. This is one example among many. The truth is we are not dependent on them, they are dependent on us. We just have to wake up to realize who holds the power.
Checkpoints staffed by men with assault rifles, camouflage and body armor greet visitors at the three major entrances to this town.
The guards are not soldiers, police officers, drug enforcers or vigilantes. They are members of homegrown patrols that have helped keep Cheran a bastion of tranquillity within one of Mexico’s most violent regions.
The town of 20,000 sits in the northwest corner of Michoacan, a state where authorities say at least 599 people were killed between January and May, an increase of almost 40% compared with the same period last year. Cheran hasn’t had a slaying or other serious crime since early 2011.
That was the year that residents, most of them indigenous and poor, waged an insurrection and declared self-rule in hopes of ridding themselves of the ills that plague so much of Mexico: raging violence, corrupt politicians, a toothless justice system and gangs that have expanded from drug smuggling to extortion, kidnapping and illegal logging.
Six years in, against all odds, Cheran’s experiment appears to be working.
“We couldn’t trust the authorities or police any more,” said Josefina Estrada, a petite grandmother who is among the women who spearheaded the revolt. “We didn’t feel that they protected us or helped us. We saw them as accomplices with the criminals.”
Indeed, the criminal syndicates that have long dominated Michoacan are part of the reason, along with rampant poverty, that Cheran and other rural areas in the state have sent so many immigrants to the United States.
Cheran’s scourge were the talamontes, illegal loggers who worked at the behest of larger mafias and raided the communal forests that are vital to its economy and culture.
The timber thieves would parade through town on hulking trucks, ferrying illegal loads of pine, brandishing weapons and threatening anyone resisting.
Rafael Garcia Avila resisted. He belonged to a town committee that monitored forest use and had taken a stand against illegal logging. He and a colleague were kidnapped by gunmen on Feb. 11, 2011, and never seen again, joining the multitudes of “disappeared” who have vanished during Mexico’s war on drugs.
“My husband loved the forests, the woods, the natural world,” recalled his widow, Maria Juarez Gonzalez, tears welling in her eyes.
The disappearances — along with other killings, assaults, threats, and the plunder of the town’s ancestral forests — became unbearable in a community whose residents retain their identity as Purepecha Indians, one of the few indigenous groups in the area that did not succumb to the Aztec empire.
“The talamontes would drive by in their trucks, laughing at us,” recalled Estrada, a mother of eight — six of them living in the United States — who sells health shakes from a small storefront. “It wasn’t safe to be out at night. It wasn’t safe to be in the forest…. Sometimes I went home and cried and cried.”
Finally, she called some other women and decided to strike back.