[As this article explains, violence from organized crime and the Drug War in Mexico is rampant in a number of Mexican states. Some indigenous communities have policed themselves for some time, but more and more communities are now taking up their own armed self-defense due to the dramatic surge in violence. The governments fear this trend and are beginning to crack down on (arrest) some of the groups.CSC]
Paramilitarism, Armed Groups and Community Self-Defense
By: Gilberto López y Rivas
For years, the country has suffered a social war whose cost in human lives is now around 100,000 dead, the majority poor and young, while society is a prisoner of uncertainty about the future of the families –surely mortgaged by the 70 million Mexicans living in poverty–, and by the desperation of establishing that the PRI “alternative” means –in fact– the gatopardismo  in which everything changes so that everything stays the same (or gets worse).
In this lapse, armed groups have usurped the monopoly on violence, which supposedly corresponds to the State, and devastate the streets, businesses, barrios, communities, regions, and even complete states, which are abandoned in the defenselessness and at the mercy of their criminal actions. At the same time, in territories where the Mexican State has put into practice counterinsurgency strategies or an irregular war, paramilitarism has been activated, with the acquiescence, support and complicity of the authorities and furtively linked to the armed forces, police institutions or intelligence organisms. When I was a member of the Commission for Dialogue and Pacification (Cocopa), and in my capacity as rotating president, I presented in 1998 to the Attorney General of the Republic –with the advice of the lawyer Digna Ochoa– a denunciation about the existence of paramilitary groups, one of which was responsible for the Acteal Massacre. At that opportunity, the same attorney general Jorge Madrazo Cuellar told the members of the Cocopa about the presence in Chiapas of at least 12 groups that are euphemistically called “groups of civilians presumably armed.” A special prosecutor for the case was created, the same one that disappeared without pain or glory, years later.
Since those years, I have reiterated that the state grants a fundamental element for a perfect analysis cabal of paramilitarism, and I have defined paramilitary groups as those that count on organization, equipment and military training, those to whom the State delegates the fulfillment of missions that the regular armed forces cannot openly carry out, without implicating that they recognize their existence as part of that monopoly of state violence. Paramilitary groups are illegal and have impunity because it is convenient to the State’s interests that way. The paramilitary consists, then, in the illegal and unpunished exercise of state violence and in the hiding of the origin of that violence. Historically, paramilitarism has been a phase of counterinsurgency that is applied when the power of the armed forces is not sufficient to annihilate insurgent groups, or when their discredit obliges the creation of a paramilitary arm, clandestinely tied to the military institution. A clear example of this type of grouping is the dreaded White Brigade (Brigada Blanca), a criminal extension of the State during the dirty war, whose commanders were Colonel Francisco Quiroz Hermosillo, Captain Luis de la Barreda Moreno and Miguel Nazar Haro.
Although paramilitarism is tightly linked to counterinsurgency strategies, it can occur that the State uses –by omission, passivity or corruption of its officials– the armed criminal groups for their own purposes of social control, criminalization or violent aggression on opponents, passing through this way of state articulation, to also be constituted into paramilitary groups. This could be the case of the so-called guardias blancas, which in many rural regions formed the gunmen or armed appendage of landholders and regional oligarchies, and that because of class loyalties, the State has tolerated and protected.
When the State does not fulfill the legal and constitutional responsibility of preserving the security of the citizens or administering justice and, to the contrary por, uses the Army, police contingents and the judicial apparatus as a means of control and political-territorial intervention with the population by way of a militarization of society and venal justice at all levels, the emergence of mechanisms of self-defense and community justice of a varied nature take place that fulfill the functions that the State illegally alienates or disrupts. Experiences like the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities-Community Police (Coordinadora Regional de Autoridades Comunitarias-Policía Comunitaria, CRAC-PC), that which forms the defense of Cherán Municipality, Michoacán, the autonomous rebel zones protected by the EZLN and those emerged in other latitudes of the Mexican geography, articulated by the communities, which control and monitor them, without any relationship with the State but subject to internal regulations and principles like govern obeying, not only are legal and legitimate according to the Constitution and Convention 169 of the ILO, signed and ratified by Mexico, but rather constitute the only socio-political spaces where control has effectively been achieved over what’s called “organized crime.”
Therefore, greater conceptual rigor and institutional seriousness of organisms like the National Human Rights Commission would be hoped for before the natural proliferation of community self-defenses for supposedly “breaking the state of law,” when to all appearances it has been the State that systematically has violated it through the practices of forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture, corruption-penetration by organized crime of all the spheres of public power and the total inability on the part of the authorities to guaranty public security and the administration of justice.
What is also grave is the State’s pretention of submitting organisms like the CRAC-PC to governmental control, through laws and regulations that subvert the mandate of the assembly, to make official what is a service and break the very essence of the normative community systems.
Translator’s Note:  Gatopardismo refers to a political situation in which there is apparent political change, but in reality nothing really changes. It literally translates into the brown cat, referring to the African leopard.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee
March 29, 2013