El Pueblo (The Community)
Michoacán State, Mexico
For nearly two years, Doña Chepa watched as illegal loggers rumble past her home in Cherán, 200 miles west of Mexico City in the forest of the state of Michoacán. They taunted her and guzzled beer on their way to destroy the ancient oak forest that surrounds the village, while local police and government officials stood by and did nothing to stop the organized crime.
“I went into my house, and I felt so much hate inside of me, I started to cry and cry,” said Chepa, a petite, Purepecha indigenous women who is often described as the strong silent type. “I asked myself, doesn’t god exist anymore? Where is he? How long are these people going to be allowed to take what they want? Who could help us? Who?”
On April 15, 2011, Chepa’s tears turned into boiling rage and she organized the town’s women to battle the loggers, who worked for a local cartel that was actively diversifying its criminal portfolio of extortion, kidnapping, drug trafficking and murder. The women used fireworks and rocks to barricade the road leading to the forest.
As the loggers passed through town, they met the 15 furious women who had set up the barricade. “We were desperate,” said Chepa. “We had lived, we are old—but our sons?” Chepa is in her mid-40s with three children and a husband working in the United States.
Within moments of the initial confrontation, the pueblo (meaning the community) came to the women’s aid. The community members received gunfire from both the loggers and local police, but the pueblo stood strong and watched their opponents retreat. Soon after, Cherán dissolved its local government and police force. The community has controlled their own local police and government since that day.
The action this small group of women took that morning initiated what some see as start of a revolution through civil war. Following Cherán’s lead, more than 20 towns across the country have taken up arms and have created their own vigilante groups and established autodefensas (community police) groups. Recently the local cartels have responded with violence to these groups in their territory. A new front line has emerged in Mexico, directly between the people and the cartels.