Buying fresh chicken in the Mexican city of Chilpancingo proved almost impossible this week. Almost all the chicken vendors had closed after a number of their peers were threatened and killed by a specific criminal group.

On June 11, a group of armed men entered a large chicken distribution center on the outskirts of Chilpancingo, the capital of the southern state of Guerrero, which raises millions of birds for consumption. The men opened fire and six people were killed, including the owner of the facility and his teenage daughter. Several more were injured.

Before that, on June 6, a chicken vendor was gunned down in the Baltazar R. Leyva Mancilla market, one of Chilpancingo’s largest food markets. Three days later, two food distributors transporting chicken meat were attacked in the parking lot of the same market. One was killed and the other injured.

Responsibility for the June 11 attack was blamed on the Ardillos, a local criminal group in Guerrero that is currently fighting for control of Chilpancingo’s criminal economies with the Tlacos, another local group which is seeking to oust all other rivals from Chilpancingo and its surrounding areas.

The chicken industry has been at the center of this ongoing feud. All those killed were either from or worked in the town of Petaquillas, just to the southeast of Chilpancingo, which is a major chicken production center and a hub for the ongoing turf war.

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This led chicken vendors in the market and other venues to close up shop. For three days, chicken and other staples were barely sold in a major Mexican city.

On June 16, some returned to work. Twenty-five vendors reopened for business in the Baltazar R. Leyva Mancilla market, according to Infobae. However, the price of chicken meat has soared. Prior to this wave of attacks, a chicken was sold for an average of 140 Mexican pesos (around $6), but prices have now risen to 220 pesos (around $11), according to media reports.

Chilpancingo has been the center of the Tlacos-Ardillos feud since a truce between the two sides was broken in late May. Petaquillas, the epicenter for the local chicken industry, is also a transit point for drug trafficking along a major highway from Chilpancingo to the port city of Acapulco. But taxis and buses have been burned, Army personnel arriving to reinforce the area have been met with violence and local officials have been accused of connections to these gangs.

InSight Crime Analysis

For smaller, locally entrenched criminal groups, extorting essential businesses is a no-brainer. With ready cashflow and a constant stream of customers, food vendors and public transport operators can be shaken down for small amounts daily.

But things can rapidly spin out of control with local populations suffering most. When two criminal groups go to war, targeting these businesses and forcing them to shut down can deprive a rival of much-needed income.

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According to the Tlacos, this is what the Ardillos are doing in Chilpancingo. In a statement released during the recent series of attacks, the group stated that “the Ardillos have spent more than 25 years … killing Indigenous, women, children and the elderly, kidnapping, disappearing and extorting … in their area of influence.” While this should be read as a criminal group trying to stain the reputation of another, these acts are certainly consistent with habitual Ardillos strategy.

And vendors face more than the threat of being killed. Mexico’s National Alliance of Small Merchants (Alianza Nacional de Pequeños Comerciantes) said in a statement that, in the cities of Acapulco, Chilpancingo and Taxco, organized crime “fixes the final prices. This is a modus operandi that can help them consolidate in certain areas and find success with this new method of extortion.”

It is difficult to see a solution to this. Prior attempts by vendors in specific cities to fight back or react have not made much of a difference. In August 2019, tortilla shops in Celaya found themselves under a similar assault as chicken vendors in Chilpancingo. After a rise in violent acts and extortion attempts targeting them, dozens of tortilla sellers shut their businesses. For four days, fresh tortillas, a staple in Mexican cuisine, could not be bought in most of the city.

Three years on, the situation remains unchanged. Thirty-two vendors have been murdered in Celaya so far this year, according to Milenio.