Capture of kingpin offers hope to battered Mexican state

The arrest of one of Mexico’s most notorious crime lords has offered a glimmer of hope to businesses in a central state whose emergence as an industrial powerhouse has been clouded by the bloody gang wars he waged there.

The capture on Sunday of alleged drug trafficker and fuel thief Jose Antonio Yepez, alias “El Marro,” has removed one of the two bosses battling for control of Guanajuato, a state once dominated by mining and agriculture but now bristling with carmaking operations.

Turf wars between Yepez, leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel, and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel of Nemesio Oseguera have sown chaos in Guanajuato, which could benefit from a new North American trade deal launched in July.

Authorities say Yepez, 40, masterminded the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars of fuel in a state crisscrossed with pipelines and home to one of Mexico’s six oil refineries.

“We all hope these kinds of crimes start to decrease, the perception of lawlessness diminishes, and that the business climate picks up,” Jose Arturo Sanchez, head of the CCE business lobby in Leon, Guanajuato’s biggest city, said after the arrest.

Guanajuato boasts plants of carmakers such as Toyota, General Motors, Honda and Mazda, but its automotive prowess has been increasingly overshadowed by gangland slayings since the government cracked down on El Marro’s fuel theft ring in late 2018.

As illicit fuel sources dried up, his gang began to extort firms to secure extra revenues, a local businessman said. What had once been “sporadic” extortion became “a rule”, he added, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Yepez’s detention offered a “glimmer of hope” that companies could start planning with greater certainty again, he said.

Guanajuato’s descent into bloodshed has been precipitous.

In 2011, the peak year of gang violence under then-President Felipe Calderon, Guanajuato accounted for 2.7% of the national murder tally. In 2020, with murders on track to break records for the third year running, the figure is over 13%.

Guillermo Romero, a former state economy minister, said Yepez’s capture should lift investor confidence, and welcomed what he saw as improved cooperation between the opposition-run state government and federal authorities.

Now authorities needed to ensure they did not allow jostling to succeed Yepez to unleash more mayhem, he added.

“There can be no let up,” he said.


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