Mexican criminal organizations like the Zetas and Gulf Cartel may be charging mines up to $37,000 a month in "security" fees, a practice more commonly seen in Colombia.
Mexico's Attorney General's Office (PGR) has opened twelve investigations into extortion threats faced by some 300 mines across the country, reported Excelsior. The Zetas, the Gulf Cartel and the Knights Templar (Caballeros Templarios) are identified as the groups mostly deeply involved in running such extortion schemes.
Mining companies are pressured to pay between $11,000 to $37,000 a month for the rights to operate in a criminal group's "plaza," or territory. If this is not paid, the company's directors, family members, and the miners themselves are threatened with attacks, according to an official from the PGR.
The PGR has reportedly created an inter-agency investigative team, made up of officials from the state government level, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Ministry of Public Security, aimed at protecting the mining industry. The threat against the mining sector is serious enough to be considered a national security issue, one official from the organized crime division of the PGR told Excelsior.
InSight Crime Analysis
Mexico is one of Latin America's richest sources for minerals and its mining industry has been growing in recent years, valued at $10 billion in 2009. This has attracted unwanted attention from drug gangs looking to diversify their financial sources. As a 2010 report by Reuters describes, violent gangs attack, kidnap, extort, and sell drugs to miners throughout Mexico.
But extortion and kidnapping are not the only threats faced by mining operations in Mexico. Since 2008, criminal groups have reportedly stolen some $3 million worth in gold shipments, favoring the mineral as a way of laundering "dirty" money. Such thefts become so common that some companies have been forced to switch to aerial, rather than ground, transportation in order to move their mineral extracts.
The extortion of mining operations is a big money-maker for Colombia's criminal groups. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), along with drug gangs like the Rastrojos and Urabeños, have all been linked to the extortion of gold mines, either charging a tax on the machinery or running the mining operations themselves so as to profit directly from mineral sales.
So far it seems that Mexican criminal groups are more focused on charging mining companies the right to operate in their "plaza," rather than taxing the material produced in the mine or the equipment. But groups like the Familia Michoacana have already shown interest in taking on a more direct role in the mining trade, selling illegally extracted minerals as a side business. Mexico's mining trade has long represented a significant part of the national economy. For criminal groups looking for a wealthy and well-developed industry to extort, the mining sector is an attractive option.