FOR NEARLY TWO YEARS, Doña Chepa watched as illegal loggers rumbled past her home in Cherán, 200 kilometres west of Mexico City in the state of Michoacán. They taunted her and guzzled beer on their way to destroy the ancient oak forest that surrounds the village, while local police and government officials stood by and did nothing.
On April 15, 2011, Chepa’s tears turned into rage. She organized the town’s women to battle the loggers, who worked for a local cartel that was actively diversifying its criminal portfolio of extortion, kidnapping, drug trafficking and murder. The women used fireworks and rocks to barricade the road leading to the forest.
As the loggers passed through town, they met the fifteen furious women. “We were desperate,” said Chepa. “We had lived, we are old—but our sons?”
Within moments of the initial confrontation, the pueblo (meaning the community) came to the women’s aid. Withstanding gunfire from both the loggers and local police, the community members watched their opponents retreat. Soon after, Cherán dissolved its local government and police force. The community has controlled the police and government ever since.
The action this small group of women took that morning initiated what some see as the start of a revolution. Following Cherán’s lead, more than thirty towns across the country have taken up arms and created their own vigilante groups, establishing autodefensas (community police) groups. Recently, the Knights Templar, the third largest cartel in Mexico, has responded with violence. There is a new front line in Mexico’s drug war.