On the uncommon occasions that the property comes to Ayahualtempa, the kids are lined up and handed guns. AP Photo
AYAHUALTEMPA: The children successful this upland colony usually walk their days caring for goats oregon cows and playing with their dogs.
But connected the uncommon occasions that the property comes to Ayahualtempa, the kids are lined up and handed guns.
They propulsion connected the shirts of a assemblage constabulary force, screen their faces with handkerchiefs, drawback their guns – fake woody ones for the youngest – and enactment up successful enactment connected the town’s hoops tribunal to airs and march for the cameras.
The images person shocked radical crossed Mexico and beyond. And that’s the point.
Few of those children really wield guns connected patrol, but specified displays present and successful different oft-forgotten communities are hopeless attempts to pull the national government’s assistance to fend disconnected organized criminals.
“They are the poster children for a state astatine warfare that doesn’t talk of war,” said Juan Martin Perez, manager of the Network for Children’s Rights successful Mexico.
The distant portion of Guerrero authorities is 1 of Mexico’s poorest and 1 of its astir violent. It’s a cardinal corridor for cause accumulation and transit, particularly heroin from opium poppies. Communities of the taste Nahua similar Ayahualtempa are caught betwixt warring transgression bands and endure kidnappings, extortion and murders.
On a caller afternoon, 4 boys cared for goats and played with puppies connected a slope looking retired implicit mountaintops moving to the horizon.
Asked astir grooming with guns, the oldest, 12-year-old Valentin Toribio said present they lone march “when the reporters are going to travel and interrogation us.”
“It’s truthful the president sees america and helps us,” helium said.
But determination is astatine slightest immoderate existent training, too.
Valentin said helium had liked learning to occurrence a weapon and hopes to go a policeman erstwhile helium gets older. His older member taught him to shoot, though helium usually lone holds a weapon for the performance. “When I’m older I’ll transportation the weapon due to the fact that (now) it tin beryllium dangerous,” helium said.
His 11-year-old cousin, Geovanni Martinez, is little funny successful the show due to the fact that helium is excessively busy. “I instrumentality attraction of the goats, past I spell to my pigs and past to springiness h2o to Filomena,” his donkey, helium said. If there’s immoderate escaped time, helium plays basketball. He yearns to instrumentality to school, closed for the past twelvemonth by the pandemic.
Asked if helium would sprout astatine an enemy, helium issued a convincing, “No!”
A abbreviated clip later, 3 of the 4 joined astir a twelve others successful a show for visiting reporters. They marched a spot and displayed firing positions from 1 knee, seated and level connected their stomachs.
Clemente Rodriguez, 10, didn’t enactment due to the fact that helium said his parent would not approve. His lone weapons were 2 slingshots dangling astir his neck.
The day’s show was little militant than 1 a fewer weeks earlier, erstwhile immoderate 3 twelve children marched retired of municipality and fired weapons into the aerial portion shouting slogans against the pack that terrorizes them – Los Ardillos, “the Squirrels.”
The town’s demands see much National Guard troops and assistance for orphans, widows and those displaced by unit that has outgo 34 lives successful respective adjacent communities implicit the past 2 years.
Only a fewer of the children successful the village, which has much than 1,000 residents, really instrumentality part. They are each boys; a miss who wanted to enactment was barred from doing so. Most are sons oregon brothers of members of the town’s assemblage constabulary force, guarding the entrances to the municipality with aged shotguns.
The threats residents fearfulness are real, and determination authorities are often suspect. Guerrero is the authorities wherever 43 students from a teachers’ assemblage disappeared successful 2014 astatine the hands of section constabulary and authorities and national authorities moving with a cause gang.
Around Ayahualtempa, the Ardillos pack is battling with Los Rojos – “the Reds” – and galore communities person formed their ain forces. But enactment disputes and pack infiltration person fractured those forces and galore radical conflict to place who is connected which side.
The result, says Abel Barrera, laminitis of section quality rights radical Tlachinollan, has acceptable section radical against 1 different portion the authorities does thing to halt the unit oregon lick different heavy problems.
“We’ve normalized that these children don’t eat, are illiterate, are workplace workers,” helium said, and mocked the outrage that outsiders consciousness astatine seeing children carrying guns: “We’re utilized to the ‘Indians’ dying young, but, ‘How situation they limb them!'”
Bernardino Sanchez Luna, co-founder of a vigilante coalition, said authorities did thing erstwhile pack members erstwhile attacked the assemblage of Rincon de Chautla successful the aforesaid region. That prompted the radical to administer a video successful 2019 of children performing military-style drills with sticks.
Asked why, helium said, “Because they didn’t wage attention!”
Sanchez Luna said the authorities coiled up donating immoderate lodging worldly for the displaced, but the unit continued.
Another show came successful January 2020 successful Alcozacan – a 30-minute thrust from Ayahualtempa – prompted by the slaying of 10 musicians from the town. The victims, including a 15-year-old boy, were burned and their vehicles sent disconnected a cliff.
After 17 children paraded for the cameras with existent guns, the assemblage was fixed scholarships for the victims’ orphaned children and houses for the widows.
But conscionable 2 months later, a mates and their 2 young daughters were killed successful a adjacent community, infuriating residents again.
An April 10 show successful Ayahualtempa – the much assertive 1 successful which children fired successful the aerial – came conscionable 2 months earlier large midterm elections successful Mexico that could specify the remaining 3 years of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador‘s administration. It was an look of interest astir unit that often increases during governmental campaigns.
The president noticed. Lopez Obrador condemned the exploitation of children and said helium believed Mexico had made a mistake successful allowing self-defense for Indigenous communities. Criminals had taken vantage of the legalization of alleged assemblage constabulary forces to make their ain equipped groups, helium said.
“The authorities has to warrant nationalist safety,” helium said. “If determination are gaps, they are filled,” but with the National Guard.
However, the authorities didn’t instantly nonstop assistance oregon bolster security, radical successful the colony say.
International organizations person responded to the displays with condemnations of the “recruitment” of children and warned of the effects.
But Barrera, the rights activist, said of the communities: “They spot that the contented of the children is effectual for making radical instrumentality announcement and they think: If that’s what works, we’ll person to support doing it.”
National Guard troops person a checkpoint connected the roadworthy connecting the communities to Chilapa – the nearest sizable municipality – and the service has different nearby. Farther up the road, determination are different equipped men, whom locals place arsenic Ardillos.
Residents accidental that erstwhile the criminals are connected the move, national forces look the different way.
Three miles (five kilometers) extracurricular Ayahualtempa, the shade colony of El Paraiso de Tepila is simply a reminder of what tin happen. All 35 families who lived determination fled. More than 2 years later, nary 1 has returned. The exterior of the schoolhouse that faces the roadworthy is pocked with slug holes.
Nearly 2 years ago, erstwhile Ayahualtempa itself was nether siege, Luis Gustavo Morales couldn’t safely question the kilometer (half mile) from location to his mediate school. That was erstwhile his parents began to person him bid with a gun.
Now 15, Luis Gustavo says helium ever carries a pistol. Chambering a slug and unloading it successful beforehand of journalists, helium appears comfy with the weapon. He is the lone lad who joins his begetter each 16 days for shifts guarding the municipality entrance.
Community constabulary accidental teaching their children to support their homes with guns is antithetic from the exploitation of children by profit-seeking transgression gangs.
Luis Gustavo’s father, Luis Morales, said that astatine archetypal it made him bittersweet to bid his lad to support the town, but present helium is arrogant due to the fact that the lad volition cognize how. Still, helium planns to nonstop him backmost to schoolhouse if Ayahualtempa becomes harmless again.
The past march of equipped children happened April 30 – Children’s Day successful Mexico – successful adjacent Alcozacan.
Some 20 media outlets showed up, galore of them international. But this clip determination were nary guns – lone toys and slogans astir justness and demands for safety. Children besides chanted against guns and drugs.
Satisfied, the section organizers smiled wryly. The media had turned up for the show, which unfolded without accusations from the authorities that the assemblage is endangering its children.
But radical successful Ayahualtempa accidental they program to support displaying equipped children until they consciousness safe. As young Valentin noted, “There are a batch of atrocious men who privation to wounded us.”