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Building Autonomy

Cherán: The town that expelled police, politicians and cartels

The drug war launched in 2006 by the Mexican Federal Government and the global economic crisis of 2008 led to an increase and diversification of criminal activities in the state of Michoacán. One of the rising activities in the state was the illegal exploitation of timber resources, extortion, and kidnapping, which directly affected the indigenous community of Cherán. On April, 2011, the community members of Cherán organized themselves to reclaim their territory: first by expelling organized crime gangs, and secondly by declaring an autonomous government. They decided to return to their traditional forms of political, social, and governmental organization. The local electoral authority initially rejected their request, arguing that traditional rights (customs and consuetudinary rights) were not recognized in the local legislation. This decision was challenged before the Federal Electoral Tribunal, which, on 2012, issued Cherán the right to self-determination – an unprecedented event in the history of post-colonial Mexico. 

How it works

About Cherán

The municipality of Cherán is located in a region known as the Meseta Purépecha, in the state of Michoacán. The municipality has a territorial extension of 221.88 square kilometers. It has a population of 18,141 inhabitants, divided into three urban centers: Cherán, Tanaco and Casimiro Leco (Sedesol, 2013). Cherán is the largest indigenous community in terms of territory in Michoacán. The community also acts as the administrative center for the region, making it the only indigenous community that dominates a municipal jurisdiction in Michoacán (Aragón, 2013). In addition to the social attributes already mentioned, an important element to consider is the great forest wealth that the municipality has. It is locates in a mountainous area covered in pine forest (Pinus sp). Forest resources and their derivatives have been and continue to this day to be the basic pillar of the livelihoods of the people of Cherán.


The Movement



How did Cherán and its autonomous movement develop?



How has its success in achieving self-governance affected the community after 2011?



What can Cherán’s experience teach us about indigenous movement building?


A Town's Environmental Revolt

A Town's Environmental Revolt

How avocado expansion and timber extraction contributed to Cheran's search for self-determination.

Read what community members are saying about the struggle

"I think that at that moment we felt the need to support ourselves. You get the courage from seeing your people suffer, from seeing what is happening to others... then all that courage, all that strength comes together. That is when you have to organize. You have to do it. It's not that you want to or don't want to, you are already in the fight and you have to do something for your people. At least I think that is in the blood that runs through us here in the community, that we had to do it either way".

Daniela Flores

(Paredes, 2019)

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