The Manila Times



Mexican children toting replica rifles march alongside armed members of a self-defense force who say they have been left to defend their village against drug trafficker­s all by themselves.

The inhabitant­s of Ayahualtem­pa in violence-plagued Guerrero state accuse the authoritie­s of abandoning them to their fate despite past killings and kidnapping­s. They blame a local gang called Los Ardillos, which they say is seeking to muscle into their village of bean and maize (corn) farmers located in a major opium producing region.

At least nine locals have been murdered since 2019, but the residents complain that their pleas to the authoritie­s have fallen on deaf ears.

“It’s been 15 months since the government came here and promised to support us. So far we haven’t seen any help,” said self-defense leader Bernardino Sanchez.

Chayo joined the community police force at the age of 15. “Los Ardillos kidnapped my loved ones, and if you go out on the roads unarmed they kidnap you,” said the teenager, now 17, a rifle slung over his shoulder.

“If you go to school, they can abduct you. That’s why the children could no longer study,” he added. Across Mexico, more than 300,000 people have been murdered in a wave of bloodshed since the government deployed the army to fight drug cartels in 2006.

Guerrero, located on Mexico’s southern Pacific coast, is one of the country’s most violent states because of gang wars over the trade in drugs such as opium and marijuana. Last year, it recorded 1,434 murders, out of 34,552 nationwide.

Despite being home to the major tourist resort of Acapulco, the mountainou­s region is one of the country’s poorest, with around twothirds of residents living in poverty. Gang-related violence has led to a proliferat­ion of self-defense groups in Guerrero since the 1990s, and more recently in neighborin­g Michoacan state.

In Ayahualtem­pa, around 30 children aged between six and 12 years old clutching replica rifles or wooden sticks marched behind Sanchez through the village after recent combat training in a sports center.

“Long live the widowed comrades! Long live the orphaned children! Long live the displaced comrades! Long live our fallen brothers!” Sanchez cried from his pick-up truck. Behind them adult members of the self-defense group walked in single file brandishin­g rifles and pistols in front of the media.

A similar demonstrat­ion last year aimed at attracting the attention of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was branded a “disgrace” by the leftist leader. The villagers say it is a cry for help for the victims of violence and for more resources for education.

“We want the president to come and see the community,” Sanchez said.

Lopez Obrador blames violence and poverty in the country of 126 million people on rampant corruption under his predecesso­rs.

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