A community police group in Mexico’s Guerrero state has handed over a group of criminal suspects to the authorities, demonstrating their willingness to collaborate with the state as their legalization is debated.
Armed vigilantes in Ayutla de los Libres, a municipality on Mexico's southern Pacific coast, handed over some 20 men and women who they had detained for over 50 days after accusing them of crimes such as extortion and kidnapping, Milenio reported.
At least 22 other suspects, who were accused of minor crimes, were released after undergoing the vigilantes' "re-education process," according to Animal Politico. The group released another 14 people earlier in February, and claim that they have no more prisoners.
The director of local community police umbrella group the Union of the People and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (UPOEG), Bruno Placido Valerio, said they were giving the authorities the opportunity to punish the suspects, but that if the state releases them, the group would not hesitate to detain them again.
The recent prisoner release comes as the legalization of self-defense groups is being debated by the federal government. El Universal reported that senators from the opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) have proposed reforming the constitution to legalize and regulate the groups.
Numerous armed community police units have recently sprung up across the "Costa Chica" region of Guerrero state, where drug trafficking has led to increased crime and violence. Over 800 civilians are believed to be involved in the groups.
InSight Crime Analysis
Community vigilante groups have been proliferating in Mexico, in a sign of the state's failure to provide security. As the groups develop, they have looked to establish ties with the authorities in some regions, including Guerrero, where self-defense forces have worked with political figures and the military.
However, as the debate over legalizing community policing intensifies, there are serious concerns the groups could abuse their power, fueled by reports in January that a person had been executed by vigilantes.
The dangers of legitimizing these groups are illustrated by the history of Colombia, which over the last few decades has been confronted with rampant violence resulting from both illegal vigilante groups -- such as the leftist militias that controlled Medellin's slums in the 1990s -- and legal groups -- such as the CONVIVIR community defense groups set up in the Antioquia province in the same period.
There is inherent peril in vigilante groups cooperating with the security forces, especially in Mexico where the police and military are deeply infiltrated by criminal groups. In Colombia, legal paramilitary groups evolved into death squads, which often worked with the security forces to carry out the dirty work the legal agencies could not.