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Is the price of freedom and safety—Vigilantes?

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Exact numbers of Mexican nationals killed in the fighting among rival drug cartels, the police, and government soldiers since the beginning of that nation’s War on Drugs are hard to come by. By the end of Felipe Calderon’s administration (2006–2012), the official death toll of the Mexican Drug War was at least 60,000, although unconfirmed accounts set the homicide rate above 100,000 victims, given the large number of people who have disappeared. Besides the numerous causalities on the sides of the main combatants, the drug cartels and the Mexican police/soldiers, many thousands of innocent civilians, everyday people, have been killed. The violence and carnage witnessed by Mexicans and the world at large is on a scale which dwarfs the battles between Al Capone’s organization in Chicago and his criminal competitors and federal agents/local police during the period of U.S. Prohibition. It certainly rivals the bloodshed experienced in Colombia during its drug wars of the 1980s and 1990s; it rivals smaller scale conflicts which have sprung up around the world during civil wars in several developing and Third World countries.

With local police outgunned and/or compromised by drug cartels and the heavy-handed tactics of the military units sent in to restore order(not to mention the defection of some of them to the cartel or the creation of new cartels{i.e. Los Zetas}, ordinary citizens have gone back in time to a particular institution of the American West—vigilantes. These are members of a community who as self-appointed individuals and group undertake law enforcement without legal authority. They usually take the place of sworn law enforcement when there is none or it is corrupt and/or intimidated. While such groups have existed throughout the world and throughout history under various guises(and continue to exist to this day around the world), it is most often a concept associated with the opening of the American West.

In present-day Mexico, the groups of vigilantes are not limited to a single region or state. The blog site, Just the Facts, on March 13, 2013 brought together an analysis of the reach of vigilantism across the entire country. Al Jazeera America recently aired a segment about an unique vigilante group in the province of Guerrero—an all-female group. One would hope that these women, the modern-day Mexican echo of the classic Greek play, Lysistrata, will be enough to end the bloody conflict ripping at the heart of our neighbor to the south. The unfortunate fact is they probably will not. It is more likely that Mexico, like Colombia before it, can look forward with sadness to many more years of violence and death.


About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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