Alex Gore, Daily Mail (London), March 28, 2013
Thousands of armed vigilantes have taken over a town in Mexico and arrested police officers after their ‘commander’ was killed and dumped in the street.
The self described ‘community police’ and arrested 12 officers and the town’s former director of public security, who they accuse of taking part in the killing of Guadalupe Quinones Carbajal, 28, on behalf of a local organised crime group.
The 1,500-strong force has also set up improvised checkpoints on the major road running through Tierra Colorado, which connects the capital Mexico City to Acapulco, a coastal city popular with tourists less than 40 miles away.
A tourist heading to the beach with relatives for the Easter weekend was injured on Tuesday after the vigilantes opened fire on his car because he refused to stop at a roadblock.
The takeover comes amid a growing movement of ‘self defence’ groups in the region, which claim to be fighting against drug cartels.
The town is home to around 20,000 people and at least 2,000 civilians are thought to have fled.
The Tierra Colorado vigilantes have also been searching people’s homes and are reported to have seized drugs from some properties.
The arrested former security official and police officers have been handed over to state prosecutors, who agreed to investigate their alleged links to organised crime.
Many of the vigilantes are carrying high-powered assault rifles, which may have been seized from the former security director’s car.
The group’s ‘commander’ Carbajal’s body had been found dumped in the street in a nearby town on Monday.
The force’s spokesman, Bruno Placido Valerio, said: ‘We have besieged the municipality, because here criminals operate with impunity in broad daylight, in view of municipal authorities.
‘We have detained the director of public security because he is involved with criminals and he knows who killed our commander.’
One of those arrested by the group was Juan R. Escudero,police chief of the municipality.
The vigilantes are part of regional umbrella group Union of Peoples and Organizations of Guerrero State.
The Union is made up of residents in Tierra Colorado, as well as neighbouring towns such as Ayutla de los Libres, Teconoapa and San Marcos.
The growing vigilante movement in southern and western Mexico has seen masked groups manning checkpoints and searching vehicles for weapons.
They have also been searching for those named on a hand-written list of people suspected of crimes including theft and extortion.
In February, a pair of tourists from Mexico City were wounded on their way to the beach when they were shot at after refusing to stop at one of the roadblocks.
The vigilantes claim they are fighting violence, kidnap and extortion by drug cartels – but there are fears that the groups are violating human rights of those they detain and cooperating with criminals.
The state itself is home to some of the poorest rural communities in the country and last year had Mexico’s highest murder rate -with 90 per cent of crimes reported as going unsolved or not even investigated.
It has been the scene of bloody fighting between rival drugs gangs bidding for control of the lucrative smuggling routes around the Pacific coast.
More than 70,000 are estimated to have died in drug-related violence across Mexico in the past six years.
Tourism remains an important part of the state’s economy, with the coastal city’s of Acapulco, Taxco and Zihuatanejo dubbed the ‘Triangle of Sun’.
In January, hundreds of armed vigilantes made a series of arrests and imposed curfews in Ayutla de los Libres and Teconoap.
They also manned checkpoints and claimed they had arrested at least 30 suspected criminals.
One of the masked vigilantes said: ‘They kill, extort, rape. You do know if they are drugs dealers, thugs, who want to grab everything.
‘We want to return peace and tranquility to the entire population. Only the people can restore order.’