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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkNews Around the Republic of Mexico 

Businesses Seek Refuge from Drug War in Mexico City
email this pageprint this pageemail usMica Rosenberg & Anahi Rama Reuters
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December 10, 2010

Mexico City Mexico City, known for its high crime rates and kidnappings, is becoming a safe haven for small businesses fleeing even worse drug violence raging elsewhere in the country, especially near the U.S. border.

Mexico City's comparative safety is a bright spot in President Felipe Calderon's army-backed drug war.
But even as the sprawling metropolis of 20 million people escapes the grizzliest drug murders and daytime shootouts, traffickers are moving into the city's outskirts and threatening to encroach on the capital's relative calm.

Homicide rates within city limits have dropped as murders in some northern states, where drug cartels battle over lucrative smuggling routes to the United States, more than doubled since 2007.

"Ten years ago everyone wanted to leave Mexico City because of the crime, no one would have believed it would become one of the safest places in the country," said Eduardo Gallo, head of the citizens group Mexicans United Against Crime.

Mexico City's comparative safety is a bright spot in President Felipe Calderon's army-backed drug war, launched soon after he took office in late 2006.

Some 5,000 business owners fled to Mexico City recently from states near the U.S.-Mexico border, said Juan de Dios Barba, head of the city's business association Coparmex. Most were restaurants, shops or professional offices, which have less overhead to move than bigger companies, although larger investors have also fled the northern border regions.

"Many were threatened or are struggling to find clients because a lot of people are leaving the north. They come here looking for a better economic situation," Barba said.

Residents in lawless Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, scared by soaring murder rates have abandoned more than 32,000 homes, a recent study showed. Shop owners who cannot migrate to the United States are often choosing the capital, Barba said.

Mexico City authorities say they are avoiding the worst cartel violence overtaking places like the once quiet northern industrial city of Monterrey by installing thousands of surveillance cameras to monitor city streets and subways.

Near the city's central square, at one of several new command centers, more than 100 police scan 24-hour video feeds on banks of computer screens to track criminals.


Mexico's tradition of centralized government, entrenched since pre-colonial times when the Aztecs ran their empire from the capital, may also be cushioning Mexico City more than rural areas where the state is almost absent and corruption is rife.

"The federal police are based here, the army is based here, the navy is based here," Mexico City Attorney General Miguel Angel Mancera told Reuters. "We have enough forces in the city to make it difficult for (drug cartels) to operate."

The shift could help Mexico City, the country's commercial hub, recover from a downturn after the global financial crisis and an outbreak of swine flu last year hit the local economy.

A turnaround for the city, burdened by an international reputation for kidnappings, assaults and robberies, is also a boost for Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, a 2012 presidential hopeful.

Murders within the Federal District, or D.F. as Mexico City is known, fell 20 percent between 2007 and 2009. While there were 16.5 homicides per every 100,000 people in Mexico City last year, the number reached 87.7 in the state of Durango and 79.9 per 100,000 in northern Chihuahua, according to statistics from Mexico City's attorney general's office.

But cartel violence is creeping closer. In 14 municipalities surrounding the city, drug killings increased nearly 50 percent this year compared to last, a count by daily newspaper Reforma showed.

Gangs have hung the bodies of rivals from bridges in the wealthy city of Cuernavaca, an hour from the capital, and dumped skinned, decapitated heads near the beach resort of Acapulco, popular with Mexico City vacationers.

A big chunk of drug money is believed to be laundered in D.F.'s banks and drug lords trying to keep a low profile can seek cover among the masses in the world's third-largest city, a U.S. official in Mexico told Reuters.

The sons of two of the country's biggest drug bosses were arrested last year living posh lives in the city's most expensive neighborhoods. Another top trafficker Jesus "The King" Zambada, brother of the Sinaloa cartel's second-in-command, ran a cocaine trafficking ring out of Mexico City's international airport before being busted in 2008.

As the drug war escalates, with more than 31,000 people killed in the last four years across Mexico, the bubble of security enjoyed in the capital may be short-lived. Some local businesses are reporting extortions by gangs claiming affiliations with the major cartels.

"We are not seeing the same scenes here as in the north of the country," Coparmex's Barba said. "But this is in no way an island of tranquility. We still have serious problems."

(Editing by Eric Beech)

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