Withstanding drug cartels

Child Soldiers in the Fight Against Drug Gangs

In the heart of the Guerrero mountains, the Rincon De Chautla village – a handful of houses lived by Nahuatl people – is being threatened by a criminal gang, Los Ardillos.
After attempting to ally with the community police, Los Ardillos decided there was no time left for negotiations and on 28 January 2019 two hundred armed men attacked the community, witnesses recount. According to the police report 10 people died.

More attacks persisted throughout the whole year. The CRAC-PF community police lives in constant alarm. During his election campaign, president Andres Manuel Obrador received widespread support from all the native Mexican populations: however the Nahuatl in Guerrero believe the president is not doing enough and is no different from his predecessors.
“We will not vote him again, he promised we would be treated like all other citizens, instead we have been forgotten,” says the community police’s spokesman. This is why they have decided to carry out a drastic protest: not by taking to the streets but by recruiting children. On 23 January 2020 international media were shocked by the sight of dozens of children armed to their teeth. Mexico, which for years has been fighting a ferocious war against criminal gangs, now also has its child soldiers. And the government considers this unacceptable.

Mexico, Guerrero, Rincon Chautla, 2019. Since the beginning of 2019, numerous attacks on part of the cartel of Los Ardillos struck the town of Rincon Chautla forcing its residents to defend themselves. Portrait of a mother with child who chose to take part in the town’s community police

Before children, women – the wives and sisters of men killed by Los Ardillos – had decided to take up arms, causing the Guerrero government great concern as they are totally unable to confront this tragedy. The response came in the form of a check point near the village, however the soldiers are too few should they be attacked by well-equipped gangs.
In Guerrero the community police forces are tolerated despite being illegal. Those living in the more remote villages will not accept being left without protection against criminal groups such as Los Ardillos in the Chilapa area, Los Rojos of Chilpancingo, the Guerrero Unidos, the Tequileros, not to mention the more powerful cartels such as that of Sinaloa and the  Familia Michoacan.

Mexico, Guerrero, Rincon Chautla, 2019

The internal war which makes Guerrero one of the most dangerous territories in the whole of Mexico stems from the opium poppy market. The districts of Centro, Tierra Caliente and Montaña are the money producing areas of the Mexican cartels. In 2018 alone the army eradicated 84,000 square metres of cultivated lands despite the fact the market was stalling. Another sore point are the gold mines, also in the mountainous areas, and which immediately become the target of criminal gangs. Taking control of the streets and occupying villages is a way for gangs to consolidate their power and the reason behind their threats to villagers. If they are not willing to give up or leave, war breaks out and daily violence the norm.

Mexico, Guerrero, Rincon Chautla, 2019

According to the Archbishop of Chilpancingo, Salvador Rangel Mendoza, “In this State every opportunity becomes a tragedy,” with reference to refugees in Chichihualco, where the community police forces fight each other to gain control of a road leading to the gold mine. The most obvious consequence is the increasingly high number of “Pueblo Fantasma,” ghost villages, which people have fled from or simply disappeared with no news as to their whereabouts. A classic example is the village of San Felipe, a two-hour drive from Apaxtla. The police will not enter the settlement because the Familia Michoacan is too powerful and has caused all the villagers to flee and become desplazados. Residents in Rincon De Chautla, Tula and Ayahualtempa are concerned it will be their turn next and are deeply afraid of losing their houses or witnessing the disappearance of their loved ones.
There is no saying what the future of the Nahuatl indigenous people will be: some want to take up arms and fight, others are still attempting a dialogue with the government and asking Governor Flores to provide support.