The Christian Science Monitor on dreaming up alternative methods of community governance, via the successful case of an indigenous town plagued by criminal gangs from the outside:
The indigenous town of Cherán used to be like many places in Mexico, caving under the weight of drug-related crime and a police force that did little to stop it. But about two years ago, citizens here threw out the police, and took over their local government, running the town according to indigenous tradition. So far, they’ve had remarkable success.
The Purépecha indigenous people have lived in this area for centuries, relying on a mix of subsistence farming and selective timber harvesting. But eventually national political parties gained influence in the village, and five years ago, so did illegal loggers with ties to drug mafias. Eventually, the police intervened, but on behalf of the loggers. So the townspeople threw everyone out: loggers, police, and politicians, too.
The townspeople closed the roads into town, kept vigil around bonfires, and started dreaming up their own system of government, based on Purépecha traditions. They appointed a twelve member indigenous council – of which both Ramirez and Estrada de las Casas. About six months after, the Mexican state granted the town a degree of legal autonomy to govern itself on the local level, according to indigenous tradition.
At a checkpoint on the edge of Cherán, four members of the indigenous guard keep watch. They’re dressed in black cargo pants tucked into heavy boots, and black t-shirts, rifles slung casually across their chests. Santiago Rodriguez is 18 years old, and has been working here for almost two years. Rodriguez says that illegal loggers still pass through sometimes, and that they can be confrontational, but says kidnappings and attacks are mostly a thing of the past.