Criminals Turn to Metal Theft as Mexico Underworld Fragments

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Criminal groups are reportedly stealing and selling parts of electrical towers in northern Mexico, in yet another example of these organizations looking for new revenue streams as the country’s underworld fragments. 

According to Mexico’s Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), criminal groups are stealing parts from electrical towers to resell them on the black market or as scrap metal, reported El Universal. From 2010 to May 2014, approximately 90 tons of metal were stolen in the northern states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, and Coahuila — where this crime is reportedly most common. Over this period, the theft cost the CFE close to $1 million. 

According to information gathered from six regional CFE offices, 2012 was by far the year during this period when the most metal was stolen — 66 tons. So far this year, the CFE has lost three tons of metal to criminal groups. 

Due to the technical knowledge needed to dismantle electrical towers, CFE officials told El Universal they suspected current or former CFE employees may be assisting criminal groups with the robberies. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The theft of metal in northern Mexico is one illustration of efforts by criminal groups to find alternative sources of income as the country’s criminal landscape fragments. In recent years, major drug cartels have spawned numerous smaller factions, leading criminal groups to turn to the local economy as a source of revenue. Along with extortion, kidnapping, and illegal mining, some groups are turning to natural resource theft, which requires less logistical sophistication and manpower than transnational drug trafficking operations. 

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

While El Universal does not name specific criminal groups, the geographical concentration of electrical tower robberies suggests the possible involvement of the Zetas. The split in Zetas leadership in 2012 — along with the loss of high-ranking members of the group — has spurred the cartel’s fragmentation into isolated cells operating semi-independently. There is evidence Zetas factions are turning to activities such as oil theft and illegal coal mining as sources of revenue.

Other Mexican criminal groups have also diversified their revenue streams. The Gulf Cartel is reportedly heavily involved in fuel theft in Tamaulipas, and the Knights Templar have been linked to illegal iron exports and the seizure of illegal timber. Newer criminal groups, like the Guerreros Unidos — a splinter group of the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) — rely heavily on kidnapping and extortion.

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