MEXICO – The coronavirus crisis has also affected the drug trafficking economy in Mexico, where the reduction of supply spaces and the disruption of chains have led cartels to diversify their operations, exacerbating violence in the country.
Reflection of this is the annual drop of 24.61% in the first four-month period of 2020 of crimes against health, as Mexico is called to federal crimes that involve, among others, production, transportation, traffic, commerce, possession and supply of drugs.
From January to April, 12,544 of these crimes were registered, compared to 16,639 in the same period of the previous year, reveals an analysis of the database updated this week by the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System.
This April, the second month of the COVID-19 pandemic in Mexico, 2,364 of these crimes were reported, 33.5% less than in March and 37.67% less than in April 2019.
“Clearly, the demand did drop because many of its workplaces are restaurants, bars, and all of this is closed,” explains Vidal Romero, director of the Center for Studies on Security, Intelligence and Governance of the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM).
Another sign of the impact is the reduction of seizures at checkpoints of the United States Office of Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
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Compared to the same period of the previous year, in the first four-month period of 2020, the amount of marijuana confiscated at these points reported by CBP decreased by 18.71%, that of cocaine 30.85%, and that of heroin 33.33%.
The director of CESIG attributes the phenomenon to a possible drop in demand in the United States rather than to the restriction of non-essential travel on the border between the two countries, agreed from March 21 to June 22 by the pandemic.
“The border is closed for citizens on foot, for those who want to cross into the United States, but the drug is not passed through those places, the drug is passed through tunnels, by light aircraft, by boats. That part has never been closed”, aim.
DIVERSIFICATION AND VIOLENCE
Despite the panorama, Mexico registered 3,000 homicides in March, the most violent month of the Presidency of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who took office in December 2018.
Although the government presumed a monthly reduction of 1.66% of this crime in April, with 2,950, the organization Semáforo Delictivo remembers that March has one more day, so the daily average in April was 98.33 compared to 96.77 in March.
These killings are “mainly adjustments of accounts between gangs,” says Romero.
According to official records, around 20 homicides are committed every day in this entity, and the violence that fills the streets, assures the state security commissioner, is a desperate act of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel.
The cartels are now “very fat companies, with many employees” that, due to low demand, take advantage of the pandemic to dispute localities, comments the ITAM professor.
“What has happened in Mexico since the last years is that these organizations diversified and are no longer just drug trafficking or production organizations, but they diversified to issues such as extortion and kidnapping,” he says.
While in 2006, at the start of the “war on drugs,” there were three active conflicts between drug cartels, in 2018 there were 18, according to the Institute for the Economy and Peace (IEP).
Given the decrease in imports of chemical precursors from China and the closure of distribution spaces, the gangs have turned to extortion and theft of passenger transport, says Gerardo Rodríguez, professor of national security at the University of the Americas Puebla.
Six out of 10 companies report an increase in violence in the pandemic, the Confederation of Industrial Chambers (CONCAMIN) reported this week in its “COVID Industrial” report.
“There may be a substitution effect there. Organized crime is going to look for other spaces that the formal economy leaves, spaces that the government leaves to look for other mechanisms to obtain income,” says Rodríguez, co-author of the Global Impunity Index.
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In the crisis, groups such as the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel (CJGN) challenge the state with the massive delivery of pantries, Rodríguez says.
Also, there are reports that small businesses and workers are approached to offer them “credits”, he adds.
“They had a decrease, probably, the first months, but they are going to overcome it. So they need to continue giving cash flow, food, to families from their criminal structure,” he says.
The drug traffickers, he describes, are also no stranger to fear of the health effects of COVID-19, which accumulates 62,527 infections and 6,989 confirmed deaths in Mexico.
“The field and the production of drugs have not stopped, so the producers must be nervous because their relatives continue to go to work and they can catch it,” says the researcher.