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The Tepoztlán toll plaza has been a popular target for hijackers. The Tepoztlán toll plaza has been a popular target for hijackers.

Foiled by efforts to stop hijacking, toll plaza thieves grab the cash instead

Direct robbery seen as the new strategy after violent incident at Tepoztlán plaza

While toll plazas in many Mexican states have been repeatedly hijacked by more or less peaceful groups of people collecting “voluntary tolls” from drivers, a violent robbery of a plaza in Morelos early Monday suggests that criminals may be upping their game in response to increased security measures against the takeovers.

An armed gang of about 10 people attacked employees on duty at the Tepoztlán toll plaza, tied them up and stole 150,000 pesos (US $7,500) in cash from the toll booths and vault, as well as electronic equipment and cell phones.

By the time the National Guard arrived, the thieves had fled. The toll plaza employees were taken to a hospital in Cuernavaca and treated for injuries.

Employees union leader Martín Curiel told the newspaper Reforma that the plaza has been targeted for takeovers several times but never with such violence. He attributed the nature of the robbery to would-be hijackers changing their tactics.

“In my view, this [event] stems from … the battle by the National Guard and the federal roads and bridges administration [Capufe] against the [toll plaza] takeovers,” he said. “This toll plaza was constantly being taken over, but now it’s been several weeks since they’ve dared to. Now, direct robbery is the strategy …”

Curiel said his union is worried about its members’ safety and has sent formal letters to Capufe, demanding information about what measures the government is taking to avoid more such robberies.

The National Guard were put in charge of guarding the plazas in early November. In some cases, people taking over the plazas were being paid to do so by organized crime. Also in October, Morelos Senator Lucy Meza announced that she would present a petition in the upper house of Congress urging the federal government to clear toll plazas of illegal occupiers.

At the time, Meza said she was handing over at least 300 pesos per week to toll plaza hijackers while traveling between Cuernavaca and Mexico City.

Source: Reforma (sp)

CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly put the toll plaza in Tepotzotlán, México state.

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