Date: November 07, 2019 07:59AM
The group’s trials were the stuff of local lore long before drug cartels entered the frame. Over the past decade, however, leading members of the LeBaron community have distinguished themselves as outspoken opponents to the growth of cartel-related kidnappings, extortion and killings in Mexico.
In 2009, the LeBaron community made worldwide news with a harrowing stand against a cartel in Chihuahua, not far from the U.S. border. A 16-year-old member of the community named Erick LeBaron was kidnapped and held for a $1 million ransom by a local drug cartel. The community assembled and decided not to pay the ransom but to wage a public campaign to pressure the government to take action and secure Erick’s release. Miraculously, the teen was returned without a cent changing hands.
If, by standing up to narcos, the LeBarons had briefly inspired Mexico with hope, their refusal to submit also appeared to infuriate a local cartel leader. Jose “El Rikin” Escajeda, who lived scarcely eight miles away from the prosperous settlement of apple, pecan, and chili farms known as Colonia LeBaron, ordered a team of armed assailants to take revenge.
Two months after the dramatic kidnap standoff, Benjamin LeBaron, who was Erick’s older brother and a leader of the protest campaign that helped secure his release, was abducted from his home in Colonia LeBaron along with his brother-in-law Luis Carlos Widmar, who had come to help.
Both men were shot and their bodies found at the side of the road a short distance from the community with a message attached linking the killings to the family’s public calls for increased policing in the area. (Escajeda, the alleged ringleader of a drug-trafficking family that runs a 120-mile smuggling corridor along Mexico’s border with Texas, was soon arrested for the murders.)
Leaders of the LeBaron community have been among the most outspoken critics not only of cartel violence in Mexico but also of associated corruption within the law enforcement and military agencies tasked with quelling it.
In the aftermath of the 2009 murders, the LeBarons famously took up arms in violation of Mexican law and adopted military-style tactics to protect their community. Alex LeBaron, a brother of Benjamin’s who is a well-known state legislator in Chihuahua, told a news crew from Vice in 2012 that smuggling guns from the United States was “the only way to defend yourself.” (There is no indication that the women and children murdered on Monday were armed or protected by anyone with guns.)
Julián LeBaron, Benjamin and Alex’s brother, is a well-known activist who toured the country in 2011 with the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, a group headed by the Mexican poet Javier Sicilia that publicly rejected the climate of lawlessness and fear fostered by organized crime.
The LeBarons have argued against laws in Mexico that make it difficult for citizens to obtain guns for self-defense. Eventually the Mexican government allowed them to set up armed citizens patrols. Federal authorities later set up a base and patrol inside the orderly community of Santa Fe-style houses that includes schools, parks, a basketball court, and a golf course.
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/07/2019 08:05AM by anybody.