Self-Defense in Mexico

Indigenous Community Policing and the New Dirty Wars

By Luis Hernández Navarro

Translated by Ramor Ryan

278 pp., 6.125 x 9.25

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5453-9
    Published: May 2020
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5452-2
    Published: May 2020
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-5454-6
    Published: March 2020

Latin America in Translation

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In Mexico and across other parts of Latin America local Indigenous peoples have built community policing groups as a means of protection where the state has limited control over, and even complicity in, crime and violence. Luis Hernández Navarro, a leading Mexican journalist, offers a riveting investigation of these armed self-defense groups that sprang up around the time of the 1994 Zapatista uprising in Chiapas. Available in English for the first time, the book spotlights the intense precarity of everyday life in parts of Mexico. Hernández Navarro shows how the self-defense response, which now includes wealthier rancher and farmer groups, is being transformed by Mexico’s expanding role in the multibillion dollar global drug trade, by foreign corporations’ extraction of raw minerals in traditionally Indigenous lands, and by the resulting social changes in local communities.

But as Hernández Navarro acknowledges, self-defense is highly controversial. Community policing may provide citizens with increased agency, but for government officials it can be a dangerous threat to the status quo. Leftists and liberals are wary of how the groups may be linked to paramilitary forces and vulnerable to manipulation by drug traffickers and the government alike. This book answers the urgent call to understand the dangerous complexities of government failures and popular solutions.

About the Authors

Luis Hernández Navarro is a journalist and the opinion editor of La Jornada in Mexico City. He has a long record of covering social movements and activism and participated in the San Andrés Accords during the 1994 Zapatista uprising.

For more information about Luis Hernández Navarro, visit the Author Page.

Ramor Ryan is a translator and the author of several books, including Zapatista Spring.

For more information about Ramor Ryan, visit the Author Page.


“[A] just testament to the struggle of so many poor, marginalized Mexicans to defend themselves, their families, and their communities from the violent oppression not just of so-called narcos, but of a corrupted and corrupting state.” —H-LatAm

“One of the most famous journalists in Mexico and the lead writer for the daily newspaper La Jornada, Luis Hernandez Navarro offers a complex [portrait] of civilian self-defense groups. While he treats the subject with a critical eye, Hernandez Navarro’s basic sympathy is nonetheless clear: it lies with the often indigenous or poor protagonist, who seems to have no viable options other than participating in self-defense.”—Manuel Burkhardt, Latin American News

“Hernández-Navarro’s beautifully written book stands out for centering the voices of people in ways that illuminate their dignity, endurance, and resilience. Explaining a range of responses to the insecurity Mexicans experience in their daily lives, this work will resonate with readers thinking about geographies of policing, social movements, activism, and liberation struggles.”

—Altha J. Cravey, author of Women and Work in Mexico’s Maquiladoras

“The most comprehensive, timely, and successful journalistic investigation on a subject that has acquired great notoriety in Mexico. . . . a work of the first order.”—Gilberto Lopez y Rivas, Autonomias: Democracia o contrainsurgencia