The Zetas and Gulf Cartel are imposing a toll on travel between two states in eastern Mexico, in a case highlighting the extent of the incursion of organized crime into daily life where the state lacks presence.
The rival criminal groups are charging motorists around $39 per week, or $232 per month, to cross the Moralillo Bridge, which connects the cities of Tampico in Tamaulipas state and Panuco in Veracruz state. Charges are based on the vehicle type and can be as high as $389, with those who refuse to pay liable to have their vehicle stolen or be kidnapped, reported Milenio.
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According to Milenio, the Tamaulipas side of the bridge is controlled by the Gulf Cartel, while the Zetas levy fees on people leaving Veracruz. The newspaper reported that there is no visible law enforcement presence in the communities at either end of the bridge, and residents have been squeezed so hard by extortion demands from the cartels that many businesses are shuttered and properties abandoned.
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The flagrant and well organized nature of this extortion -- with motorists offered weekly and monthly charges and discounts for frequent travel -- is indicative of the infiltration of organized crime into day-to-day life in Mexican communities and continued neglect of certain regions by the country's security services.
The ability of these cartels to maintain such a racket when it would arguably only require a minor police presence at each end of the bridge is symptomatic of the ineffective protection provided by the state that many of the country's self-defense groups cite as their cause to take up arms. While the southwest is the stronghold of such groups, they have been reportedly springing up elsewhere, including Tamaulipas and Veracruz.
Meanwhile, the fact cartels have taken to imposing road tolls only underscores the scope of their criminal diversification, and willingness to take advantage of any money making opportunity. In recent years cartels have increasingly moved into such diverse fields as cargo theft, cattle trafficking and mining, as well as expanding their activities in more traditional criminal sectors such as kidnapping and extortion.