Logging, Social Conflict, and the (Absence of the) State in Mexico

The New York Times ran an excellent piece recently on the indigenous community of Cherán in the Mexican state of Michoacán. There, the cartels’ use of illegal logging has devastated not only the environment but the livelihood of the community, and in the absence of state protection, the community members have taken matters into their own hands.

On the morning of April 15, 2011, using rocks and fireworks, a group of women attacked a busload of AK-47-armed illegal loggers as they drove through Cherán, residents said. The loggers, who local residents say are protected by one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal organizations and given a virtual free pass by the country’s authorities, had terrorized the community at will for years.

Cherán’s residents said they had been subjected to multiple episodes of rape, kidnapping, extortion and murder by the paramilitary loggers, who have devastated an estimated 70 percent of the surrounding oak forests that sustained the town’s economy and indigenous culture for centuries.


[H]ere in Cherán, a group of townspeople took loggers hostage, expelled the town’s entire police force and representatives of established political parties, and forcibly closed the roads.

It’s a remarkable story that gets into a lot of the complexities of community-state-cartel relations and the local impact of the historical absence of the state in rural Mexico. Erik over at Lawyers, Guns & Money has some excellent observations as well, including the decreasing adequacy of understanding the violence in Mexico only in terms of the drug trade:

While legalizing marijuana in the United States would rob the Mexican criminal gangs of a major source of income, the idea that it would somehow resolve the violence in Mexico is absurd. Maybe at one time such a thing might have made a major difference but not now. The gangs have moved into any number of other activities, including kidnapping, extortion, the illegal wildlife trade, and logging, as well as of course smuggling hard drugs. Of course, the U.S. could shut the flow of guns to Mexico but that would violate my rights to have a personal arsenal the size of the Honduran army or something.

Indeed. He also has excellent observations on the complexities of the struggle and on the impact of deforestation, and both his comments and the original article are well worth taking a look at.


About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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