OTHER LOCAL THEMES
employment and income
introducing the area
justice and crime
quotes about justice and crime
key testimonies featuring justice and crime
There's relatively little mention of crime. Narrators tell more of how officials in the cargo system of unpaid community positions maintain social order, and how on occasions higher-level law enforcement agencies involve themselves in local affairs. Communities apply justice according to their ideas and values and, on the whole, seem to be largely self-policing. A young member of one community (Mexico 9) recounts how failure to do tequio (obligatory, unpaid community service) brings a fine, and then imprisonment if the fine is not paid: ". they charge us a fine, if we don't pay it, well, they lock you up. In the prison. [For] normally 24 hours." The topiles, he says, which is a cargo position charged with keeping order in the community, sometimes use physical force to impose their will on disobedient young men: "You have to respect it . when we were very disobedient... the topiles will probably come to beat us up.".
Another narrator, from Yavesía (Mexico 12), tells the story of his own symbolic punishment for a misdemeanour: ".we were about 12 lads in the basketball team and we travelled around the region, from festival to festival.well, one night we went for a few beers and some boys went to do a bad thing to the teacher in his room.in those days the síndico (senior official) was very strict. So the teacher reported it.and the síndico started to investigate it, starting with the lads of the basketball team, right? They questioned them one by one.It went on for 15 or 20 days I think. but nobody said anything. then the síndico called for me. They said, 'Well.we think that they are guilty, but nothing [has been admitted], and as you are the oldest.well somebody has to be punished, don't they? Because we can't leave this matter as it is; the teacher will think that there is no order, no discipline here'. So.they put me in the [community] prison.That's the only time I've been to jail and well, I paid, not for a crime but a mistake."
It seems that that higher-level government authorities commonly become involved only where more serious crimes are thought to have occurred. So, for example, a gunfight between two communities, with reported deaths, brings in the "judicial police" (Mexico 14): "There was the occasion of the gunfight that happened over there. The next day the judicial police, the army arrived because there had been notifications of deaths, yes! .I was in the village office with my father when the army arrived and well, there was an uproar."
Community officials, including the topiles, are expected to lead defence of community territory. An example is the case of Yavesía, according to another report by the same narrator (Mexico 14) of an incident in 1998: ".there were around 15 [community members] there and everyone around the comisariado (community official).Well, one of those 'friends' from over there, opposing, said that Yavesía had 24 hours to leave, to abandon this village because we are not the owners.when I arrived, he who now is comandante (chief of community police) was there, and my brother, the three were stood in front of the truck.and [they] wouldn't let it pass. He said 'You'll pass here over my dead body and you won't leave here.'" Indeed, some people's fierce pride in their community identity means that they are prepared to do violent battle, if need be, when their territory is under threat.
The community authorities in Yavesía have since resorted to legal procedures to resolve boundary disputes. The same narrator (Mexico 14) tells of how it was at first difficult to understand the legal complexities: "Well, it took a long time, as I told you, a year and a half for me to really understand the situation..." Now they seem confident of a successful conclusion to the legal processes (Mexico 8): "Well as I said, there have been many years of dispute with these communities [Amatlán and Lachatao] and not only with words.We have our lawyers, who are with us, who take care of the process of the documents. We are ensuring that everything goes to order and I hope that this matter finishes and we can say, with every right, that the forest, flora, fauna and water sources should be respected..."
The topiles also become involved where internal boundary disputes give rise to problems between community members (Mexico 14): "".well, my father has gone to rest in the prison two or three times because of the simple fact that we had a problem with land boundaries.well, when one is a child you spend your time eating fruit and at my brother's house there was a pear tree exactly where the boundary is. Well there were problems with the neighbour so what my father did was cut down the pear tree. Shortly after the topiles arrived and took my father to the community prison."
quotes about justice and crime
"The community.has always been very brave. The people are peaceful, the things are done properly, but with things that are done with bad intention, well, the village has its ways of acting.There were even times when there were people, now deceased, may they rest in peace, who came to blows in the forest - that shows with what courage they defended [their territory and resources]."
Mauro, M/28, representante communal (official responsible for community property), Yavesía, Oaxaca, Mexico 14
"They punished [people who didn't obey community traditions] back then, they fined them. Before, they remembered that December is when they do the nativity play, the entire community went to the church to listen, they all went. Nowadays, I see that they don't do the same, it's changing now; [now they do] how they please."
Casimiro, M/62, farmer, Tiltepec, Oaxaca, Mexico 2
"Yes, I went to jail for a night and the next day they let me out, it was about eight o'clock, quarter to eight, the topil (junior cargo position involving running errands and keeping order) came and do you know what he said to me? 'Go and have a coffee and bring your machete (sharp knife) because you've still got some work to do'.By [nine] there were some people there, some surveyors that had made the marks to put in the irrigation system. So I got down to work with these surveyors, clearing the land to mark where the line of the drinking water would be laid."
Mario Fernando, M/36, community manager, Yavesía, Oaxaca, Mexico 12