#VoicesOfChange: Residents unite against cartels in Guerrero, Mexico

Ilustración de Global Voices

This is the second interview within the series #VoicesOfChange

Guerrero is a state on Mexico's Pacific coast, known for its touristic city Acapulco. However, Acapulco is ranked the second most violent city in the world, and Guerrero, the second poorest state in Mexico. Paradoxically, Guerrero also produces the most gold in Mexico, making it a “poisoned treasure” as the increasing dispute between cartels for control of the mining industry unfolds.

There are currently 16 organized crime groups operating in Guerrero, the most notorious of which is the organization known as “Los Tlacos,” which has made headlines for its threats against politicians. These criminal groups are known for their kidnappings, killings, and control of prices, which in turn have caused people to be displaced. They also deal in crystal meth, an artificially synthesized drug that is extremely addictive and toxic. It currently represents a public health problem in Mexico.

Guerrero is one of the states in which municipal presidents, or incumbent politicians, have been most often accused of having ties to organized crime. The Ministry of National Defense reports that most local governments, in coalition with state and federal government forces, participated in the massacre and disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa.

Currently, state governor Evelyn Salgado Pineda has allegedly had compromising ties to the Beltran Leyva Cartel. She is the daughter of Félix Salgado Macedonio, who was also accused in 2021 of having ties to this cartel and to U.S. drug trafficker Edgar Valdez Villarreal, alias “La Barbie,” in addition to being accused of sexual violence.

In this context, civil society organizations, communities, or informal groups have emerged to confront up close the problems they live with on a daily basis. One such example is the grassroots organization called “Pueblos Unidos” (United Peoples), which Global Voices interviewed. It has been working for eight years, mainly in northern area and Tierra Caliente of Guerrero. They previously worked in armed self-defense groups, which are vigilante community groups in Mexico that, faced with the inaction of public authorities, arm themselves to defend themselves from cartel attacks.

However, relying on the federal government under an agreement, they have laid down their arms on the condition of getting results. They now dedicate themselves to denouncing the violence and corruption that plagues the region on Facebook, where they have 16,000 followers on their page.

In light of the dangerous situation in Guerrero, criminal threats against Pueblos Unidos, and the ongoing escalation of violence against activists, the interviewee will remain anonymous under the name “Pueblos Unidos” as well as the interviewer, who speaks on behalf of Global Voices. The interview was edited for clarity and is the second installment of the #VocesDelCambio (#VoicesOfChange) interview series, focused on highlighting the experiences and expertise of human rights activists in Latin America.

Global Voices (GV): Who is in your group?

Pueblos Unidos (PU): This organization is made up of many people (both men and women regardless of age), we also have municipal presidents. We are the United Peoples of the Northern Zone and little by little more are joining from the state of Guerrero, because we are tired of seeing our government not doing anything. We became aware towards which criminal group they are closest to, [the criminal group “Los Tlacos”.]

That's how it is in the whole state. In most of the state, there were self-defense groups years ago, and with the negotiation and the deal they made with [the governor accused of ties to drug trafficking] Felix Salgado Macedonio, they began to destroy the self-defense groups claiming they were responsible for crimes. The Tlacos reached the communities and in the eyes of the federal government, the self-defense groups were criminals.

GV: Is there any coalition with other organizations or do you work independently?

PU: Not really, Los Tlacos broke the codes between mafias by bringing women and children, that's why we don't allow intermeddling [as the criminal group wanted to infiltrate them].

GV: What led you to take up arms?

PU: Prior to the abuses [committed by organized crime and the government], we have been motivated by the kidnappings that took place previously in the Northern Region of the State of Guerrero. Little by little this led us to take up arms. Today we have laid down our arms and we have handed over security to the state and federal government, but reiterating to them that, if any situation happens within the municipalities of the Northern Zone, we are ready to rise up.

GV: What is your relationship with the state government of Guerrero?

PU: The organization has taken a stand against Evelyn Salgado Pineda, governor of the state of Guerrero. She is not really the governor, here the mastermind of everything is her father Felix Salgado Macedonio, who took advantage of the Fourth Transformation [the proposed political change of Mexican President Lopez Obrador and his MORENA party] to put his relatives into this. They have relatives involved in organized crime.

GV: What do you do on a daily basis to fight them?

PU: We opt for social media to spread our needs and hope that someone will listen to us, and make us reach the ears of our President of the Republic.

The most painful thing here is that we have paisanos [people from the same state or city] with money, [those from Guerrero who are businessmen or owners of conglomerates, who have accumulated a great deal of capital]. But we have never been taken into account, when we really needed it. Instead of helping us, they turned their backs on us, and they do have money to spread it through the media at a national level, because they have friends in several important media outlets. Global Voices is the first media that contacted us.

GV: What encourages you the most to continue fighting despite the threats from organized crime?

PU: Our young people, they are the ones who really motivate us and what makes us keep on fighting, because we do not want them to try drugs, we have a real battle against crystal meth.

GV: Have you ever wanted to give up?

PU: No, not at all, for our families we are willing to give up our lives, even if it is in the hands of the government, or whomever, but the physical integrity of our children and our families is paramount. If the only way out is to pay the price with our lives, we will gladly go, but we want a state free of Tlacos, free of fentanyl and free of crystal meth.

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