Extortion: Mexican ‘Omerta’: Millions of merchants “floor” criminals to sell on the streets

More than half of the employment in Mexico is informal, with millions of people dedicated to selling in the streets and street markets where you can find everything, food, clothes and shoes, technology, china, flowers, perfumes, jewelry or shoelaces. Shoes, anything if you have imagination you can think of even more. Virtually all of them are exploited by crime or extorted by local bosses, who force them to pay the “floor” for their business activity. It is common in news reports to say that a motorcyclist approaches one of these vendors and, without removing his helmet, takes out his gun and kills him. Everyone knows the reason: the unfortunate person refused to pay the criminal tax or was unable to pay it, which, perhaps, the same motorist comes to collect every week. Polaroids have been the target of bullets in recent times. In a market in Toluca, the capital of Mexico state, they have hired private security because they are fed up with extortion and kidnappings that authorities can’t stop. Troubled for decades by drug trafficking, organized crime is branching out into other activities and leaving behind its usual trail of murders. From time to time, fires break out in markets, warehouses of goods release smoke visible throughout the city, and shootouts occur. And fatigue, which translates into more pills.

Organized crime long ago found a lucrative business in these informal taxes, robbing the Mexican economy of billions of pesos by extorting money from the poorest. The matter is getting worse. “It is an expanded mobility. “Ten or 15 years ago, floor fees at the national level had nothing to do with what they are today,” says Romain Le Cour, a senior expert at the Global Initiative for Global Justice (GI-TOC), who has been studying violence in Mexico for years. Are.” , “The Familia Michoacana cartel, far from ending this practice, as it promised when it conquered the territories, has institutionalized and bureaucratized it. It is no longer just commerce, it extends to industrial activities, it is their signature of regional domain,” he assured. “It’s the same pattern as the Italian mafia.” Criminals force the businessman to pay a fee per square meter of business, and others force him to protect him from other cartels, but they themselves are the ones who commit violence when they do not receive their payment.

According to a survey of citizens by the Institute of Statistics (INEGI), among common crimes, extortion ranks third in Mexico, after fraud and theft. It is 17% and is the crime that is least reported due to fear of attackers or distrust of the police, mainly due to complicity with crime. Omerta Mexican. 92% of the total number of these crimes are either not reported or not investigated, this is what they call the black figure. In a country of 126 million inhabitants, approximately 20 million victims of these crimes are counted every year. Kidnapping incidents reached 77,825 people in 2022 and 49% were missing for just one day, which was enough to scare people and gather what they want.

There is an area called Tepito in the capital of Mexico, under By a criminal gang of the same name. Entering Tepito, very central, is an adventure, dozens of tented streets turn into a market, a charming town, the souk a labyrinth of narrow corridors that stuns the most intrepid tourists, those who go where They are told it is dangerous. There they are supplied by people who will then go out to sell throughout the city on an itinerant basis. Army trucks patrol that inhospitable valley of screams and whistles, where guys with commercial forklifts will run over you if you don’t care. The police are also present, but no one stops the criminals from entering stall by stall, in full view of everyone, every Saturday and Sunday to collect their fees. “Four or five come, one is placed at each corner and the other comes to take. And you have to give it to them. We are already fed up, but the government does nothing,” says a clothing store, which estimates that 15% of the money it is spending on this can be added to its profits.

They have been like this for decades. like in the movie Saint, It all started with the illegality of their street stalls that the police wanted to build. The chief of the neighborhood negotiated with the agents and demanded a fee from the merchants for the protection of their business. When thousands of streets were filled with sales stalls, the mafia came to collect their share. Today everyone gets their share. “Normally, it’s 30 pesos per square meter every week, now up to 800 at Christmas, plus 100 pesos for the supposed security and what they give us,” says a girl selling films. “But the other group also charges us, ₹300, and the same thing, we have to pay them.” Later, the headman will come to ask for his share in cleaning the place and the one who rents the warehouse to keep the goods at night and the one who rents the stall. That’s why the poor remain poor and shame on anyone who opens his mouth or reveals his name for such a report. Shame also on those who do not pay. “When markets burn they say it’s short circuit, what’s wrong with that, they burn them,” says the clothing store, and asks: “How can the mafia be so well organized and the government How could it be so badly organized?”

In fact, those who are devoted to these taxes have become an entire parallel administration where collections flow as the public treasury wishes. “Flat’s collection is born and evolves in silence, like Omerta Of the Italian mafia. But citizens are fed up, they see that they can’t go to the authorities and everything ends in violence,” says Le Cour. “Police? “You should see the police greeting people who come to collect money at the weekend, with a cordial fist bump,” pointed out the clothes shopkeeper, who was already tired of the fact That “they’re all the same shit.” He criticizes, “The police are more dedicated to looking for poor kids who don’t have marijuana and they even take away their cell phones.” Low-paid local agents. Corruption prevents us from climbing out of this economic and criminal hole. Le Cour agrees: “We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg, a small part of the floor collection, which is due to the omission or ineffectiveness, or collusion, of public officials. has developed significantly, sometimes even reaching the prosecutor’s offices.”

As judicial data shows, the absence of the state in security issues is fertile ground for mafias. If a city council wants to charge a commercial activity tax on flower sellers in Acapulco, to cite a real example, the merchants revolt. If criminals are already charging them and no one is getting rid of them, they won’t pay any more legal taxes, he said at the time. Rulers look the other way in the face of a stubborn reality.

Criminals are experts in reinventing themselves. If the government carries out a coup here, they will go the other way. “When huachicol (pirated gasoline) was cracked down on, they started collecting taxes from traders, even those selling tortillas,” says Raul Benítez Manout, a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). ” “The price of lemons and avocados is also determined by mafias. When governments hit their strong businesses, they turn to small businesses. But this does not happen across the country,” says this security expert. “It doesn’t happen as much in the north, for example, in Sinaloa, they don’t attack the small guys, they rely on businessmen to launder the money,” he explains. Some experts say that imprisoning the big bosses of these mafias leaves the attackers with no government and they devote themselves to their businesses at the street level.

Now, Manout says, migration is big business. The refrigerated trucks that carry goods come loaded with migrants. That, which was halted during the Covid pandemic, has now exploded as hundreds of thousands of people cross Mexico on their way to the United States and are being subject to extortion. “There are calculations that say it’s a more profitable business and with less oppression, including local police corruption,” he says.

The cartels’ versatility to combine their businesses has left the poorest populations bullied and the streets the source of violence, without being restrained by rulers. The rest of the population remains numb to these crimes taking place away from their homes, but the entire population contributes their purchases to finance drug traffickers, be it socks or a kilo of guavas bought at the market. Everyone pays for the apartment.

At Tepito, the shopkeeper turns her face and says softly: “Don’t turn back, that motorcycle that stopped at that stand just now, do you see it? Don’t wander around…he’s coming to get someone.” Without dismounting, without taking off his helmet, the motorcyclist receives his fee and drives away. 200 meters away, the police officer is still on his cell phone inside his car. Looking at the phone.

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(TagstoTranslate)Mexico(T)United States(T)Latin America(T)Violence(T)Commerce(T)Informality(T)Sales(T)Organized crime(T)Tax(T)Tax(T)Murder(T)Mafia

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