Vigilante Urban Warfare in Guadalajara, Mexico
Jesús Morones, the owner of a candy shop in El Salto, a rugged industrial area on the southeastern fringe of the Guadalajara metropolitan area, says he’s been robbed at gunpoint eight times.
“Last time they beat me and locked me and my family in here for 10 minutes while they took what they wanted. They were looking for money but they even took a box of chocolates to snack on afterwards,” he says. “My son was crying and one of the bastards even grabbed my wife’s buttocks.”
With the police providing little or no protection against this kind of violent crime, inhabitants of Guadalajara’s forgotten outskirts have begun forming vigilante groups known as autodefensas, or self-defense squads. Vigilantes have famously fought drug gangs in the nearby states of Michoacán and Guerrero in recent years, but their emergence in the major city of Guadalajara, the capital of the state of Jalisco, is more recent and hardly reported.
Gazing out over El Salto’s scorched scrubland as he patrols the dirt roads of his rundown neighborhood, Raúl Muñoz, a 59-year-old former guerrilla, says he leads the largest of 27 autodefensa cells scattered across the town.
Constantly wary of halcones, or hawks, as cartel lookouts are known, Muñoz points out several black pickup trucks with tinted windows. He says they probably belong to members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, or CJNG in Spanish. He adds that the cartel has “complete control” of El Salto and the neighboring municipality of Tlajomulco.
The CJNG is a relatively new cartel that has grown and expanded rapidly in the last five years to become one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal organizations. Muñoz suspects it has begun working with smaller groups of petty criminals in El Salto, leading to an increase in kidnappings, thefts, and rapes.
‘We don’t want people to know who we are, because that would put everyone’s safety at risk’
Softly spoken but firm in his convictions, Muñoz says the rising insecurity led a group of locals to form a vigilante group early last year. He adds that their resolve only hardened when gunmen killed one member as a warning in February 2015.
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