~ This article was originally published by AVCNoticias on May, 4 2014 ~
- Soledad Atzompa’s “self-defense” forces showed themselves to Mexico’s Army and Ministry of Public Safety.
- Officials from federal forces toured the town to familiarize themselves with the climate of insecurity.
Soledad Atzompa, Veracruz.- (AVC/Rodrigo Soberanes) The Soledad Atzompa autodefensas [“self-defense force”] appeared before officials from Mexico’s Navy and Ministry of Public Security (SSP) this Sunday at noon and together they toured this town’s communities.
Aboard a convoy of four vehicles – two from the Navy and two from SSP – officials arrived at midday in the Atzompa community. They had come to familiarize themselves with the insecurity prevailing in this region of Veracruz’s central mountains.
After speaking with directors from both federal institutions, Mayor Bonifacio Aguilar Landa dispatched municipal police officers along with members of the “auxiliary police” – who remarked that they are a “self-defense force” – to go on the reconnaissance mission with the visitors.
The community’s judge, Avelino Rafael Hernández, emphasized to the media that the citizens conducting security tasks do so as a “self-defense” force at the request of Soledad Atzompa’s residents.
“It is a ‘self-defense force.’ They are not police officers. We are a ‘self-defense’ force. The town council has six police officers and they cannot take care of all the municipality because it is very big.”
Last Sunday, Mayor Bonifacio Aguilar Landa let it be known that the new civilian organization had been established in Soledad Atzompa. The news sent Veracruz media into turmoil
“The region’s public prosecutors and Congressional representatives have been informed. I am not going to wait for more people to keep disappearing from my town. Now we definitively have autodefensas,” the mayor confirmed.
He also revealed that agents of the prosecutors’ office in the region have been made aware of this initiative.
For almost three hours the municipal patrol car guided the convoy. On board were four civilians who are members of the new security force. The autodefensas began operating when the new municipal administrator came into office.
The auxiliary police identified to the Navy and SSP commanders where they had intermittently placed checkpoints to inspect mostly vehicles from out of town.
Meanwhile, officers from those forces were taking photos and taking down information that they were given in each place they visited. They generally stopped at intersections leading to several communities.
In the Tepaxapa community, the police chiefs found dozens of laborers who approached them to find out the reason for their visit and to express their concerns.
One of their worries is the presence of other self-defense forces from other states that, they say, are filled with alleged delinquents who “have only come to hide.”
An SSP commander listened to them and said: “We are here to help you, gentlemen. We respect the region’s politics. We are not going to have a single problem as long as everything is done according to the rule of law.”
At a checkpoint close to the Atzompa community at around six in the evening, Hernández explained that the entrance of vehicles from outside his municipality has increased and coincides with a rise in crime.
Meanwhile, masked community guards stop vehicles with license plates from other states and inspect them for weapons or drugs. They ask the drivers some questions about the reason for their visit to the municipality.
Hernández said the “drop that overflowed the glass” came two months ago when taxi driver José López disappeared. Four years ago he was a candidate for Soledad Atzompa’s mayor, a member of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).
“He was a good man. They only found his taxi. Nobody knows what happened to him,” said a man from the “auxiliary police” force.
Journalist Rodrigo Soberanes is based in the Americas. Follow him on Twitter @rodsantin. He is the author of “My Country, You are Watching Me Leave” for En El Camino of Periodistas de a Pie, an Open Society supported reporting project about migration. This article, originally published by the Veracruz news agency AVCNoticias appeared under the title, “Autodefensas se presentan ante fuerzas armadas,” available at: http://www.avcnoticias.com.mx/imprimir.php?idnota=179583.
TBI Translator Patrick Timmons (@patricktimmons) is a freelance journalist, independent human rights investigator, and adjunct professor of Political Science and faculty affiliate at the Center for Inter-American and Border Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso.