Could Mexico City Become the Next Cartel Battleground?

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With much of Mexico suffering a wave of violence triggered by organized crime, analysts have questioned whether the nation’s capital and biggest city can really be immune from the war on drugs.

Mexico City is has a reputation for crimes ranging from robbery to kidnapping, but according to the statistics, it is one of the safer cities in the country. The murder rate last year was eight per 100,000 residents, and it has not risen above 11 for the last 14 years. In contrast, the 2010 murder rate in border town Ciudad Juarez was close to 300, by some accounts.

The absence of the extravagant bloodshed among criminal groups that characterizes much of north Mexico is a major factor in the capital’s relative security. But what is the relationship between the nation’s notorious criminal groups and the metropolis of roughly 20 million people, located in the middle of the country?

Gangsters have long used Mexico City as a place to live in relative anonymity, to invest in expensive houses, to enjoy a more cosmopolitan lifestyle than is possible in the mountains of Sinaloa, and to traffic cocaine into the country through the international airport. While there have been breakouts of drug violence in Mexico City — Juarez Cartel boss Amado Carrillo survived an attempt against his life there in 1993, for example — they have been comparatively rare. There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence to suggest the existence of a tacit understanding among the most powerful drug lords to treat the capital as a neutral territory, free to all.

Yet local authorities have often argued that there are no cartels operating in Mexico City, period. That has been contradicted by some recent events, as well as the statement of federal officials. Logic also cuts against that point of view: the city has a thriving local drug market, and while there are local gangs managing retail sales, it is presumably the national gangs that supply them.

But does this mean that a decline in public security in Mexico City is inevitable? Could one gang or another try to take over the largest potential “plaza,” or drug trafficking territory, in the country and secure an enormous competitive advantage over its rivals? The question is all the more important given that Mexico’s second- and third-largest cities — Monterrey and Guadalajara — have recently witnessed sharp jumps in the levels of violence linked to criminal gangs.

The following is InSight Crime’s translation of extracts from a report by M Semanal:

The presence and activity of drug cartels in Mexico City is undeniable, both the presence of their bosses and founders and the increase in violence linked to their activity: without offering data disaggregated by type of crime, the attorney general of Mexico City [the PGJDF, for its initials in Spanish] reported more than 8,000 violent deaths in Mexico City between 2000 and June of 2011. The figures from the agency indicate that 2010 was the year with the largest number of deaths, with 810 victims, for an average of 2.2 deaths per day in the nation’s capital. At the same time, the PGJDF registered in 2010 the figure of 148 drug crimes, though without specifying if they were cases of narcomenudeo [retail drug sales] or other types (sale, possession, or transfer).

[…]

The figures given by the PGJDF do not allow us to know how many homicides registered have to do with narco executions, but journalistic reports indicate that between December 15, 2009 and March 10, 2010 there were 46 murders in Mexico City linked to the drug trade. In this period Mexico State [which surrounds Mexico City and makes up an even larger part of the metro area] registered 91 executions allegedly linked to organized crime.

The captures of capos that have lived in the capital and its periphery, of their gunmen, operators, and money launderers indicate that the nation’s capital is an ideal site for organized crime structures to operate almost in anonymity; the latest was that of El Mamito, Jesus Enrique Rejon Aguilar, founding member of the Zetas, captured a few days ago in Atizapan de Zaragoza.

The Department of Justice [the PGR, for its initials in Spanish] and the Mexican Navy also confirm the above information, pointing to the presence of Hector Beltran Leyva, El H, head of the Beltran organization, as one more neighbor in the Del Valle community since at least 2009.

[…]

While capital authorities insist that Mexico City is not a plaza in which the cartels operate as they do in the provinces, because there the more common drug related activity is narcomenudeo, their federal counterparts indicate that they have registered activity in the nation’s capital of seven organizations with a presence in the rest of the country. Despite that, in February of 2007, the mayor of Mexico City, said that the city was not a zone of operations or influence for organized crime, and much less for the drug cartels. Weeks after this declaration, the PGR answered a request for access to information in which it revealed that Mexico City was “an area of strategic economic infrastructure, of communications, and especially for money laundering.”

In this “strategic area”, the cartels led by “Arellano Felix (Tijuana), Amado Carrillo Fuentes (Juarez), Osiel Cardenas (Gulf) and Joaquin El Chapo Guzman (Sinaloa)” operated, said the PGR, using information from the National Center of Planning, Analysis, and Information (CENAPI). The PGR added that the combat of drug trafficking continued to progress, and that in the nation’s capital, distribution networks for all types of drugs, which operated in nightclubs, restaurants, bars, flea markets, schools, hotels, tourist sites, residential and popular areas, had been dismantled.

[…]

[Specialists in the military, national security, and public security like Javier] Oliva Posada see in Mexico City a “very large consumer and money laundering market,” as long as the metro area “offers a fertile terrain for this type of activity.” He adds that the same conditions of vigilance and the concentration of federal forces (more than 70,000 soldiers in the Military Region I and General Marine Barracks, 80,000 preventative, auxiliary, banking, and judicial police, private guards and surveillance systems) make the open action of cartels difficult, and if they move around it is at night and without big security entourages.

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