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The New Zapatistas?

Meet the indigenous rebels of Cherán, Mexico.

Back in September, as the Mexican presidential elections were still in full swing, we headed to Cherán, an indigenous rebel town located in the southwestern state of Michoacán, Mexico, to celebrate the first anniversary of their fight against organized crime and the protection of the nearby forests.

For several years, Cherán’s forests were illegally deforested by loggers protected by the notorious La Familia cartel. Locals asked the government for protection but were ignored. So on April 15, 2011, the townspeople took matters into their own hands. Armed with sticks, stones and machetes, the people of Cherán seized the local government and police buildings and set up burning barricades around the perimeter of the town.

By appealing to various national and international laws, they achieved indigenous autonomy and were granted the right to establish their own form of government.

The deposed municipal president and his cabinet were expelled from town. Cherán is now governed by a council of 12 elders and protected by a volunteer militia that utilizes expropriated weapons and vehicles. Today, one year after the uprising, they still maintain barricades at all four entrances into town.

The townspeople have banned all political propaganda within the town and refused to participate in the presidential elections that were held this past July. As one of the members of the council said, “If the government had the least bit of dignity, they wouldn’t even dare to talk about elections when our own security here has been in jeopardy. That is why we will have no more political parties in Cherán.”