I recently read an interesting article about a negotiation taking place between Mexican authorities and the citizens of Olinala, Guerrero, Mexico. The article, which is copied below, describes the citizens’ take-over of the city in response to gang violence associated with the drug trade.
Mexico Negotiating With Vigilantes Holding Town
Mexican authorities said Friday that they are close to striking a deal to provide more security for a southern town where angry villagers seized control after a taxi driver was kidnapped and killed.
Olinala Mayor Eusebio Gonzalez said the takeover began Saturday after about 100 people stormed a house where the four presumed kidnappers were hiding and killed the suspects by burning the building.
He said nearly 700 residents had since been taking turns policing entry into the town by barricading streets and installing checkpoints.
Gonzalez said the taxi driver’s killing was the latest in a series of violent attacks and Olinala residents are demanding more protection from criminal gangs.
Gonzalez said the Guerrero state governor has promised to increase help to battle drug crime.
“We’re looking to establish order. The governor is aware of the situation and wants to improve the situation,” Gonzalez said. “People feel like there isn’t another way.”
Known for its artisanal lacquered boxes and quaint colonial-style streets, the town’s vigilante unrest erupted at the taxi driver’s funeral when rumors circulated that a second driver had been kidnapped.
“Things got really ugly,” said Paola Rosendo, an Olinala resident.
Rosendo, a 50-year-old artisan, said tourism has decreased sharply over the last few years, forcing artisans to leave town in order to sell their crafts.
Eduardo Gallo, a respected Mexican anti-crime activist, said Olinala is just the latest in a series of towns where people have taken up arms to combat organized crime in frustration over the government’s inability to control drug violence.
“People took over in order to prevent authorities’ collusion with criminals,” Gallo said.
At least two towns in the western state of Michoacan have formed their own armed guard forces and thrown up roadblocks to keep out criminals. Towns in northern Mexico also have taken similar measures. 
The position of the Olinala residents seems clear: they are going to hold the city until the government provides what— from their perspective— is sufficient protection against gang violence. Though the only way to understand the citizens’ perspective would be to ask them about it and listen carefully, I am going to attempt to uncover some of their interests and consider possible options based on the information contained in the article. Understanding their interests is key to unlocking options for ending the dispute between the citizens and the government.
It appears that the following interests are at play for the Olinala residents: personal security, economic security, and civic order. The first interest seems to be the key interest of the citizens, and the other two interests are loosely contingent upon the first. The citizens feel that the government has failed in its duty to protect them from violence committed by gangs, which threatens the citizens’ liberty, health, and lives. If the government cannot assure the citizens that their liberty, health, and lives will cease to be threatened by gang violence, the dispute will likely continue.
Economic security is another interest that should be addressed if the Olinala residents and the state are to reach an agreement. The violence currently associated with Olinala has caused economic hardships related to tourism. This has likely caused a great deal of frustration amongst the town’s people which will not subside until this interest is addressed.
The third of the aforementioned interests is the community’s need for civic order. The citizens’ intervention into protecting their town has been undertaken to ensure order. If the state can aid in restoring order to the town, they will be able to address this core concern of the citizens.
If you were advising the government, what suggestions would you give them regarding options that may address the citizens’ interests? Obviously, reaching agreement about an acceptable level of police or military presence as well as the duties the police or military will perform is key. A strong military presence that is tasked with appropriate duties will help address the concerns regarding personal security and civic order. But what about economic security? If the citizens have watched their economy suffer as a result of their town being associated with violence and disorder, what could the state do to help address their economic interests? Restoring and maintaining order will be key to revitalizing the local economy, but that will take time. In the short term, perhaps the government could work out an arrangement with tourism bureau to start a marketing campaign on the city’s behalf.
Regardless of the type of dispute or the parties involved, it is imperative to understand the other side’s interests. If you do not know their needs, motivations, and concerns, it will be very difficult to strike a deal.
- Romina Ruiz-Goiriena, “Mexico Negotiating With Vigilantes Holding Town,” ABC News, November 3, 2012, http://goo.gl/al1Lwv