Laurent Thomet, Yahoo! News, March 26, 2014
While murders have dropped across Mexico, a burst of violence has rattled the capital’s suburbs, with criminals dumping bodies on roadsides, kidnapping people in broad daylight and levying protection taxes.
The crime surge in the State of Mexico, which wraps around the capital like a horseshoe, has challenged President Enrique Pena Nieto’s pledge to reduce the murders, kidnappings and extortion plaguing his nation.
The state’s governor, Eruviel Avila, has described the crime wave as “rare and temporary,” the violent reaction of gangs dismantled by a police crackdown.
Other officials say part of the problem may be linked to what Mexicans call the “cucaracha” effect, when sweeps against drug cartels in one state cause criminals to scurry like cockroaches to neighboring regions.
This has again revived fears that the gangland violence seen elsewhere could infect Mexico City, which remains a relative oasis from such mayhem.
But security experts say the country’s most populous state has struggled with violence for a long time, even during Pena Nieto’s time as governor from 2005-2011.
“It is the norm, and permanent,” said Alejandro Hope, a former intelligence official and security expert at the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness.
After more than 70,000 people died in drug-related violence under his predecessor’s six-year term, Pena Nieto has indicated that murders have dropped since he took power in December 2012.
But Mexico State is bucking this downward trend. It has seen 374 homicides in the first two months of the year, up from 303 in the same period last year, according to official figures. Kidnappings and extortion have also increased.
The state government has responded by dismantling 14 kidnapping gangs and deploying state police to highways and cities, including 1,000 officers who man checkpoints in Cuautitlan Izcalli, just a half hour drive north of Mexico City.
The suburb of 600,000 people has recorded 38 murders since January, the majority appearing with execution-style bullet wounds.
“From January until nine days ago we had a constant problem of executions. Not one week passed without an execution,” Mayor Hector Karim Carvallo Delfin told AFP on Monday.
“It was a very difficult issue; people were very afraid. This had never happened to us,” he said, blaming the problem on the infamous “cucaracha” effect.
The mayor said bodies were abandoned in public view, some accompanied by letters signed with the words “Gulf Cartel,” a drug gang based in northeastern Mexico. Other signs were found in the city warning that the cartel was now in charge.
But Carvallo Delfin said the gangland killings stopped a week ago, after authorities detained a band of 12 people accused of murder, kidnapping and drug dealing.