In Mexico, people do not only feel obliged to arm themselves and fire as a legitimate form of defence. They also work in the informal economy as a legitimate form of defence; emigrate without documents as a legitimate form of defence; and turn to alternative medicine as a legitimate form of defence. When a State fails, is absent, or falls into the hands of unelected groups, citizens logically try to supplement its functions. In Mexico, they have managed to defend themselves not only in terms of public order but in all aspects of human security.
Mexico’s indigenous communities, such as those in Michoacán and Guerrero, were the first to form their own self-defence forces (or Autodefensas), faced with the invasion of their territories and dispossession of their natural resources. In the presence of passive or complicit government institutions, community police forces sprung up and found ways to arm and organise themselves. Some have suffered dearly for their bravery, such as those assassinated in Cherán, Michoacán*. They have even been imprisoned for “carrying arms permitted only for Army usage” – by the very people whose incompetency, or sheer absence, has forced them to take up arms in the first place.
In the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacán, Autodefensas no longer consist of members of indigenous communities. Rural producers, farmers, and businessmen have armed themselves, or supported those who have, in order to end the extortions, kidnappings, or arson attacks of the criminal enterprise known as the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar Cartel), who have long been in cahoots with, or protected by, the so-called forces of ‘order’. Elsewhere, usually in richer communities, the growth of private security agencies and gated neighbourhoods is yet another example of the failures or absence of public security in the nation. Today, the State is no longer the only legitimate agent of public security.
Insecurity also encroaches into the world of employment, where the informal sector of the economy continues to grow, or illegal emigration, where people defend themselves from unemployment or low-paid work by leaving their homeland (even when doing so means risking their lives). Agricultural workers are also forced to defend themselves – from the embargos promoted by banks, the power cuts of the CFE, or the coyotes o intermediaries who pay them a pittance for their crops. Rural communities, meanwhile, have to fight mining, forestry, tourist, or energy companies who try to take their land, water, or trees away from them. While all of these groups are left to fend for themselves, the companies exploiting them are protected by the State, or by mercenaries.
Faced with insufficient or poor quality public health services, people are also increasingly trying to fight illness in alternative or traditional ways, at the risk of falling victim to charlatans or unscrupulous professionals. And when it comes to disappearances, tortures, femicide, or illegal detention, the State is also nowhere to be seen. NGOs are the ones who best defend the rights of victims or their families, while the official institutions meant to impart justice are far from the reach of they majority of citizens. The same is true for vulnerable adults, children, drug addicts, or those with disabilities, who rely on charities to help them because of the State’s incapability to do so.
The Mexican State has become the deformed heart of a social body which pumps less and less blood. It has long since moved away from its logic of regulation and emancipation, instead adopting a doctrine of violent appropriation.
The acts of social self-defence seen throughout our society are undoubtedly creating islands of self-management and citizen participation in the country. The current State – in terms of its supposed role in protecting the interests of the citizens who ‘sign its social contract’ – is failing and falling apart. Instead of defending the weak, a task which it is utterly incapable of carrying out, the State seems incredibly efficient at protecting the privileges of the rich and powerful. As long as this situation continues, the Mexican people will continue stand up for themselves and fight this traitorous machine from below.
Some changes in the country’s political institutions may come about as a result, but the exploited population must learn that all they will ever get from society’s exploitative ruling class, of which the government is a part, will only ever concede crumbs of justice. They must use their collective experiences of self-defence as a means of developing their capacity to govern themselves. Learning this lesson is the only way for them to obtain true justice.
Translated and adapted from an article by Víctor M. Quintana S. found at: http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2014/01/31/opinion/023a2pol