A children’s army to fight organized crime in Mexico

Community police in the state of Guerrero have recruited 20 minors to redress the authorities’ inability to contain the violence

Organized crime in Mexico
Child members of the self-defense groups in Ayahualtempa, in the state of Guerrero, Mexico, on January 24, 2024.Dassaev Téllez Adame (CUARTOSCURO)
Georgina Zerega

Each armed with a rifle, 20 minors joined the ranks of the self-defense groups in Ayahualtempa, in the state of Guerrero, on Wednesday, January 24. A community police force in the area, formed 28 years ago by residents of 16 municipalities in southeastern Guerrero and also by members of the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities and Founding Peoples (CRAC), swore in the new members a few days after the kidnapping of four individuals from the Nahua community. The shocking image of children aged between 12 and 17 wielding weapons exposes the shortcomings of the local authorities, who have left multiple communities besieged by organized crime.

As if commanding soldiers, an adult shouts at the 15 boys and five girls lined up on a sports field to stand to attention. Their faces covered, the children do as they are told. Then they raise their weapons and place them on their shoulders. Some are no more than a 3 feet tall. All are dressed in a green military T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Community Police.” They are not the first children to join the self-defense groups in Mexico, but every time a new posse is recruited, it triggers a strong reaction in Mexican society and on social networks. The CRAC has justified the drastic measure by claiming the authorities are inefficient. They have also stated that the children will only carry out surveillance tasks.

For several years, the community police have confronted the drug cartels and criminal organizations that operate in what is one of the poorest regions in the country. The latest incident involved the kidnapping of a married couple and their two children on January 19, while they were out tending to their cattle. The villagers have targeted the criminal group responsible, Los Ardillos, which is fighting for control of the drug trafficking business in the state. The operations launched by the state and federal forces have failed to find the victims of the kidnapping after six days, pushing the CRAC to take action and launch a public complaint.

Three young members of the Ayahualtempa self-defense groups with their rifles in hand.
Three young members of the Ayahualtempa self-defense groups with their rifles in hand.Dassaev Téllez Adame (CUARTOSCURO)

Organized crime plagues a number of communities in Guerrero. The criminal gangs going by the names of La Familia Michoacana and Los Tlacos paralyzed the tourist town of Taxco this week, following the murder of a public transport driver and two police officers from the state prosecutor’s office, whose bodies were found along a roadside on Wednesday, January 24. Still recovering from Hurricane Otis, Acapulco is experiencing similar levels of violence. For weeks now, public transport has been only half-operational as workers fear becoming targets.

Governor Evelyn Salgado has tried to quell public criticism with the departure of her state Security Secretary, Evelio Méndez, who stepped down in the midst of the wave of violence, citing medical problems. On Thursday, January 25, when the media reported the formation of the army of child soldiers, Salgado presented the new head of the secretariat, Rolando Solano Rivera. She was accompanied by the head of the Army, Luis Cresencio Sandoval, and the Federal Security Secretary, Rosa Icela Rodríguez, who congratulated the outgoing Méndez for his service and said he will now be incorporated into the public administration.

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