Violence and militarisation in Guerrero

Guerrero, one of Mexico’s most emblematic states, has been the scene of a complex interplay of factors that have led to an environment of violence and militarisation with a profound social impact on its communities.

Guerrero: Historical and Geopolitical Context

Guerrero is located in the southwest of Mexico and is a state with a crucial role in the nation’s history due to its rich diversity of natural resources and its part in poppy production. This state has seen a shift of crops from the Golden Triangle to the Sierra region, exacerbated by counterinsurgency militarization policies since the 1970s, which have persisted under the premise of fighting drug trafficking. This continuous militarization has facilitated a conducive scenario for the emergence and escalation of armed conflicts and criminal violence, deeply affecting the local population.

Indigenous Communities: Resistance and Autonomy

In the regions of Costa Chica and La Montaña, there is a significant concentration of indigenous populations, such as the Mé`phàà, Naua, Na´savi, and Amuzga, known for their history of resistance against colonial and assimilationist impositions. These areas have been described as “refuge zones,” a term denoting spaces that resist being integrated under the productive and social logics of the State. The rich history of resistance of these communities provides a crucial background to understand their current response to violence and organized crime.

Chilapa: An Epicenter of Violence

Chilapa has positioned itself as one of the most violent municipalities in Mexico since 2009, with an alarming number of cases initiated for disappearances, intentional homicides, kidnappings, and findings of clandestine graves. The reality suggests that these official figures underestimate the true extent of violence and forced disappearances in the region. The prevalence of violence in Chilapa and its surroundings is indicative of the complex challenges faced by indigenous communities in their struggle for security and justice.

Armed Conflicts and Violence Related to Drug Trafficking

The indigenous peoples of Guerrero describe the transition to the current phase of armed conflicts and violence related to drug trafficking as a complex evolution of historical violences, marked by a continuity in state repression and the emergence of new forms of criminality. This perception is based on their experience of resistance over generations against external impositions, starting from colonization to militarization policies and the current war on drug trafficking.

The indigenous community sees this transition as an extension of past struggles and violences, where state counterinsurgency practices and militarization have been constants. The expansion of poppy cultivation and the increasing presence of organized crime in the region are seen as direct consequences of these state policies, which have dramatically transformed the social and economic fabric of their territories. Armed confrontations, kidnappings, and forced disappearances are interpreted not only as manifestations of criminal violence but as the continuation of a long history of repression and neglect by the state.

This interpretation is founded on the collective memory of the communities, which draws parallels between current violences and past repressions, considering both as parts of the same struggle against forms of imposition and authoritarian control. In this context, the resistance strategies adopted by the communities not only seek to address the immediate threats of organized crime and violence but also to reaffirm their autonomy and right to live according to their traditions and community justice systems.

The transition to the current violence is thus narrated as yet another chapter in their long history of resistance, reflecting deep resilience and an ongoing commitment to defending their territory, culture, and autonomy against oppressive external forces. The indigenous peoples of Guerrero, through their resistance practices and community organization, seek not only to survive the extreme violence of the present but also to preserve

“States of Exception”

In Guerrero, the presence and actions of state actors (such as the army and police), para-state actors (armed groups with unofficial but functional links to the State), and criminals (organizations dedicated to drug trafficking, kidnapping, and other illicit economies) intersect in ways that the operations of one may be indistinguishable from the other.

The concept of “state of exception,” coined by political theorist Giorgio Agamben, refers to situations where the State suspends the normal legal order under the pretense of emergencies or threats to national security, often leading to human rights violations. In the case of Guerrero, although a state of exception is not always formally declared, the practice of actions that are outside or directly against the law suggests a de facto suspension of legality and an exercise of power that ignores legal and ethical norms.

Community Responses and the Search for Autonomy

For the indigenous and rural communities of Guerrero, this scenario has profound implications. The ambiguity and volatility of the situation make it difficult to protect against violence and injustice, as the lack of clarity about legality and authority undermines trust in the institutions designed to protect citizens. Moreover, this situation complicates community responses to violence, as resistance and self-defense strategies must navigate a landscape where allies and enemies are not clearly defined, and defensive actions can be criminalized.

In response to this reality, many communities have opted to strengthen or create structures of self-governance and community security, such as community police forces, that seek to fill the security and justice vacuum left by the State. However, these initiatives also face the challenge of operating within a framework that criminalizes their efforts or places them in direct conflict with powerful actors, both legal and illegal.

The blurring of boundaries between legality and illegality and the creation of “states of exception” in Guerrero reflect a deep crisis of state governance and legitimacy. The indigenous and rural communities, caught in the middle of this complex dynamic, continue to seek paths toward peace, security, and autonomy under extraordinarily challenging circumstances.