A recent raid against the La Unión Tepito gang in Mexico City may not have a lasting impact on the group's activities but has shown how deep its control and links to power in the capital city actually run.
An October 22 police raid in the neighborhood of Morelos led to 31 arrests as well as the seizure of drugs, weaponry and vehicles. The raid is believed to have been seeking the arrest of La Unión Tepito's leader, Oscar Flores, alias "El Lunares," but reports state he escaped through a tunnel leading to a nearby warehouse.
The raid was reportedly triggered amid reports of collusion between gang members and city authorities, according to Mexico City Security Secretary Omar García Harfuch, who added that two synthetic drug laboratories were found as well as quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and chemical precursors.
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However, the impact of the operation was quickly watered down when 27 of the 31 suspects were released three days later by a judge who alleged authorities had withheld or even fabricated evidence. The judge said that videos appeared to show a number of those arrested partying in a different location at the time of the raid.
On October 24, the government announced it had a list of around 120 police officers that may have collaborated with La Unión Tepito. According to El Universal, Mexico City's security authorities have photographic evidence of a senior police official pulling off in a patrol car at the very building in Tepito where the raid took place. In a video, the director of preventive policing for the neighborhood of Morelos is seen chatting with Flores.
In the raid, authorities also seized a number of human remains, including 42 skulls, as well as jaw, leg and arm bones, as well as a fetus in a jar. These macabre relics were found as part of a complex religious altar. The police said it will carry out DNA tests and compare the results against Mexico's missing persons database.
While La Unión Tepito is an entrenched part of Mexico City's criminal landscape, it has played a major role in the ramping-up of violence in 2019. A bloody rivalry with Fuerza Anti Unión has raged since at least 2018. At least 14 members of La Unión Tepito were murdered in a two-week period in May 2019, Milenio reported.
More recently, three members of La Unión Tepito were killed, allegedly on the order of Fuerza Anti Unión's boss, Jorge Miguel Rodríguez Muñoz, alias "El Cabezas," who was himself arrested two weeks ago.
This raid was also the biggest security talking point in Mexico since the government was forced to surrender Ovidio Guzmán López, the son of imprisoned former Sinaloa Cartel captain Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias "El Chapo," after hundreds of gunmen took to the streets of Culiacán on October 17.
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It is unlikely the Tepito operation was a reaction by Mexican authorities trying to save face after the Sinaloa shambles. But it has placed newly installed Mexico City Security Secretary Omar García Harfuch in a tough position.
From wanting to deal a blow to Mexico City's principal criminal threat, García Harfuch is facing allegations of fabricated evidence and has to deal with rampant police collusion with organized crime.
Most importantly, police in Morelos may have warned Flores about the raid, allowing him to flee on a motorbike.
In a press conference on October 26, García Harfuch admitted that "police corruption" had been revealed by the raid and that anyone found to have botched the arrests or evidence would be punished.
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Police collusion with organized crime can no longer be a surprise in Mexico, when entire police forces have regularly been arrested or suspended for this precise reason.
But this information does further dismiss Mexico City's already tired attempts to seem immune from much of the criminal dynamics plaguing the country.
La Unión Tepito has been aggressively expanding its criminal operations in 2019, including a sharp increase in extortion. It has shown no hesitation in killing business owners who do not comply, and it has moved into wealthier areas of the city.
Its dominance has been contested by Fuerza Anti Unión, with killings continuing in recent days since the operation.
But while García Harfuch thanklessly tries to clean up Mexico City's police force, La Unión Tepito is likely to continue to thrive.