For years, illegal loggers in rural Mexico have cut down trees without much government resistance. Recently, the problem has gotten worse, as organized crime syndicates entered the business and armed loggers with automatic weapons. Near the small town of Cheran, thousands of acres of old-growth forest were cut down. Locals who fought the logging were shot. After police failed to help, bought out by the loggers, the citizens of Cheran decided to take matters into their own hands.

One year ago, citizens kicked out the town’s police force, set up armed barricades and took loggers hostage. Today, the townspeople still keep watch over roadways 24 hours a day, sitting at bonfires that block the roads. And — at least for now — the logging has stopped.

The residents of Cheran are indigenous peoples called Purepechas. Last fall, months after their fight began against the loggers, the townspeople went to court to get permission to self-govern, a right that’s sometimes granted to indigenous communities. Now, though they still pay taxes and receive some money from the government, the people of Cheran are officially in charge. Crime, they say, has dropped close to zero, and they are finally beginning to feel safer.

Despite any victories, they still face major challenges. The Purepechas have lived in the area for centuries, and relied on the forest for their livelihood. Now — even with the logging stopped — the forests are decimated.

Main photo credit: Pepe Rivera/Flickr