AP Photo/Gustavo Aguado
A Mexican army soldier talks to armed members of a local self-defense group wearing white T-shirts with the slogan “For a Free Aquila” in the town of Aquila, Mexico, early Wednesday, July 24, 2013. Mexico’s rough western state of Michoacan, where Aquila is located, is proving just as tough a thorn in the side of President Enrique Pena Nieto as it was for his predecessor after gunmen believed to be working for the Knights Templar cartel launched a coordinated series of a half-dozen ambushes on federal police convoys last Tuesday followed by yet another self-defense group that has sprung up to fight against the Knights Templar.

Mexico Self-Defense Forces Inspired by and Include Indigenous Guards

Rick Kearns

The masked self-defense forces in Michoacan, Mexico, who have received international press coverage due to their battles against drug cartels as well as the Mexican police and army, were inspired by indigenous guards and include many indigenous warriors.

Starting in the summer of 2013, an indigenous community in Michoacan organized an indigenous guards unit and acted as de-facto police in their area before being shut down by Mexican authorities. Other self-defense groups in the region sprung up, including one in the town of Aquila that has been in the news recently due to reports of conflicts between the group and narco-traffickers.

In their latest press statement, issued on January 18, the Self-Defense Group of Aquila, Michoacan explain that they were inspired by the work of indigenous guards in the area who had successfully pushed out violent cartel members from their area for a while.

The statement begins with a call to all community members who want to “rise up” against the criminal acts of the Knights Templar, a narco-trafficking gang famous for kidnapping, murder, rape and extortion.

“We have decided to organize our self-defense group in order to expel organized crime from our town, and we invite the rest of the people of the municipality to rise up against crime, so they never again feel fear or pay protection fees,” the group stated.

“As is known from the national and international media, our municipality previously attempted to remove the yoke of organized crime. This movement was led by members of the indigenous community of San Miguel Aquila,” the statement continued.

In their press announcement the group asserted that the indigenous community of San Miguel Aquila, which owns the land upon which an iron mine operates, was supposed to receive royalty fees from the Ternium Mining Company.

“…and organized crime charges them a monthly quota. That is to say, they ask the residents to part with the money they receive. If they don’t pay, they kill them. So the indigenous from this community decided to form their community guard in order to protect their heritage, life and dignity. They invited us to join them, but we, as prisoners of fear of the reprisals from organized crime, decided not to support them.”

The group reported that when the indigenous guards were operating in the area between July 24 and August 13, 2013, “The rapes, kidnappings and payments of protection fees disappeared as the criminals fled. Seeing the results of the community movement, we became inspired to support the cause of the community.”

On August 14, government forces moved in and arrested most of the indigenous guards. The Self-Defense Group of Aquila, Michoacan said that Mexican special forces and police killed at least two of the indigenous guards and assaulted women, children and elderly residents who protested the arrests. They also claim that the Knights Templar then resumed their illegal activities and has an alliance with State and Municipal authorities.

“Let it be clear that our self-defense movement was born of social necessity, against organized crime...We invite other towns, villages and communities in the municipality of Aquila to join our struggle, as we seek only well-being and social peace,” the group stated.