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Illustration by Security Management

New Vigilante Group Hosts Public Demonstration in Southern Mexico

A new self-defense group organized in Mexico in response to cartels’ influence and reach throughout the country. Members of the vigilante movement, calling itself “El Machete,” participated in a demonstration at a sports stadium in Chiapas, Mexico, with weapons on display. 

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that such self-defense groups are illegal and will not be accepted by the Mexican government. López Obrador’s comments came after the public demonstration made by roughly 100 members armed with rifles, shotguns, and machetes in Pantelhó, Chiapas. 

A spokesman for El Machete delivered a message via social media, claiming that approximately 200 residents of the township were killed by drug traffickers. The self-defense group also took responsibility for an incident of gun violence in Pantelhó in June, which resulted in the deaths of several people. According to the statement, the group says it will withdraw from the region once it ousts drug traffickers and cartel assassins. 

The group also alleged that drug traffickers have corrupted local politicians, including the mayor-elect of Pantelhó, who the group accused of securing a victory in the recent election through an alliance with the traffickers.  

El Machete formed in response to drug cartels' growing presence in Chiapas highlands, which is home to hundreds of thousands of members of the Tzotzil and the Tzeltzal—indigenous communities in southern Mexico. According to the Associated Press (AP), some of the group's drills were directed in a Maya-family language instead of in Spanish. 

“There have been a number of confrontations since mid-June in the region and local human rights groups say around 2,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in recent years because of the fighting,” the AP reported. 

The state has long been of interest to cartels, including the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel, due to its lengthy border with Guatemala that offers opportunities for arms, drugs, and human trafficking.  

"Presumed CJNG gunmen killed five suspected members of the Sinaloa Cartel in the state capital Tuxtla Gutiérrez,” earlier this month, according to Mexico News Daily. 

López Obrador dispatched military support to the area, including officers of the National Guard. 

In statements to the press on 20 July, López Obrador said that such groups will not “be accepted,” and that it falls instead to the federal government to guarantee peace and calm. “Nosotros lo estamos haciendo, (We are doing that)” La Journada reported. 

Such vigilante groups are not new to the country. One movement began in the 1990s out of Guerrero, Mexico, and more recent self-defense groups in 2013 and 2014 have risen out of parts of western Mexico, including the state of Michoacan.

“It is estimated that there are around 50 of them operating in the country,” France 24 reported. 

The vigilante groups out of Michoacan and Guerrero have been infiltrated by drug gangs, with Michoacan remaining a “battleground” for cartels, according to the AP.