NUEVO URECHO, MEXICO – The kidnapping of avocado growers in western Mexico has gotten so bad that 500 police officers from a so-called “self-defense” group known as the United Towns, or Pueblos Unidos, have assembled today Saturday and pledge to support the police.
The vigilantes gathered for a rally in the town of Nuevo Urecho, in western Michoacan state, armed with AR-15s and other rifles, as well as a collection of handguns.
They say drug cartels like Viagras and the Jalisco syndicate charge avocado growers a “war tax” around $1,000 per acre ($2,500 per hectare).
Tired of extortion and kidnapping demands, growers and farmers formed the group in 2020, and it now claims to have nearly 3,000 members.
“Some of us have been victims of this situation, of kidnapping, of extortion,” said a masked vigilante leader who asked not to use his name for fear the gangs would retaliate. enemy.
At this point, vigilantes appear poised to respond to Governor Alfredo Ramirez Bedolla’s pledge to disarm the state’s various ‘self-defense’ groups.
“We have reached an agreement with the mayor to increase the number of police” patrolling the area, the wary leader said. “We are putting our guns away at the moment, but we will be vigilant to show up and assist the police at any time.”
Pueblos Unidos has staged armed protests in several towns in Michoacan over the last year, but has always said it would rather let the officially established security forces do the job of driving out criminal gangs.
Mexican law prohibits most civilians from possessing nearly all firearms, with the exception of shotguns or extremely low-caliber handguns.
But Michoacan has a history of armed “self-defence” vigilante militia movements dating back to 2013 and 2014. Back then the vigilantes managed to drive out the dominant Knights of the Order, but rival gangs. like Viagras and the Jalisco gang came in. Kidnappings, murders and shootings have displaced thousands of people from their homes.
The Mexican military has sent troops to the state, but only to act as a buffer between the warring gangs, trying to make sure they don’t encroach on another gang’s territory.
But the soldiers did little or nothing about the illegal gang activities happening just a few hundred yards from their checkpoints.
That left Michoacan residents once again taking up arms, facing rampant extortion by the Viagras, Jaliscos and other gangs.
Around this time, the self-defense movement was mainly active in avocado-growing regions that were not at the center of the 2013 vigilante uprising.
As avocados become a more popular and lucrative crop, drug cartels and gangs have taken steps to extract protection money from growers.
While “self-defense” groups have previously been infiltrated or taken over by drug cartels, leaders of Pueblos Unidos say they are not affiliated with any of the warring gangs and are ready to quit. guns.
“We have never taken over any towns,” said a masked vigilante team leader. “We’re not part of a cartel or anything like that.”