A clash between Mexico's Marines and a criminal group in Mexico City has left eight dead, again raising questions about shifting dynamics in the country's criminal landscape and whether organized crime-linked violence has penetrated an area largely devoid of it thus far.
On July 20, Mexico's Navy carried out an operation against the so-called Tláhuac Cartel in southeast Mexico City that left eight dead, including the group's presumed leader, Felipe de Jesús Pérez Luna, alias "El Ojos," according to a Navy press release.
Accompanied by federal police forces, Mexico's Marines were reportedly assaulted with "high-powered" weapons while patrolling the area. In the ensuing firefight, officials confirmed the deaths of eight individuals. Officials also reportedly found several firearms in the group's possession that are supposed to be used exclusively by the country's armed forces.
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Officials said that the operation was carried out after they determined the Tláhuac Cartel to be engaging in drug trafficking, extortion, kidnapping and homicide in and around the Tláhuac, Milpa Alta, Xochimilco and Iztapalapa areas of Mexico City, according to the press release.
The group's leader, Pérez Luna, allegedly operated in Mexico City since at least 2012 and has been linked to some 50 homicides since, including the murder of a top security official in February 2016 in Iztapalapa, Reforma reported. The Tláhuac Cartel has also been linked to at least 32 other homicides in Mexico City, according to El Universal.
After the confrontation, other suspected members of the group instituted several roadblocks in neighborhoods bordering the one where the clash had occurred, resulting in the detention of at least 23 individuals, Aristegui Noticias reported. In addition, a large truck and three buses were stolen and set on fire.
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The recent violence in Mexico City is another sign that organized crime-related violence may be penetrating the capital city, and shows the strength of so-called microtrafficking groups operating in one of Latin America's largest urban centers.
Still, Mexico City Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera rejected the idea that cartels were present or operating in Mexico City, and stated that the Tláhuac Cartel was simply a microtrafficking group because "a cartel is a much larger organization," he told Televisa.
The mayor hasn't been the only one to make this assertion. Past and present Mexican officials, including current Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, have continually denied that large, sophisticated organized crime groups often described as "cartels" have a presence in Mexico City, claiming that only microtrafficking groups do.
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However, organized crime-related violence in Mexico City has been seen before. In 2013, a microtrafficking capo orchestrated the kidnapping and murder of 13 individuals. In July 2015, a multiple homicide linked to organized crime was committed in the Narvarte neighborhood, followed in October by the discovery of a dead body found hanging from a bridge in the Iztapalapa district.
The latest incident may also be a natural spillover of violence that has long simmered in Mexico City's "orillas," or outskirts. For example, Ecatepec, a northern suburb of Mexico City not widely known as a center of organized crime, made the list of cities with the highest number of murders under the tenure of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. In the past, violence in Mexico City has also in part been attributed to the city's growing local drug trade.
As one of Latin America's largest urban centers, the growing presence and profitability of microtrafficking may be a contributing factor in these incidents of violence. In June, a group of 20 individuals linked to the Tláhuac Cartel were found to have been operating at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico - UNAM). The group allegedly trafficked marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD and hashish, and generated profits of more than 36.5 million pesos per year (more than $2 million).