Thursday, September 24, 2009

Extortion in Juarez: Paying the Vacuna

As it become clear that the presence of nearly 10,000 troops in Juarez could not contain the violence generated by the wars going on within organized crime and between organized crime and law enforcement, ordinary criminals took note and increased the scale of their activities. One important feature in this development has been a spike in kidnapping, frightening business owners, many of whom have crossed the border into El Paso, sometimes bringing their business with them. For the upper, say, 3 percent or so of the income earners in Juarez, kidnapping is by far the greatest potential danger.

But for the small businesses, mom-and-pop operations, sometimes on wheels, the greatest threat is extortion, which has affected a higher proportion of Juarenses than any other type of increase in crime in recent months.

From a report in Norte this morning, by Beatriz Corral Iglesias, click here

According to a report by Leopoldina Aguirre, president of the National Chamber of Small Business, at least 975 owners of grocery and other supply stores in Juarez claim they have tangled in one way or another with extortionists who have asked them for protection money. Up to now at least five small business owners have died defending themselves against extortionists. Out of the 1300 members from Juarez in this association, the hardest hit are the tire repair stores, the junk yards and other repair stores, and metal recyclers. But it is also true that virtually all grocery and other supply stores have been hit. "Some pay the "vacuna," (the "vaccination,") price, as the extortion is commonly called here, some simply leave town before something bad happens," she said.

Sixteen farmacies have closed, and 30 tortilla makers have closed. Of the 100 tire repair stores that we had two years ago, only 15 are currently operating, none of which operates after 8 p.m., even though many used to operate all night.

Ms. Aguirre spoke of a case she knew about (most people in Juarez have similar stories)in which a woman whose son was kidnapped, agreed to pay about $800 (U.S.) for his return. She was then threatened if she did not pay a monthly protection racket fee, and she subsequently left the city. She also mentioned the liquor store "Nonis," on Gomez Morin and Neptuno (a heavy-traffic intersection) which is now covered with protective metal bars after numerous thefts and extortions, and the "Servicio Angel," a tire repair store which has operated 12 years at Plutarco Elias Calles just before you get to Paseo Triunfo, a solid uptown address where the owner has installed all kinds of video devices and placed the business up for sale.

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