Health

Mexican drug gangs pursuing other criminal avenues during Covid-19 crisis

By Pedro Pablo Cortes

Mexico City, May 22 (efe-epa).- The coronavirus crisis also has exacted a heavy toll on drug-trafficking organizations in Mexico, where the shrinking of narcotics markets and disruptions to the cartels’ supply chains have prompted them to further diversify their operations and triggered a rise in violence in the Aztec nation.

The reduction in the gangs’ primary activity has already been reflected in official statistics, with so-called “crimes against health” – as drug-related offenses are categorized in Mexico – plunging by nearly 25 percent during the first four months of 2020.

Between January and the end of April there were 12,544 of these crimes, compared with 16,639 in the same four-month period of 2019, according to an analysis of the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System’s latest figures.

The drop was especially steep in April, as 2,364 of these crimes were reported in the second month of the coronavirus crisis in Mexico, down 33.5 percent from March and 37.7 percent from April 2019.

“Demand clearly has fallen because many of their work places are restaurants, bars, and all that is closed,” Vidal Romero, co-director of the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico’s Studies Center on Security, Intelligence and Governance (CESIG), told Efe.

Another sign of the slowdown is a reduction in drug seizures at checkpoints operated by the United States Customs and Border Protection.

Compared with the same four-month period of last year, the CBP said the amount of marijuana it confiscated at those checkpoints between January and April was 18.71 percent lower, while seizures of cocaine and heroin fell by 30.85 percent and 33.33 percent, respectively.

The CESIG co-director said this phenomenon is due more to a potential drop in demand in the US than to a Mexico-US bilateral agreement to restrict non-essential cross-border travel between March 21 and June 22.

“They’ve closed the border for the general population, for those who want to cross over to the United States, but drugs don’t pass through those places. The drugs are moved through tunnels, by airplane, by boat. They never closed that part,” Romero said.

Despite the lockdown, Mexico still reported 3,000 homicides in March, the most violent month since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office in December 2018.

These murders are “mainly settlings of scores among gangs,” Romero said. The cartels now are “very large enterprises, with numerous employees,” that amid low demand during the pandemic are fighting over localities, the professor added.

“What’s happened in Mexico in recent years is that those organizations have diversified and are no longer just drug-trafficking or drug-manufacturing organizations, but they’ve diversified into (other activities) like extortion and kidnapping,” Romero said.

Due to a reduction in imports of chemical precursors from China and the closure of distribution spaces, gangs have turned to extortion and the robbery of passenger transport, said Gerardo Rodriguez, a national security professor at the University of the Americas in the central Mexican city of Puebla.

Six of every 10 companies have reported an increase in violence during the pandemic, the Confederation of Industrial Chambers of Mexico said this week in its “Covid Industrial” report.

During the crisis, groups like the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Nueva Generacion Cartel also have been defying the state by delivering groceries to the needy, Rodriguez said, adding that there also are reports of these organizations offering loans to small businesses and workers.

“They suffered a decline, probably, in the first few months (of 2020), but they’ll overcome that. So they need to leverage their criminal structure to keep providing a flow of cash, of food, to families,” he said. EFE-EPA

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