Mexico Drug Gang Claims Pepsi Subsidiary Helped Govt Agents

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The Caballeros Templarios, a drug gang based in west Mexico, left a series of public messages apologizing for arson attacks on a Mexico-based subsidiary of PepsiCo, claiming that it was punishment for the company providing cover for government agents.

On Thursday night, a Sabritas truck traveling in the municipality of Lagunillas, Michoacan state, was stopped by a group of armed men. They set fire to the vehicle, leaving the driver with severe burns over 70 percent of his body, reports Notimex.

The assault follows a series of attacks on Sabritas property last weekend. Between May 25 and 26 several distribution centers and some 40 company trucks were firebombed in Michoacan and neighboring Guanajuato.

On Thursday morning, banners appeared around the cities of Apatzingan and Morelia in Michoacan, stating that the Cabelleros were responsible. According to the message, the Caballeros attacked Sabritas property because the company had been cooperating with government operations against the group.

The message was addressed to “all national and transnational businesses,” reported Historicas del Narco. It said that “we, the brotherhood Templar” carried out the attack because “intelligence workers and government agents pass themselves off as salespeople in a company, in this case Sabritas.” However, it goes on to apologize for the attacks, saying that these companies provide jobs to residents of Michoacan — “We are doing this because it is the only way to make them respect and care for the integrity of our brotherhood, our state and our people.”

InSight Crime Analysis

The accusation in this message is not totally implausible. Michoacan is a state deeply infiltrated by organized crime, and government agents might need to go deep undercover to operate there. Proceso points out that since President Felipe Calderon took power it has been an “open secret” that companies linked to his electoral campaign have served as a launching point for intelligence work and operations against the Familia Michoacana, the dominant drug gang in the state, which spawned the Caballeros.

Michoacan is a high priority for the Mexican government. It is Calderon’s home state, and is one of the parts of Mexico where government and business are thought to be most deeply infiltrated by organized crime. It was the first state to see a deployment of troops to fight crime after Calderon came to power in December 2006. But this has done little to cut the power of organized criminal groups in Michoacan, which has seen a wave of violence in recent months as the Caballeros have battled with the Familia following the group’s split in early 2011.

The explanation that the attacks were a tactical move to discourage businesses from cooperating with the government, rather than part of an extortion attempt, makes sense. Mexico’s criminal groups do not usually demand extortion fees from large international companies like Sabritas, as these have more resources to protect themselves and do not present such easy targets as smaller, local firms. The Sabritas firebombings were the first such attacks to be carried out against a transnational company in Mexico.

However, its not clear what a large company like Sabritas would gain from having undercover government agents planted in their workforce. It would seem a very risky practice for a business that operates in a narco-infiltrated state like Michoacan. Besides, companies that helped Calderon win the election would surely be owed favors by the new president, and not the other way round.

Another possible explanation is that the gang realized that they had gone too far by targeting a US-linked company, and that it could bring down the wrath of Washington. They may have decided to concoct the excuse about undercover agents to distract attention from the crime. However, the fact that the banners apologizing for the first spate of attacks appeared before the torching of a Sabritas truck on Thursday night means that attacks on the company could continue.

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