MEXICO CITY – The leader of one of the first vigilante movements to spring up in Mexico last year filed a petition Tuesday demanding that the government allow communities in the southern state of Guerrero to elect local officials with open assemblies and show-of-hand votes.
Vigilante leader Bruno Placido said the petition filed with the Federal Electoral Tribunal asks specifically that the collective-vote system be allowed in the town of San Luis Acatlan. But Placido said his People's Union movement would push for the system to be adopted in all 27 townships where vigilante forces known as "community police" now operate.
The system known as "usage and customs" forbids traditional campaigning and political parties. It currently is practiced in about 420 indigenous towns and villages, almost all in southern Oaxaca state.
Its adoption in non-Indian or mixed towns in Guerrero would mark a significant expansion. To date, its only use outside Oaxaca has been by rebellious Indian towns in Chiapas state and a lone Indian township in the western state of Michoacan, where a vigilante movement also exists.
Placido said the open-vote system would help keep drug gangs and violent crime out of the communities because current election procedures can put politicians in the pocket of drug gangs that finance their campaigns.
"The crime gangs are fomented by the politicians. When they campaign, they are financed with illicit funds, and when they get in, they are controlled by criminal funds," Placido said. "What we are proposing to do is to get rid of this practice, in which the criminals name the authorities."
His vigilante movement rose up with old shotguns and rifles in Guerrero in January 2013 and now has several thousand "citizen police" vigilantes serving in several towns.
Guerrero has been the scene of stubborn drug violence, including a Monday confrontation between soldiers and alleged drug gang members that killed 22 suspects at a warehouse and left a soldier injured.
The "usage and customs" system has been criticized for trampling on the rights of women, who are sometimes not allowed to run for office. But Placido said the assembly system would allow members of each of the three main ethnic groups in Guerrero — blacks, Indians and mixed-race — to elect representatives to a sort of town council.
There is no deadline for the federal tribunal to rule on the petition. The town of San Luis Acatlan is scheduled to hold a referendum soon on whether to formally adopt the system.
Mexican courts have generally upheld the right of Indian communities to make their own decisions on local governance issues.