This Mexican town kicked out the government and returned to its indigenous roots. Now they’re practically crime-free – and determined to keep it that way by banning all political parties and elections.
Rebellion, Autonomy, And Communal Self-Government In The Indigenous Municipality Of Cherán, Michoacán
On this episode of the It’s Going Down podcast, IGD contributor Scott Campbell interviews Yunuen Torres, a community member from the autonomous P’urhépecha municipality of Cherán, Michoacán. More than nine years ago, on April 15, 2011, the residents of Cherán rose up and removed from their community illegal loggers linked to cartels, the municipal authorities, and the police. In the time since, they created an autonomous communal government where political power rests in the hands of the community and that has been designed to meet the needs of the more than 20,000 inhabitants of Cherán.
The conversation discusses the uprising and its context, how the communal government was formed and how it functions, the changes and challenges experienced in the community as a result of nine years of autonomy, as well as how Cherán is facing the COVID-19 pandemic, and what lessons and inspiration the community’s struggle may offer to other struggles and social movements in other locations.
The interview was conducted in Spanish and rerecorded in English. Many thanks to the comrade who offered their voice for this recording. The two music tracks included in this podcast are both from Cherán. The first is by Colectivo Aho and the second composed by music teacher Mario López and performed by the young musicians of the Banda Sinfónica Infantil y Juvenil Cherán K’eri. A transcript of the full interview can be found here.
Cherán, Michoacán, is a town of more than 20,000 inhabitants, located in the heart of the meseta P’urhépecha, in the P’urhépecha region. And in 2008, approximately, as the days went by, people began to notice in the community things that were heard in the news or other media outlets, but that weren’t happening in the community. That is to say, the people felt that these things wouldn’t happen in this context. Just like the rest of Mexico, a wave of violence began within the Indigenous community things such as kidnappings, extortion, protection rackets, and attacks on men and women in the community by illegal loggers began to occur. The community started to see the unreasonable deforestation of the forests by people who weren’t from the community but who the local authorities at that time allowed access. There was an excessive plundering of the territory, trees, and resources.
It was very clear this was something very concerning, but it took several years to reach the breaking point. That happened when a group of women in the early morning of April 15, 2011, a Friday at dawn, decided to face down the first truck of loggers that was carrying wood. They decided to put themselves in front of it. They were unarmed, they had a lot of courage, and they took what little they could find in the street, sticks and stones. In response to this action, there was movement in the community and word began to spread to the other neighborhoods of Cherán. Cherán is made up of four neighborhoods, and where this was happening was in the third neighborhood. As the hours passed, information began to be shared with the rest of the community, and that is when action started to be taken to put an end to the situation they were living in.
Celebrating Seven Years of Self Governance in Cherán, Michoacán
On Sunday May 27th, 2018 the indigenous Purépecha municipality of Cherán Michoacán named its third council of elders (Consejo Mayor, Cosejo de Keris) to the communal government of their community. Cherán has been practicing a traditional form of self government for 10 years. On April 15th, 2018 the community celebrated the 7 year anniversary of the it’s uprising against what they all call today: The narco government.
In that moment, life changed in Cherán in that there was unity throughout the entire community to stop the loggers, that were now found linked to organized crime. So, it was confronting one of the forms of organized crime in Mexico, and for all the residents of Cherán to give their efforts and solidarity toward defending the community. From there, a difficult process of defense began. The first year, all of 2011, was exhaustingly complicated, it was also a process that was not just social mobilization but also accompanied by a legal process that was put in front of the state, in front of Mexico, a demand to recognize an Indigenous community capable of organizing itself and of proposing and responding to its own needs as a municipality. And from that point on, there have been many changes. Political parties were expelled, recognition of the municipal authorities was withdrawn – at that point it was an ayuntamiento, the traditional model of local government in Mexico, and other forms of organization began to be proposed that were based on caring for the community itself and its inhabitants.
How an Uprising Became a Communal Government
Yunuen Torres Ascencio, a community member from the second neighborhood in Cherán, Michoacán describes how this occurred.
“When everything started during those days in April 2011, we also say that within Cherán a reencounter began among the inhabitants of Cherán. A kind of union, of meeting one another as neighbors, something that we didn’t do before. And from resisting in the streets, in the bonfires that were created. The bonfire is this space created around the fire, around the burning wood, that generally in our homes has always functioned as the companion of dialog among families. But now, because Cherán is very cold and using this pretext to fend of the night’s cold, it moved to the streets. We could see the fires on nearly every block of Cherán and the people there, sharing, talking about their concerns, their fears, all that came up as a result of being in a process such as this, with a lot of fear that fortunately was transforming into this ability to dialog and to create. A space where a lot of attention was given to listening to the elders, to the grandparents, to those who had knowledge. Here we say, if the elders share something with you, it is because they have done it through trial and error, and it is something that works. So, we need to stay with this knowledge to continue advancing as a community. From there is where the examples they had lived during the trajectory of their lives began to be valued, the examples they gave of how the community organized itself before.”
“The regime that nearly all municipalities have in Mexico is based on political parties. And at least for Indigenous peoples, this was not something that was consulted with us or decided upon by the community to allow them to enter. Rather, it was something that was imposed. It was driven by an outsider perspective, not that of the original Indigenous peoples in Mexico, but from an understanding that was created elsewhere.”
“So, from there, it was said, “Well, at what moment did the forms that worked for the community change?” Such as that before there was representation through councils as the regulatory bodies of the communities, as a community government. Also, with security, at what moment did it come in the form of the police, when in the communities there were always traditional patrols, which is nothing more than volunteer men and women who decided to protect the communities and who had their own way of functioning. From there, the thought was, why not pick up again these models that had always served the communities but that at some moment were drastically changed.”
“From there, these concepts and models began to be taken up again, and it was decided to implement a new form and new reality that Cherán began to take on since 2011. I think from that point there was greater clarity that Cherán should function through a community government that is based on representation of the people through councils and were there wasn’t just one person responsible, like there is in the normal ayuntamiento here in Mexico, which is the municipal president. That model doesn’t fit here and now in its place is a Council of Elders, a council made up of 12 people, where responsibility falls on many shoulders, where decisions are debated among many people, and where consensus is arrived at. And it’s a model where it’s not that easy to do harm to the community, rather the contrary, with many heads thinking and directing a community government. From that point, it was thought that this possibility was something good for the community. There must be agreement among all of them and it must always be supported by the assembly – the assembly is those of us who live in Cherán, and we always have the right to use our voice in those spaces – and the council must continue doing what the people are deciding.”
“So, in this case, having a community government is just a representation of that which we, the residents of Cherán, decide. And that is how, little by little, it was created. It took many days, many weeks, in thinking about its construction, something that was so distinct from the reality of 2011, but thinking about what from our old ways could be applied now. So that’s what it’s been, the community government in Cherán is a reclamation of the wisdom of our peoples but also coupled with the realities that we live today.”
They Overthrew The Government – WeAreChange On Location
In this video, Luke Rudkowski of WeAreChange gives you the latest on the most violent state of Mexico Michoacan. They traveled and visited the anarchist city of Cherán that is thriving simply because of their principles of anarchy. Joined with him is Jeff Berwick of Anarchast who also holds the largest meeting of anarchists annually in Mexico called Anarcapulco.
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