92 Foreign Aff. 143 (2013)
The Rise of Mexico's Self-Defense Forces: Vigilante Justice South of the Border

handle is hein.journals/fora92 and id is 979 raw text is: The Rise of Mexico's
Self-Defense Forces
Vigilante Justice South of the Border
Patricio Asfura-Heim and Ralph Espach
na Tuesday morning in March, with rifles slung over their
shoulders, some 1,500 men filed into the Mexican town of
Tierra Colorada, which sits on the highway from Mexico City
down to the Pacific coast. They seized at gunpoint 12 police officers
and a local security official, whom they believed responsible for the
murder of their commander. They set up roadblocks, and when a car
of Acapulco-bound beachgoers refused to stop, they opened fire and
injured a passenger.
This was not the work of a drug cartel. The men were members of a
self-defense group, one of a growing number of vigilante organizations
aiming to restore order to Mexican communities. We have besieged
the municipality, said a spokesperson for the group, because here
criminals operate with impunity in broad daylight.
Mexico has suffered staggering levels of violence and crime during
the country's seven-year-long war against the cartels. The fighting has
killed 90,000 people so far, a death toll larger than that of the civil war
in Syria. Homicide rates have tripled since 2007. In an effort to stem
the carnage, Mexican President Enrique Pefia Nieto announced last
December that the federal government, having struggled to defeat the
cartels using corrupt local police and an inadequate military, would
create an elite national police force of 10,000 officers by the end of
this year.
PATRICIO ASFURA-HEIM is a specialist on irregular warfare at CNA's Center for
Strategic Studies. He served as an adviser on civilian governance and the rule of law for the
U.S. Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan.
RALPH ESPACH is Director of the Latin American Affairs Program at CNA. He is a
co-author, with Joseph Tulchin, of Latin America in the New International System.

July/August 2013 143

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