‘Acapulco Cartel’ Sets Fire to Market, Engages Military

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After a group of unidentified gunmen faced off with Mexican security forces in an Acapulco street market, InSight takes a closer look at a little-known but steadily growing criminal presence in the city: the Independent Cartel of Acapulco.

According to a press release from the Public Security Ministry of Guerrero, the shootout occurred around 4:30 a.m. on April 4 in the Emiliano Zapata neighborhood of Acapulco, when members of a combined police/military Joint Urban Operations Unit (Base de Operaciones Mixtas Urbanas – BOMU) on patrol encountered a group of armed men setting light to some market stalls. Seeing the soldiers, the gunmen opened fire, and attempted to flee in three vans.

The blaze consumed more than 110 stalls, and the ensuing shootout left three dead — two gunmen and one soldier — as well as four wounded. Officials detained seven suspects after the incident, and seized three vehicles and several bulletproof vests.

While at first glance the incident appears as though it could be the isolated work of a few arsonists, local media reports indicate that the criminal enterprise known as the Independent Cartel of Acapulco is behind the blaze. Citing an anonymous security official, Mexico’s El Proceso said that the bulletproof vests seized by authorities all bore the initials “F.E.M.K,” which stands for “Special Forces of Melon and the Korean” (Fuerzas Especiales de Melon y El Koreano), a hit squad linked to the Independent Cartel. The Independent Cartel is currently waging a turf war with a local affiliate of the Sinaloa Cartel, led by Heber Jair Sosa Carvajal, alias “El Cremas” and Cristian Hernandez Tarin.

Although the motive for the arson attack remains unclear, it could be retaliation for a March 25 incident, when the butchered bodies of five men (four of whom were police officers) were found dumped in front of an Acapulco department store. The bodies were accompanied by a warning purporting to be from the Sinaloa Cartel’s leader, Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo,” which accused the victims of associating with the Acapulco Cartel, and identified “Melon” and “El Koreano” as Antonio Barragan and Moises Montero, respectively.

As InSight has previously reported, the Independent Cartel of Acapulco has been steadily growing in strength in recent months, depite the capture of one of its leaders in March. The fact that the powerful Sinaloa Cartel sees them as a threat to local operations is a testament to their rapid development.

Still, the group is only one of a number of emerging criminal groups in Acapulco, where there may be a power vacuum after the Familia Michoacana claimed to be dissolving in January. This phenomenon is part of a larger trend in the country, where the official policy of targeting leaders of drug trafficking organizations has resulted in their fragmentation and, in some cases, violent infighting between former allies.

In the case of Acapulco, the violence is made worse by the city’s status as a valuable “plaza.” Because of its entrenched corruption, jagged coastline and high volume of boat traffic, Acapulco is considered an ideal base of operations for drug trafficking organizations, who use speedboats to transport large quantities of cocaine northward.

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