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Street vendors under threat in historic center. Street vendors under threat in historic center.

Mexico City vendors threaten to form self-defence force

Their complaints of extortion and other crimes by a city gang have fallen on deaf ears

Street vendors in the historic center of Mexico City have threatened to form a self-defense force if authorities don’t act to stop extortion, threats, kidnappings and murders allegedly committed by a notorious criminal organization.

An association of stall-holders and informal vendors based on two streets just north of the capital’s central square wrote to Mexico City Attorney General Ernestina Godoy to denounce the criminal acts they say are perpetrated by members of La Unión de Tepito, a gang based in the infamous neighborhood of the same name.

The vendors also criticized the Attorney General’s Office (PGJ) for not acting on the criminal complaints they have previously filed.

“. . . You must understand that everything has a limit and due to what is expressed above, don’t be surprised by the emergence of self-defense groups . . . in the face of the tardiness and inaction of the authorities responsible for security and law enforcement,” the letter said.

Association leader Raymundo Pérez López said that La Unión de Tepito charges cobro de piso, or extortion fees, that are so high that many vendors have been forced to abandon their businesses and lose their only source of income.

“Those of us who haven’t abandoned our activities continue to survive with a scant profit margin and with an economic situation that is increasingly miserable,” he said.

“The worst of all is that despite the existence of complaints and investigation files in several agencies of [the PGJ], no progress is achieved. We perceive this as a lack of capacity, interest or commitment from the authorities,” Pérez added.

The newspaper El Universal reported that Mexico City has evidence dating back to 2017 that shows that La Unión de Tepito has been extorting and attacking street vendors and shop owners in the capital’s downtown.

The gang is also believed to have taken possession of abandoned buildings in the historic center.

Data from the business organization Canacope shows that criminals collect at least 483 million pesos (US $25.6 million) annually in cobro de piso payments in Mexico City, and that three of every 10 businesses in the capital are targeted by extortionists for regular payments that allow them to continue operating.

In November, then-mayor José Ramón Amieva called on all small businesses that have been targeted not to be intimidated into silence but to file complaints with the PGJ.

The same month, Pérez filed a complaint about extortion and threats but nothing has come of it.

“Like my complaint there are surely thousands more that only form part of the statistics. I have . . . hundreds of signatures from citizens who work in the same activity as me and who suffer from threats, who are desperate, but up until today, these criminal groups continue to operate without the responsible authorities doing anything to stop the ambush . . .” he said.

La Unión de Tepito is also believed to be responsible for a number of kidnappings and homicides in and around Mexico City’s historic center, including a gun attack last September that killed four people and wounded six more in Plaza Garibaldi, a square known as the capital’s home of mariachi music.

Source: El Universal (sp) 

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