Narco-blockades made an unprecedented appearance in Mexico City yesterday after Marines backed up by police carried out an operation that resulted in the death of an alleged gang leader and seven of his sicarios, or hitmen.
The confrontation took place about 11:00am yesterday between the security forces and alleged cartel members in the borough of Tlahuac in the southeast of the city.
Marines and over 1,000 federal and local police were involved in the raid that was responding to intelligence that gang members involved in drug dealing, murder, extortion and kidnapping were operating in the area.
Authorities say the suspected boss of the Tlahuac Cartel, Felipe de Jesús Pérez Luna — known by his alias “El Ojos” (the eyes) — and his armed accomplices were the first to fire shots.
Marines returned fire, killing Pérez Luna in the exchange.
The skirmish continued at a nearby safe house where more of the alleged criminals were killed.
“In support of the federal Attorney General’s office (PGR) and investigative work of federal and Mexico City police, Navy personnel were attacked by suspected criminals during a patrol in the proximity of Tlahuac, for which they repelled the aggression resulting in an exchange of fire,” said the Navy Secretariat (Semar) said in a statement.
After the police raid and the death of the alleged capo, moto-taxi operators — also allegedly under the control of Pérez Luna — set up narco-blockades at several different points in the area.
Three small passenger buses known as micros as well as a dump truck were set alight and used to block off streets.
While this tactic has been used by cartels in other states more commonly associated with drug trafficking such as Sinaloa and Tamaulipas, it is the first time the tactic has been used in Mexico City.
Authorities in the capital reported that 23 arrests were made in the operation.
Two people were arrested for the use of firearms, 14 for offenses related to the burning of vehicles and a further seven, who attempted to take advantage of the surrounding chaos by looting a gas station, were also detained.
Weapons including firearms and four Molotov cocktails were seized in the raid along with 300 grams of marijuana while 47 moto-taxis were consigned to vehicle impoundment lots.
Pérez Luna was suspected of heading a criminal organization that moved large quantities of drugs and was also involved in murders, extortion and kidnappings.
The Secretariat of Public Security stated that the organization operated not just in Tlahuac but also in Milpa Alta, Xochimilco and Iztapalapa, all southern boroughs of Mexico City.
Pérez Luna’s arch enemy, Ricardo García Santoyo, known as El Negro Aguas, was detained by authorities earlier this month. The two were involved in a turf war in the borough.
While the Mexico City government said that members of the group were “retail drug dealers,” the newspaper Milenio claims that Pérez Luna had previously had links to the Beltrán Leyva cartel and also reported that the PGR had a warrant for his arrest.
Mexico City Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera told Televisa that the joint operation was the result of more than seven months of planning and that while the criminal group was dangerous it could not be considered in the same league as larger drug cartels that operate in the country.
Clashes continued into the night but the situation had normalized by 11:00pm although a stronger than usual police presence remained in the area.
Violent clashes between criminal groups and authorities are fairly common in many parts of the country but the capital has largely been spared from these kinds of deadly confrontations.
Homicide figures in Mexico for May were the highest ever recorded and murder rates are also up in Mexico City.
There were 438 murders in the capital in the first five months of 2017, an increase of almost 20% over the same period last year, according to data from the Interior Secretariat.