How Mexico tried to crush La Unión Tepito

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Mexico City authorities maintained a two-year crackdown on the city’s biggest gang, La Unión Tepito, arresting hundreds and freezing millions of assets as they attempted to destroy the root and branch of the band.

In early May, a group of extortionists apparently belonging to La Unión Tepito were arrested after shaking up businesses in Mexico City’s historic center. Two days earlier, one of the gang’s main operators in the capital had also been arrested.

Such operations have multiplied in recent years. Between January 2020 and early April 2022, nearly 550 members of La Unión Tepito were detained in the capital – nearly five times more than the next local group, according to figures offered by Mexico City’s Citizen Security Secretary Omar García Harfuch, at a press conference on April 25. conference.

The result would have been a dramatic reduction in homicides, among other crimes, as the organization’s top leaders, from plaza bosses and extortionists to financial operators and drug distributors, fell under judicial assault.

SEE ALSO: The inner workings of La Unión Tepito revealed during the Mexico City raid

In February, Harfuch said La Unión Tepito had been irreparably fragmented, saying the targeting of the group and the arrest of its leader in early 2020 meant its remaining cells now operated in isolation, independent of central command.

Since 2020, Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit (Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera – UIF) has also frozen about $5.2 million in about 1,500 bank accounts linked to La Unión Tepito, Harfuch told reporters.

Atomization does not mean destruction, however, and media reports suggest that at least five major factions still operate under the banner of La Unión Tepito, deeply involved in microtrafficking, extortion, and theft in most of Mexico City’s largest boroughs. .

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Since its rise in the late 2000s, La Unión Tepito has never been so systematically targeted by law enforcement as it is today. Still, experts remain divided on what this means for the band’s future. Some believe it will inevitably decline; others, that it will survive and evolve.

“I think the decline is irreversible. We should already be thinking about the possibility of new leadership and the possibility that cells end up being absorbed by other types of organizations,” Jaime López Aranda, a security and justice expert, told InSight Crime. .

Besides the fact that many such rival organizations have a presence in the capital, including the powerful Jalisco Cartel, the localized nature of rent extortion and microtrafficking on which La Unión Tepito depends makes it vulnerable to atomization, according to Lopez Aranda.

“There’s a general pattern in the kind of activities they engage in, that if you take out some leadership structures, the remaining cells don’t regroup,” he said.

SEE ALSO: Profile of La Unión Tepito

On the other side, however, there are those who argue that while the authorities are not exaggerating the impact of the crackdown on La Unión Tepito, its loss of centralized leadership is not an existential threat. One such individual is Antonio Nieto, a crime journalist and author of a book on La Unión Tepito.

“Omar García Harfuch said it is not a unified organization [anymore]. He’s right, of course…[but] in general it always worked that way, as cells that had a purpose and an area of ​​influence,” he told InSight Crime.

In fact, according to Nieto, the speed of expansion of La Unión Tepito before 2020 was such that the authorities did not destroy the group but merely slowed its progress. For now, its dominant cells do not fight each other and can effectively fend off the advance of local rivals, like the growing gang of Lenin Canchola, and encroaching criminal organizations, like the Jalisco and Sinaloa Cartels.

“In the long term, it is possible that other criminal groups or a cartel will take over,” Nieto said, but “whatever happens, whoever they arrest, for at least two, three or four years, we will continue to say that La Unión is Mexico City’s dominant group”.

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