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Countryside Justice

Countryside Justice

Hello and good day!

In Peru there are unsanctioned law enforcement bodies called "Rondas Campesinas".

The word "campesino" refers to people who live out in the countryside. "Ronda" means round and could reference that these groups are rounded up only when needed, or that criminals are put in the middle of a circle of people and whipped with rods.

The rondas are not permanently funded standing police forces. They are only called upon when the regular police don't have enough manpower, or when the police themselves are part of the problem and the community has nowhere else to turn.  

I have two stories to tell you about the rondas.

The first took place in my wife's hometown, Celendin, during COVID lock downs. Peru was one of the two countries hit hardest by COVID. The hospitals were overrun, and the national government put strict prohibitions on the movement of citizens.

Laws then had to be enforced at the local level.

There were very specific rules about who could leave their house and when.


When restrictions were first put in place, the people of Celendin didn't appear to be taking the rules seriously enough. Local police weren't able to execute the laws and decided to call in the ronda campesina.

A good friend of my father-in-law's, a deeply moral Christian man, decided one day to go out when he wasn't supposed to. For whatever reason, he thought it wouldn't be a big deal to bend the rules a bit.

He normally wouldn't do something like that, but even a wise man makes a mistake from time to time.

He only planned to be out for a few minutes, just a brief sprint to the store to pick up simple necessities. While out, a ronda member asked to see paperwork that specified the man's permitted hours of mobility. The paper revealed that this good Christian man had disobeyed the rules.

The ronda member commanded that the man put his hands on a wall, and right there on a back road, in a small mountain town, the man received a caning.

Later on, when he recounted the story to my father-in-law, he had a good laugh about it. He admitted that he was totally in the wrong and got what he deserved. And he couldn't sit comfortably for about 5 days afterwards.

Now a story about where we buy cacao. We've been in business for 15 years now.

During our first 5 harvest seasons, we had to send a gunman with every shipment of cacao. The road out of the district of Huarango, where we buy cacao, to the closest big city, Jaen, has long been notorious for truck robberies.

The most dangerous stretch, a long blind curve, has been protected by a vigilante gang of retired military veterans for a while now. They have been a blessing for the region.

But the rest of the road was a free for all and there were dozens of little hamlets that could house gangs of truck thieves. We couldn't ignore the risks. We had to prepare for them. Hence the gunman. On the other hand, we also couldn't run and hide. Our business depended on shipping cacao down that road.

When my brother Brian was first making plans to move out to the district of Huarango, where he ended up living full time for ten years, he asked some of his local friends about crime in the area. They told him that for the last 5 years, things had been very calm and safe.

However, during the 10 years prior to that, there was a local crime lord who terrorized the community. He was previously a truck robber who had banked his loot to fund larger ambitions. With a good war chest, he moved to the district of Huarango, brought in a paid goon squad, and purchased the loyalty of the local police force.

The ongoing operation was financed at first by robbing vehicles that were coming out from the dozens of farming villages back in the canyon. The robberies morphed into a protection racket. Protection was parlayed into drug smuggling.

The man had sons and when the sons were grown, they joined the family business which now looked to become a multi-generational dynasty. After many years of fear and suffering, the community decided that they were no longer willing to be ruled over.

In secret, community members approached the local ronda campesina to ask for help. But the local ronda was also scared of the crime lord. If they were to stand up, their families could be at risk for heavy retaliation.

The idea of contracting a neighboring ronda came up and everybody agreed that this was the best hope. A collection request was sent out to raise the necessary funds. The money was gathered under the strictest secrecy.

One afternoon, the warlord heard a knock on the door. He'd grown so smug that he no longer used bodyguards. When he opened the door, there they were.

A dozen campesino men, their faces bronzed deep brown from spending their life working under the jungle sun. They wore expressionless looks on their face and grabbed the man with their rough, thick, country hands. He was taken away and never heard from again.

Next, they visited the houses of his sons. And the sons disappeared as well. With the boss gone, the goons dispersed.

A note was left for the crime lord's wife. She had 24 hours to leave town, or she would disappear as well.She left right away and never came back.

The easily corrupted police went back to their normal routine of doing nothing but shooting pool, drinking beer, taking naps in the station, and trying to pick up girls in the street. They continue with that routine to this very day.

And the community has remained peaceful since then.

Here are a couple of lessons to take from the ronda campesinas in Peru.

First, people tend to tolerate a strong man for a very long time. Almost everybody just wants to live their life and raise their families and try to be happy. Most folks aren't looking to kick off a revolution if they can avoid it.

It usually only happens when the state of affairs is intolerable for so long that people are finally pushed to their limits.Revolutions aren't easy to get going.

Second, in the absence of proper governmental law enforcement, vigilante groups will spring up. The ronda campesina seems to work pretty well, all things considered.

But the thought of roaming vigilante possies in the United States doesn't sound too hot to me. Nor does the idea of people being caned in the street. Unfortunately, though, when lawlessness runs rampant, that is what ends up happening.

People are only willing to standby docilely for so long.

A well-organized police force that isn't corrupt and that has sufficient manpower is the ideal situation. And I'm sure there are more lessons to be learned, but I am running out of space and my brain is a little fried from trying to think this through.

In parting, I will say this.

Freedom requires law and order.

The fundamental tenant of freedom is that you are allowed to do whatever you want to do so long as you don't infringe on other people's rights to do what they want to do.

In certain cases, this is easy to figure out. You can't attack people physically and you can't mess with their property.

In other cases, when you are talking about public goods, like air, or water, or the natural environment, it becomes more difficult to unravel.

In all cases though, the primordial job of law enforcement is to create a free environment for citizens to operate in. Meaning that the police are supposed to keep people from attacking each other and stealing or destroying property.

Freedom is not possible without that protection one way or another.

Thank you so much for your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!