Earlier this week, self-defense groups in northern Mexico banded together and took justice into their own hands in the fight against violent Mexican drug cartels. Weary of failed promises of protection by the Mexican federal government, the vigilantes have armed themselves and are now roaming the streets of war-torn towns.
While their frustration is understandable, their drastic actions will only bring about more violence and chaos in an already chaotic region. Fighting violence with violence will not provide the peace that the vigilantes want, especially when facing brutal opponents such as the cartels.
Since the 1970s, cities in northern Mexico, such as Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana, have been the battlefields for rival drug cartels like the Sinaloa and Juárez cartels.
Violence in the northern region has greatly escalated since the 2000s, making Ciudad Juárez the murder capital of the world. In 2011 alone, 1,571 residents were victims of cartel-related homicide. Entire cities are in a constant state of fear and find themselves without anyone to turn to.
The Mexican government has had a reputation of either turning a blind eye or participating in violent acts.
After years of watching their community fall apart and friends and family falling victim to the bloody drug war, it is no wonder that the Mexican people have said, “Enough is enough” and decided to act on their own. Unfortunately, this tactic will not put an end to the war and will only result in increased tension and more casualties.
The vigilantes are largely untrained, unfunded and unclear about their objectives and enemies.
Ultimately, the vigilantes are fighting for peace in their towns, but as we have seen in other Latin American countries such as Bolivia and Cuba, peace does not come from guerilla warfare.
In order to combat the intricate system of narcotics trafficking, their only hope is to cooperate with and pressure their government to take a firmer stand on drugs, which is the goal of the new president, Peña Nieto. Nieto has already made drastic moves to clear out the corruption in the police force. He has fired more than 500 officials and is recruiting soldiers from Guatemala’s military training camps to replace them.
In regards to the rising problem of violent vigilantes, Nieto has used a firm hand to stop them. Already, Mexican soldiers have violently clashed with the self-defense groups, but the groups refuse to stand down. In a statement to CNNMexico, Estanislao Beltran, a spokesman for the self-defense groups, said, “When there is peace and security in our state, we will give up our weapons.”
What the vigilantes are failing to realize is that the only way to stop the cartels is by arresting and prosecuting their members, which is a job they cannot do.
Nieto has made it clear that he will not tolerate the groups and will come to physical blows with them if need be. It would be in the best interest of the self-defense groups and the northern region if the vigilantes laid down their weapons and joined their government in their work to combat cartels.
Understandably, the vigilantes are slow to trust their government, but Nieto has shown a commitment to peace and to disbanding the violent cartels. If they refuse to join forces with their government, the northern region of Mexico will surely see an increase in violence and homicide, and little in the way of peace.
Natalie Pimblett is a junior political science major.