Will Self-Defense Groups Form in Mexico City?

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Angry street vendors in Mexico City are threatening to form a self-defense force after they say authorities failed to stop a powerful organized crime group there, underscoring their desperation as mafias flourish unchecked in the capital.

An association of shopkeepers in Mexico City’s historic center has sent a letter to the Attorney General’s Office demanding action from authorities against the Unión de Tepito, one of the most powerful criminal groups in the capital. The shopkeepers say they have been the victims of extortion, torture, kidnappings and even killings at the hands of the group, El Universal reported.

“They must understand that everything has a limit … [and] don’t be surprised by the emergence of self-defense groups … given the slowness and inaction of the authorities in charge of security and law enforcement [in Mexico City],” said the letter signed by around 240 vendors, including some that have closed up shop due to the costs of extortion.

SEE ALSO: What Is Behind the Recent Wave of Violence in Mexico City?

The Unión de Tepito has operated in the capital for years. Formed by former members of the Familia Michoacana and Beltrán Leyva Organization, it has since edged out the formerly dominant Tepito Cartel and other criminal rivals linked to the Zetas and Sinaloa Cartel.

In 2018, Mexico City recorded its most violent year on record, with 25.8 murders per 100,000 people. The homicide rate in the district of Cuauhtémoc, where the Unión de Tepito primarily operates, reached 22.5 per 100,000 residents, just under the record-setting national homicide rate.

InSight Crime Analysis

Authorities have long denied the presence of organized crime groups in the capital. Such a stance appears to have in part allowed criminal groups like the Unión de Tepito to exploit residents, who have apparently reached their breaking point. 

If the vendors carry out their threat, it would not be the first time a vigilante group has formed to combat the Unión de Tepito. A Mexico City group known as the Fuerza Anti-Unión also allegedly killed suspected members of the Unión de Tepito, leaving a message next to one of the corpses warning that this would happen to all who charged extortion payments. 

However, the would-be vigilante group may also actually be a splinter faction of the Unión de Tepito allied with the powerful Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) that is simply battling for control of extortion and microtrafficking activities in the capital.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profile

Self-defense groups have a long history in Mexico, especially in indigenous communities across its southern states. Such groups have also surged in rural regions across the country in response to violence and crimes committed by drug trafficking organizations. They are much less common in major cities, where authorities presumably have a stronger presence and a greater ability to combat organized crime groups than in more remote regions.

Their presence anywhere can pose a serious security dilemma. In some cases, these groups have helped dismantle criminal organizations like the Knights Templar. In others, the vigilante groups have become predators themselves, aligning with drug traffickers and seizing upon criminal activities in the regions in which they operate. 

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