AYUTLA - In the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero, residents of about 15 municipalities have decided to form a “community police” to confront the drug cartels.
“The state," says one farmer matter-of-factly, "has abandoned us."
A commander of the group, who goes by the moniker G1, is talking in the parking lot of the Aurrera supermarket in the town of Ayutla, where the community police have installed their improvised headquarters. He wears a balaclava, and holds a gun. “When we rise against the narcos (drug cartels), they say they will go after us and our families -- so I said, ‘let them come. I will be still waiting for them here,"" he declares. "It is not right for just a few of them to keep us all in fear. We outnumber them.”
As he stops talking, a woman brings a large casserole with rice and beans to feed the group. To get to Ayutla, in the heart of Guerrero’s Costa Chica, one of the poorest regions in Mexico, you need to pass through at least 12 roadblocks: police checkpoints, army checkpoints and community police checkpoints, each asking to see IDs and check out every vehicle. No one protests.
A month ago, locals got tired of the violence, and decided to take control. Groups of men armed with old shotguns took to the streets, the highways and the roads. First it was one, then another, and then one more… all together, 15 towns have raised vigilante forces that neither obey police, army nor any authority that is not from their own communities.
A teenage couple walks past the encapuchados (men with balaclavas), hand in hand. “You see? This was impossible before. We were afraid to leave our houses after 10 p.m.,” says commander G1.
“The state had abandoned us and we had to do something to defend ourselves. Even a scorpion, when you are step on it, sticks out its zinger to defend itself,” says a former corn farmer who now leads one of the self-defense groups.
The situation in Ayutla is a mirror of what is happening in the rest of the country, where the war among and against the drug cartels has left 90,000 thousand dead and 25,000 missing.
But for a month, crime rates in Ayutla have been reduced to zero and the government of Enrique Peña Nieto is starting to worry about this popular uprising, which echoes the 1990s, when the Zapatista revolutionary group declared a “war against the Mexican state.”
“Bring them to justice”
It is 11 a.m. and the sun is already blazing. In the nearby town of El Mezon, a public “trial” has began against 54 people that have been arrested and accused of having ties with the drug cartels – and participating in robbery, drug trafficking and rape.
Bruised and in groups of five, the prisoners, which have spent a month incarcerated in the town’s school, are paraded in public while their charges are read out loud. “Uriel Cipriano (36), accused of organized crime; Vicente Mayo (22) works for the cartels; Román Navarrete (28), accused of raping four women…” “Bring them to justice,” shouts the crowd.
Benito steps to the front, and with his face covered, recalls the months he spent working for the drug cartels: “First we cut off their fingers with a knife. Then with a machete, we cut off their feet, hands and arms, and finally the head, which we leave in an ice box in front of their house.” The 12-year-old boy has just described what he did to an old man who didn’t want to pay his kidnapping ransom.
Cowboy jeans, huaraches (sandals), Benito is as poor as his victim, who wasn’t able to pay the standard $50 biweekly extortion fee. These are the going rates in Guerrero, one of the most forgotten regions of Latin America.
The thousands of rough-looking farmers, who came down the mountain armed to the teeth, do not make a sound as they listen to Benito’s story. Popular justice includes listening to the victims’ testimonies. Some of the encapuchados even cry while listening to the story of the little boy who was drafted into the drug cartel. “I live with my grandmother because I have no mother. Well, I do, but she left to work in the U.S. five years ago, and I never heard from her again,” says Benito. His grandmother turned him in to the community police so he could join them and straighten his ways.
A pair of macaws fly over El Mezon, breaking the tense narrative. The farmers hear out loud what they have been suffering through for years: extortions, robberies, rapes, kidnappings, killings… Until they decided they’ve heard enough.
Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.
BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.
TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.
For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.
No Western equivalent to WeChat
The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.
The flow of innovation is now changing direction.
The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."
Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."
This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.
10,000 new startups per day
There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."
In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.
The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.
Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."
China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.
China's super-app WeChat
The whole market runs on tech
Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."
As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.
Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.
Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.
The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.
Still lagging in some key sectors
There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.
China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.
Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
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