Thanks in part to Gov. Peter Shumlin’s recent State of the State address, it’s well known that there’s a serious problem with illicit drugs here in Vermont — that, like their counterparts throughout the United States, state and local officials have their hands full coping with the problems associated with drug abuse.
What may not be so well understood is the deleterious effect the seemingly endless American appetite for these drugs — especially heroin — is having on innocent citizens in parts of Mexico where many of the drugs are cultivated and then sent north.
For example: When most of us think of Acapulco, we probably think of it as a rather glamorous and even exotic resort favored by well-heeled tourists. But there’s another side to the story: Acapulco is the Mexican city with the highest homicide rate, and that rate is directly related to the drug business.
And both murder and kidnapping — a profitable enterprise for the drug cartels — occur frequently in nearby Ayutla.
In the surrounding area, the otherwise law-abiding Mexican people have found it necessary to form citizen militias — they are illegal vigilantes — in an attempt to keep the peace in their communities, the BBC reported recently. And their reasoning should concern those in Vermont who delude themselves into believing their purchase of illicit drugs is a victimless crime.
“The regular police and the military are all being used by organized criminal groups to carry out their activities,” one militia member explained to the BBC. “They’re not stopping crime. Now we have our own community police, everything is much quieter. In the last couple of months organized crime has begun to disappear.”
According to the BBC report, these vigilantes want to be regarded as noble public servants, filling the gap left by corrupt police. However, their mission is complicated by the fact that the drug cartels are not averse to punishing them for their behavior.
When one vigilante commander was abducted, he assumed his life was just about over.
“They said they were going to kill me,” he told a reporter. “They kicked me and used torture. They nearly drowned me.”
Although he did not know the men who kidnapped him, he said he understood why he was taken.
His militia “had detained some criminals,” he said. “So the gang kidnapped me to use as a bargaining chip to get their people released.”
He was freed after his own militia commander sent word that if his captors executed him, the militia commander would kill 10 members of one of the kidnappers’ families.
In other words, it was a case of one illegal organization threatening another as together they fill the power vacuum created when the proper authorities are corrupt. And that’s been a common complaint in Mexico for years.
Also, there have been allegations of torture against the militias. A lawyer representing some of those detained by the vigilantes (and who are now in state custody while they are being investigated) said his clients were subjected to “electric shocks … applied to genitals … beatings, plastic bags put over their heads — the same kind of practices the police use to extract confessions.”
These citizen militias operate in 13 Mexican states and, according to one newspaper, in 60 cities, and they are increasing in number.
The United States has been waging a seemingly endless “war on drugs” but Mexican authorities protest that Americans do not do enough to discourage the consumption of these drugs at home.
It’s time for other governors to speak up in the same way Shumlin did.
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