Grupos de Autodefensa Comunitaria

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Community self-defense groups, better known as "Autodefensas" (self-defenders) or "Policia Comunitaria" (Community Police)[1] or "Policia Popular"(People's Police) are vigilante self-defense groups that arose in the Gulf and South Mexico regions between 2012 and 2013. Mexico is currently conducting a regularization of these groups to act as Rural Police in order to avoid clashes between the paramilitaries and the military itself.[2]


The presidential administration of Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (2006–2012) began a fight against drug cartels in the state of Michoacán, the primary resource used in the fight was the anti-drug joint police and military initiative known as Operation Michoacán. However, even though in states such as Tamaulipas or Veracruz killings by criminal and military power declined significantly, the campaign against organized crime has caused violent response, increasing the vulnerability of the civilian population due to skirmishes between these organizations and the federal forces.


When the criminal groups known as Los Zetas took over the streets of Michoacán from the previously dominant criminal groups in this state, a local criminal gang La Familia Michoacana was created to oust them and to take back control of the area.

In recent times the first notable self-defense event occurred on April 15, 2011 when a group of indigenous people in Cherán armed with rocks and fireworks attacked a bus carrying illegal loggers armed with rifles and associated with the Mexican drug cartel La Familia Michoacana. The indigenous people assumed control over the town, expelled the police force and blocked roads leading to oak timber on a nearby mountain, the vigilante activity spread to the nearby community of Opopeo. They established self-defence groups. Mexico has recognized Cherán as an autonomous indigenous community, but criminals continued to murder residents in the forest.[3]

When power vacuum occurred La Familia Michoacana fell into infighting and disintegrated, its former members created the Knights Templar Cartel, at first this new criminal group had the support of civil society, believing their promises of protection from Los Zetas, but soon began to commit the same atrocities committed by La Familiar Michoacana and Los Zetas: they began to extort, kidnap, murder and rape civilians, leading to a situation of semi slavery.

For this reason, on February 24, 2013 Hipólito Mora, Estanislao Beltrán and some land-owners, like a doctor from the community of Tepacaltepec José Manuel Mireles Valverde and Alberto Gutiérrez, took up arms against the Templar Cartel and all criminal groups that wanted to impose dominance in the area, entering a new phase in the war against drug trafficking.

As civilian open-carry of weapons is restricted in Mexico, and because federal forces could not legally distinguish between armed-civilian convoys and drug-cartel convoys, they started a hard process of regularization of this militias.

Some defense groups and their members were absorbed into a faction of the Mexican Army (SEDENA) and also registered their weapons; some were issued new legal-weapons by the government.

Other members did not join, arguing fear of disarmament and distrust in the government that left them alone for so long, the groups are currently divided into registered (Rurales) and non-registered groups (Autodefensas), some of the last are being persecuted by the authorities for failing to register their heavy weapons.

This had led to armed clashes between factions, both factions state that they are being betrayed by their former colleagues, or that some member of the opposite faction has ties with the cartels, this in an attempt to legitimize their actions.



They have been known to communicate by telephone with radios and shortwave radios, the "gabacha" is a radio transmitter and receiver they use to communicate among themselves and, as they also pick up signals from enemy groups, serve to spy on the posters that also use this device. The most popular name for the device is "el escaner".


At first the original groups started with their legal small arms, and hunting club rifles, muskets, and .22 caliber rifles (weapons statutorily permitted by the Ministry of Defense ), but as the groups started to defeat criminals, they also were gradually seizing military weapons (M4, AK47, MP5, G3, M60 ). They even have been seen with Barret, 50 caliber sniper rifles, for this reason the SEDENA ordered the disarmament of the Auto defenses, which the average member complied with. They were ordered to register their weapons to the Ministry of Defense and take them into their homes only (as stated by the Mexican law), those who joined the rural guards were also issued the standard M4 rifle.

Currently there are many complaints because the preferences and special treatments that are given to certain groups over others, in relation with bureaucracy to register and protection by the government.


They have different types of vehicles of different brands, mostly pickup trucks and SUVs confiscated from the Cartels, they also have homemade armored vehicles.

Clashes with the Federal Forces[edit]

  • In late 2012 and early 2013, Self-Defense Groups in Michoacán took control of several towns to displace criminal groups such as the Caballeros Templarios, who charged a flat fee of citizens and businesses. In each of the clashes the Autodefensas have used high caliber weapons, which have led to different conflicts with the Mexican army.
  • When newly emerged these groups, their commanders retained their counterparts in the SEDENA, in an attempt to force them to dialog and avoid being disarmed.
  • There were clashes between soldiers and paramilitaries when first trying to disarm them.
  • In a demonstration of the Autodefensas an element of the Mexican army surrounded and threatened by a crowd of protesters shoot several rounds at the unarmed crowd; the incident left a toll of 2 dead and 2 injured; these are now identified by both the government and Hipolito Mora's autodefensas as Michoacan cartel members who had infiltrated to spy on th real autodefensas. The army investigated the killings and found .
  • The government's leader of Rural Defense police, Castillo, was removed after rumors that a cartel bribed him to allow cartel members to join and spy on the Rural Police's formerly-autodefensa members in 2014–15; however, as of mid to late 2015, it was believed that all cartel members had been removed from the Rural Police's former-autodefensa groups. Castillo was reassigned to executive powers over a sports authority, without being further investigated.
  • Hipólito Mora, a Self-Defense leader was arrested in early 2015 and charged for an alleged vigilante/revenge murder, to be released almost two months later.
  • Dr. Mireles Valverde, the spokesman of the Self-Defense counsel, was arrested for collecting firearms not registered with the SEDENA.
  • Groups of "La Ruana" Rural force declared to be upset because most of their weapons have not been returned by the government, and claim to have few weapons to fight the heavily armed criminals.
  • The government has declared that there are some fake-Autodefensas, not of the government's own (Castillo's; see above) making, that are actually working for the recently created Jalisco's New-Generation Cartel.


Most self-defense groups have been converted into bodies of village guards or rural force, the first under the command of the SEDENA and the second under the command of the State Police, although several groups remain without registering their weapons.

Known groups[edit]

The Community Police have several formations in the state of Guerrero, mainly in the region of the Costa-Chica hills and Mountain range, and in the town of Balsas, bordering the state of Morelos.

There are several groups in Michoacán, in the region of Tierra-Caliente, and also in the Cheran municipality (which has an indigenous-community based structure, very different to the rest of autodefensas) as well as in Chapala; in Jalisco and Tamaulipas some self-defense groups have appeared, but it is suspected that they are members of the Gulf Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

See also[edit]

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