MEXICO CITY — It is known here as the “cucaracha effect,” the possibility that a heavy government crackdown in one part of Mexico will simply send the bad guys scurrying off, cockroach-like, to some other place and cause new trouble.
There was intense concern Tuesday that members of the violent drug cartel called the Knights Templar were flowing out of their home base in Michoacan, the southwestern state to which federal police and troops were deployed last week to bring order to areas the cartel has long dominated.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was forced to send in the federal reinforcements after a number of “self-defense” vigilante groups went on the offensive, announcing that they planned to drive out the Knights Templar on their own. It was a serious domestic security matter for the president, but it initially appeared to be limited to one state.
Now, however, mysterious attacks on a series of convenience stores have raised the possibility that the trouble in Michoacan is spreading.
The attacks, which occurred late Sunday, targeted branches of the ubiquitous Oxxo chain, a homegrown rival to 7-Eleven and Circle K, in the state of Mexico, on Michoacan's eastern border, and the nearby state of Hidalgo. A spokesperson for Oxxo’s parent company, FEMSA, confirmed Tuesday that three stores had been burned. Earlier, Mexican news outlets reported that there were other incidents. [links in Spanish]
FEMSA said two employees were injured in the attacks.
Were the torched convenience stores the work of the Knights Templar? The group hasn’t claimed responsibility for the attacks, and government officials have not been able to agree on whether the cartel was involved.
The public security secretary for the state of Hidalgo said Monday that the attackers were cartel members. But on Tuesday, the head of the National Public Security System, Monte Alejandro Rubido Garcia, told the news service Milenio that the attacks didn’t seem to correspond with the “style” of the Knights Templar. [link in Spanish]
In the last couple of weeks, a number of commercial establishments have been attacked and burned in Michoacan. These were widely suspected to have been the work of cartel members or cartel supporters.
If nothing else, federal officials are well aware of the need to deal with the cucaracha effect. On Monday, Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong met with governors of the states surrounding Michoacan. According to a news release, they discussed their plans for “shielding” their states from “any possible effects that the security actions being carried out in Michoacan may have.”