In the United States, most 6-year-olds are gearing up for summer vacation after finishing their first year in kindergarten. However, for Jeremías Ramìrez, life is very different, reports The Daily Beast. Jeremías spends his days marching in two-by-two formation and halting to attention on a concrete basketball court in the rural Guerrero state in Mexico.
During a break in their training, the child heartbreakingly explains what the exercises are for.
“We’re practicing to defend our town, so los sicarios [hitmen] won’t be able to kill us,” he said.
Jeremías is not the only child to be facing this tough reality. Angélica Flores, who is a mere 12-years-old, also takes part in the drills. Though she says that her desire is “peace, justice, and to keep out the criminals,” she too has a warning for those wishing her small village harm.
“If they come, we’ll be ready for them,” she said.
The two children are part of the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities, a community police group set up by the indigenous people of the area. In Mexico, cartel violence has surged in recent years, with around 8,493 murders in Mexico during the first quarter of 2019. Guerrero is one of the most dangerous states in the country, and is listed as a no-go zone by the U.S. State Department.
The difficulties facing the area are three-fold. First, police corruption in Mexico is a huge issue, and the community worries that the government will not protect them. Second, the province is spread out and rural, leading to logistical difficulties. Lastly, the population is filled with indigenous people, who often face racial discrimination.
Children are not the only members of the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities. Women, too, have started training with weapons so that they can defend their village when cartels attack.
“We would never kill just to kill. But if they attack here again, and some of them must die, so be it. These are difficult times for us, but we’ll protect our children and our homes no matter what,” said Adela Rodrìguez, comandante of the women’s brigade and a mother-of-eight.
Being a member of CRAC can be a dangerous position. In the past month, five high-ranking members were killed by cartel members. In a chilling message, two were dismembered and left in trash bags.
However, the indigenous Nahua people are determined to fight back against the cartels. Comisario and drill instructor Bernardino Sánchez Luna explains that if they do not, the Los Ardillos cartel would make “slaves” of the native peoples.
As drill sergeant for the young children, he explains his heartbreaking dilemma.
“We know we can’t trust the soldiers. Can’t trust the police. We know they work with Los Ardillos. Once we’re dead our children must know how to defend themselves.”
“The government is never going to save them,” he finished.