Mexican Criminal Groups Are Helping, But at What Cost?
The cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Mexico continue to increase, with about 50,000 cases and 5,000 deaths as of mid-May 2020. As of April 2020, Mexico’s Labor Department reported almost 350,000 lost jobs because of COVID-19. The pandemic has influenced major changes in the economy of Mexico, as well as the lives of its citizens. It has also presented Mexican criminal groups a unique opportunity to gain more control by helping people in their territories. As people run out of reserves, crime groups are stepping in to provide care packages, with food and toiletries. They also act as guardians in areas where the state has been unable to provide security. However, this help comes at a price.
There are estimated to be about 200 active criminal groups in Mexico, often involved in the illicit drug trade and human trafficking. While they are a source of torment for the communities they oversee, practicing violence, kidnapping, and extortion, they are also using this time to shift power away from the state. In the city of Apatzingán in Mexico’s western state of Michoacán, armed gunmen handed out bags of groceries to citizens, according to an article from The Guardian. This group is also asking local businesses to contribute to the aid for people in need. A Facebook video posted by Alejandrina Guzmán, a daughter of the drug overlord Joaquín Guzmán, shows women assembling care packages with food and toilet paper. Another lieutenant of an armed group has instructed the local government to organize a food bank.
While they may be helping their communities, Mexican criminal groups are doing so to build up political capital. In an interview with the head of the Cartel of the South, he explained it saying, “If we protect [local populations], they’ll protect us as well.” Citizens under the reign of these crime groups are aware of the motivations behind the help that the criminals are offering. A Michoacán local interviewed by The Guardian said, “It isn’t like any of them are good people. But the truth is we can’t expect much from anybody else. At least we know [the local armed group], so they are in some way the least bad solution.”
COVID-19 Impacting Drug Trade In Mexico
During COVID-19, the drug trade has been impacted by closed borders, creating severance from suppliers all over the world. Chemicals coming out of China to produce drugs have been interrupted, impacting meth and fentanyl sales in Mexico. With fewer opportunities to transport their illegal drugs and merchandise, criminal groups are becoming more aggressive.
Mexican criminal groups are fighting over the control of drug routes, leaving death in their wake. While some countries in Latin America have seen a decrease in violent crime because of stay-at-home orders, the same cannot be said for Mexico. In March, there were 2,585 homicides registered in Mexico, the highest monthly figure since records began in 1997.
Along with increased violence, there is also a concern for the social and health risk of the public. Because of the increased difficulty of obtaining chemicals needed to create drugs, some Mexican criminal groups may create new synthetic drugs as a replacement. This would create new providers and smuggling routes, and potentially lead to an increased number of drug overdose deaths.