Organized crime leaves Mexican population without tortillas

Criminal extortion gangs have become so blatant in the Mexican municipality of Celaya that when tortilla factory owners complained about the problem in front of the city hall, armed men immediately attacked one of their premises and killed three female employees.

Organized crime leaves Mexican population without tortillas
Organized crime leaves Mexican population without tortillas

Although gangs charge for "protection" in other parts of Mexico, they don't usually retaliate so quickly and lethally for a public protest, and industry representatives say the tortilla factories have already begun to close in the city, which has a population of about 500,000.

Celaya authorities promised that 150 additional elements of the state police would be deployed in the city. Mayor Elvira Paniagua said a special unit would investigate the murders.

The conflict became public on Monday when the owners of the tortilla factory held a protest in front of the city hall and said the gangs demanded amounts "impossible to pay. Hours later, unidentified assailants killed the three tortilla workers.

The prosecutor's office in the central state of Guanajuato did not respond to the request for comment on whether the murders were in retaliation.

The Association of Industrialists of the Mass and Tortilla of Celaya said in a statement that "many comrades have chosen to close" in the face of constant extortion.

Guanajuato was once a quiet industrial and agricultural state, but in recent years violent groups have formed that obtained much of their income from drilling government oil pipelines and stealing fuel. After measures were taken a few months ago against fuel thieves, it is speculated that the gangs have opted for other illegal activities in order to obtain money.

On Wednesday, a national pharmaceutical association said criminal groups have complicated or made it nearly impossible to provide health, beauty or medicine items to much of southwest Mexico.

The association said pharmacies lost about $750,000 in sales last month because their supply trucks cannot enter large parts of the Tierra Caliente region in the states of Michoacán and Guerrero. He added that they have lost another million dollars in the same period due to the theft of merchandise.

By Agencies

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In the last decade, no country in the hemisphere has experienced an increase as large as Mexico in the absolute number or in its homicide rate.

This is one of the conclusions of the report "Organized Crime and Justice in Mexico" of the Justice in Mexico program developed by the University of San Diego, United States, in collaboration with the UNAM, the University of Guadalajara, the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon, and the Autonomous University of Puebla.

The document analyzes the trends of organized crime and violence that have marked the situation in Mexico, especially since the Felipe Calderón administration (2006-2010).

It is clear that the increase in violence in Mexico during the last decade represents an urgent problem that does not need to be exaggerated to deserve serious consideration from academics and policymakers. This tragic loss of Mexican lives should be cause for grave concern, not hyperbolic claims or part of the political game.

The increase in violence is related to the so-called "war on drugs" and marks an upward trend during the presidencies of Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), a presidential term of six years each in which the violence has soared. In total, more than 332,000 people were killed in Mexico since the beginning of the 20th century, not counting missing persons and crimes that were not reported.

The report gives as an example a 2017 study carried out by the International Institute of Strategic Studies in which it was suggested that Mexico was the second most violent country in the world behind Syria, which is experiencing a civil war since 2011. Some "unfounded" statements, according to this document, were used by the president of the United States, Donald Trump, to "multiply fear and animosity" towards his southern neighbor.

"The levels and rates of homicides are actually much worse in other parts of the Western Hemisphere," says the document, citing the case of Brazil, with a population of more than 200 million people (slightly less than twice the 130 million of Mexico), the South American country has been in the lead in the total number of homicides for a decade, according to data from the UNODC, the UN office that deals with drugs and organized crime.

For example, in 2015 the homicide rate in Brazil was 26.7 per 100 thousand inhabitants, while that of Mexico was 16.4 per 100 thousand. That is, according to official data, Mexico was below smaller countries such as Belize, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica or Venezuela.

"In per capita terms, until 2015 the number of homicides in Mexico was still somewhat 'average' for the Western Hemisphere," the report says.

One of Mexico's problems is that, because its population is larger, the total cost of violence is greater than in smaller countries with higher homicide rates. A fact: from 2000 to 2015, a total of 256,347 people were killed in Mexico. This figure exceeds the combined total of countries with higher homicide rates such as Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic.

The report reflects a sharp increase in the number of murders as of 2015. In fact, according to data from the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System, the homicide rate skyrocketed to 27.3 violent deaths per 100 thousand inhabitants in 2018 and the forecasts for 2019 go in the same direction. This means that Mexico's homicide rate can no longer be considered 'average' for the region, but competes with the latest reported by the UNODC for Brazil and Colombia.

In the opinion of the authors of the report, what sets Mexico apart from other countries in the region is that violence is a relatively new phenomenon. While other states suffered during the 20th-century military interventions and civil wars, in Mexico relative political stability was observed from the 30s of the last century, after the violence that marked the revolutionary period between 1910 and 1917.

In spite of everything, one of the most worrying data is that Mexico is the country in the hemisphere that has seen the most increase in its rates of violence during the last decade. This increase in the number of murders is directly related to organized crime. However, the report notes a series of changes in trends that are reflected in the same document On previous occasions, the study referred only to violence related to drug trafficking. However, the diversification of criminal structures means that we can not speak only of an illicit, but that the cartels are increasingly fragmented and dedicated increasingly illegal businesses.

In geographical terms, the document shows a trend: there are fewer and fewer Mexican municipalities with zero homicides. In fact, according to data from 2017, only three out of ten urban centers in the country did not register any violent death.

According to this report, ten municipalities in Mexico account for 33% of the murders in the country. That is, one in three homicides took place in Tijuana, Juárez, Acapulco, Benito Juárez, Culiacán, Guadalajara, Irapuato, León, Tlaquepaque, and Ecatepec.

Here is a change in trend since in the last two years, Tijuana has been the city where the most violent deaths have been concentrated, while in the past Acapulco was in the head of the list for four consecutive years. The report links this increase in deaths in Baja California due to the emergence of the Jalisco Nueva Generacion Cartel, which tries to dispute the drug trafficking routes to the Sinaloa Cartel.

Another important point of the report is the state of Guanajuato. According to the document, there has been a marked increase in violence in the cities of Irapuato and León. This would be caused by the huachicoleo and the poster boom of Santa Rosa de Lima.

The main reason that explains the increase in violence in Mexico, according to the report, is the dispute between different cartels for drug trafficking. However, there is a paradoxical circumstance. The document talks about how in the 70s and 80s of the last century criminal organizations grew and were even protected by high levels of corruption.

"With the gradual democratization throughout the 1990s, the introduction of political alternation" at different levels of the administration, the corruption networks that had been operating for decades were interrupted, "contributing to increase competition among the main organizations of drug traffickers".

To this is added the decapitation of various organizations, such as the Sinaloa cartel, whose main leader, Joaquín "Chapo" Guzmán, was sentenced to life imprisonment in the United States in February 2019. The arrest of several leaders led to the fragmentation of the structures, which in turn competed for more and more diverse illicit businesses, which multiplied the rates of violence.

Despite the evident increase in violence in Mexico, there has been a decline in donations from various agents concerned with strengthening the rule of law in the country. In other words, despite the fact that there are more and more murders, foreign aid has decreased.

The report, finally, raises the difficulties that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will face in his task of pacifying the country. Alerts on criticism from civil society organizations to initiatives such as the National Guard but applauds that, for the first time, the Mexican president focuses on the socioeconomic roots that explain the violence, with a special mention to the plan "Young people building the future".

As for recommendations, the report states that initiatives aimed at strengthening Mexican institutions should be better analyzed, in order not to fall into duplicity and be more efficient, to reinforce both the police and the prosecution procedures (not limited to prosecuting trafficking in persons). drugs, but by broadening the focus on the structures of corruption and money laundering), develop special measures to tackle political violence and reinforce anti-corruption strategies.

Here you can consult the full report.