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Vigilante justice spreads across Mexico

More Mexicans turn to the lynch mob as crime spirals out of control.

The incident sparked disgust and condemnation from many.

“Opening the door to justice by your own hand is an enormous step back to a state of barbarism and lack of culture,” said Huicot Rivas, the president of Nayarit’s Human Rights Commission. “In a democratic state, crime can never be used to combat crime.”

However, others cheered on the vigilantes for trying to clean up the streets.

“For me the men who made this video are heroes. I sincerely admire them,” wrote a reader on the website of Mexican newspaper El Universal. “In Mexico, we need death squads to hunt and exterminate rats and kidnappers without further expense to society and the without human rights people getting in the way.”

“I recognize that this is not the correct way to administer justice but I can’t deny that it makes me happy that this type of thing happens,” wrote another reader.

Such feelings reflect desperation among many in Mexico about the lack of security. Amid a drug war that has left thousands dead, rates of anti-social crimes such as kidnapping and carjacking have risen to become among the worst in the world. At the same time, conviction rates for these relatively minor crimes are as low as 5 percent.

Many readers of newspapers have also written in to commend shadowy vigilante groups that have publicly announced their appearance in crime-plagued communities.

One such group called the Popular Anti-Drugs Army materialized among farming towns in the southern state of Guerrero.

Displaying blankets with written messages on bridges and buildings, the group claimed to be made up of family men who had come together to force drug dealers off the street.

“We invite the people to join our struggle and defend our children who are the future of Mexico,” it said on one of the blankets.

The group has been linked to several killings, including the decapitation of an alleged drug dealer in December.

Following stories of that slaying, readers hailed the efforts in some Mexican media outlets.

“My sincerest congratulations to these brave men with their courage and determination,” wrote a reader of Mexican newspaper Milenio. “God help them with their noble cause.”

Investigators suspect that organized-crime groups themselves could be behind many of the vigilantes. While the gangsters traffic drugs to the United States, some are against selling them in their own communities and are opposed to criminals such as muggers and kidnappers.

A similar situation emerged in Colombia in the 1990s, when paramilitary groups both trafficked drugs and enforced the law against petty crooks in the fiefdoms they controlled.

The investigator Reguillo says that while it may not get as bad as Colombia, the vigilantism does pose a real threat to the Mexican state.

“When armed groups administer their own justice, this represents an alternate power,” she said. “This a major problem for democracy in Mexico.”