Street merchants in Mexico City’s markets Tepito and La Merced
Gangsters from La Unión de Tepito, a Mexico City criminal group headed by Alberto Fuentes Castro (“El Elvis”), warned merchants that they will continue requesting protection racket payments from businesses during the coronavirus outbreak. Many of the businesses in these areas are temporarily closed and have suffered economic losses during the outbreak.
La Unión de Tepito controls the sale of counterfeit goods in Mexico City. The coronavirus outbreak has caused La Unión de Tepito to suffer millions in losses since businesses are unable to acquire Chinese merchandise to resale. La Unión de Tepito buys the merchandise in China directly by sending representatives and then resells the products to vendors in Mexico and/or charges a fee to those who sell Chinese merchandise in their turf.
Gangsters have warned merchants that they do not care about the virus outbreak and will continue to request their monthly fee. In previous weeks, merchants had warned gang members that they would stop paying them if they did not receive their Chinese merchandise. Business owners said La Unión de Tepito will kidnap and kill them if they do not comply.
Background and details
Last week, Borderland Beat shared an article about the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak in Mexico. It specifically mentioned how La Unión de Tepito would have a harder time adapting to the pandemic when compared to larger and more established criminal groups like the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), which can endure losses for longer periods of time.
Alberto Fuentes Castro (“El Elvis”), gang leader; (credit: LSR)
But merchants in Mexico City stated that La Unión de Tepito is not holding back on the requesting their monthly extortion payments. They expect businesses to continue paying them even if they are closed or not making a profit. Business owners claim that gang members travel across the area in motorcycles and kidnap and kill those who do not pay them. They asked the Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo to bring the National Guard to the area to prevent such measures from La Unión de Tepito.
Business owners stated that La Unión de Tepito had burned several businesses in Mexico City that failed to pay them. “Even though the local doesn’t won’t admit”, one merchant said. The majority of the merchants do not go to authorities to formally file a complaint. In the last three years, 12 merchant group leaders from Mexico City’s historic center were killed for exposing the extortion operations in the area.
Areas controlled by La Unión de Tepito
Most of the extortion operation headed by La Unión de Tepito are centered in Mexico City’s historic center and in Cuauhtémoc borough. However, the gang also extorts street sellers in markets in Eje Central 1, Tepito and La Merced as well as the following neighborhoods: Centro, Roma, Juarez, and Peralvillo.
Extortion zone in Mexico City’s historic center (credit: Milenio)
According to police reports, one of the main corridors for La Unión de Tepito is Eje 1 Norte, which runs from Reforma to Eje 1 Oriente Avenida del Trabajo. La Unión de Tepito operates in Morelos neighborhood, specifically in the boroughs Cuauhtemoc and Venustiano Carranza. They also have control of Centro neighborhood through a cell commanded by El Elvis.
Among the most important streets that La Unión de Tepito controls are: Costa Rica, Bolivia, Del Carmen, Guatemala, Perú, Colombia and Paraguay. This last street is one of El Elvis’s centers of operation; in addition to being drug trafficking and retail drug sales, Paraguay street is where contraband merchandise from China is first assembled.
El Elvis commands Los Paraguayos (The Paraguayans, in reference to Paraguay street). They are a subgroup of La Unión de Tepito and are responsible for collecting protection racket payments from businesses in the area.