Women Kicked Out Organized Crime in This Mexican Town

The people of Cheran haven't had a single slaying or serious crime in six years.

More than 180,000 people have been killed in Mexico since then-President Felipe Calderon sent the army to fight organized crime groups in his native state of Michoacan in 2006. But one small town in that state says it hasn't had a homicide since 2011 because its residents — led by women — took up arms to kick out groups who had expanded from drug trafficking into illegal logging. While overall in Michoacán, federal authorities say 614 people have been killed this year, a 16 percent increase from 2016, the people of Cherán say they've become immune to serious crime. They expelled the politicians and local police, and community members now patrol the area wearing uniforms emblazoned with the slogan “For Justice, Security and the Restoration of Our Territory.” Photographer César Rodríguez traveled to the town of 20,000 to photograph the community. 

Members of the local police force, known as the Ronda Comunitaria, guard a checkpoint in the town of Cherán, Michoacán State, Mexico. The Ronda Comunitaria is made up of local residents, both men and women, from the community.

Photograph: César Rodríguez/Bloomberg

This year, Mexico homicides climbed to 12,155 through June, according the nation's interior ministry, up 31 percent from the same period in 2016. The 2,234 killings in June were the most since any month since at least 2001. The town of Cherán is located in the Mexican state of Michoacán, known as one of the most dangerous states in Mexico.

Photograph: César Rodríguez/Bloomberg

After Cherán’s uprising in 2011, the town built the "San Francisco" Tree Nursery  employing men and women of the community.

Photograph: César Rodríguez/Bloomberg

The nursery was completed in 2013 and the community estimates that it has produced more than 1 million trees.

Photograph: César Rodríguez/Bloomberg

Trees from the nursery are used for reforestation projects or sold to nearby towns.

Photograph: César Rodríguez/Bloomberg

The Mexican government recognizes Cherán as an autonomous, self-governing community under the Usos y costumbres legal provision granted to some indigenous communities throughout Latin America.

Photograph: César Rodríguez/Bloomberg

For the past six years, the townspeople claim they have dodged the statistics that plague the rest of Mexico. Pedro Chavez Sanchez, a member of Cherán's elder council, spoke to photojournalist César Rodríguez, on how Cherán succeeds in spite of the violence growing in the rest of Mexico. “Things can not change unless you change things within, and that is how we did it. We worked as a community to create the change that we wanted. We listened to our elders, we trusted in our customs. If we have a problem, it is our problem, we solve it as a whole. We have no political parties, and we have no organized crime."

Photograph: César Rodríguez/Bloomberg

The Forest Keepers, the community’s defense team against illegal loggers, patrols the land daily.

Photograph: César Rodríguez/Bloomberg

If illegal loggers are caught today, their tools and machines are confiscated.

Photograph: César Rodríguez/Bloomberg

Depending on the extent of damage to the land, illegal loggers are fined and could face jail time.

Photograph: César Rodríguez/Bloomberg

There are no permits to cut healthy pine or oak trees. The only trees that can be cut are those that are dead or have been damaged by severe weather and have prior approval by the community council.  

Photograph: César Rodríguez/Bloomberg

A Forest Keeper checks a permit from men thought to be illegal loggers. The permit was determined invalid, and their tools were confiscated. 

Photograph: César Rodríguez/Bloomberg

“Since the very beginning we have wanted three things: security, justice, and the restoration of our land. Security was made possible thanks to our community patrol. The reconstitution of our land has been made possible because of the tree nursery. Justice, however, that is not that easy. The people of Cherán have lost loved ones, have family members that remain missing, they have pain, so justice is the hardest to reach, but we are progressing.” —Pedro Chavez Sanchez

Photograph: César Rodríguez/Bloomberg