Latin America & Caribbean

Mexican city of Celaya rocked by cartel violence

Firefighters work on a burning car outside a store after an operation by security forces against organized crime in Celaya, in Guanajuato state, Mexico June 20, 2020 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption More than 20 vehicles were set alight across the town

The city of Celaya in the Mexican state of Guanajuato was the scene of violent clashes over the weekend between members of the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel and Mexican security forces.

Twenty-six people were arrested, including the mother, sister and a cousin of the cartel's leader, José Yépez, known as "El Marro" (Stingy).

The gang had earlier torched more than 20 cars and set alight six shops.

The cartel has so far mainly dedicated itself to fuel theft.

What's the background ?

Celaya in central Mexico has seen a spike in violence as the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel has tried to defend its criminal enterprise in the central state of Guanajuato, which include extortion rackets and fuel theft.

The group has not only been involved in a deadly feud with its rivals, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, but has also seen heavy bloody infighting with José Yépez and his former sidekick, Noe Lara Belman, better known as Puma, both claiming leadership of the gang.

Image copyright EPA

More than 1,000 people have been killed in gang-related violence in the state in the three months from March to June, according to a tally by consulting firm Lantia Consultores.

What happened over the weekend?

Security forces said the gang set alight more than 20 vehicles and a number of businesses across Celaya on Saturday as police moved in to detain key suspected members of the group.

A total of 26 people were arrested and weapons and vehicles seized.

Following the arrests, cartel leader José Yépez recorded a video shared on social media threatening "to blow up" the government in retaliation for the arrests.

Appearing to be close to tears, he thanks his gang members for their support and says he will fight "until I die" even if he's "left alone like a dog".

It is not the first time José Yépez has issued threats via video. In 2017, he appeared in a recording surrounded by armed men telling the much bigger and more powerful Jalisco New Generation cartel to stay out of Guanajuato.

The illegal siphoning off of fuel from pipelines belonging to state-oil company Pemex is big business in Mexico. The government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador made the dismantling of the fuel theft gangs such as the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel one his main priorities in 2019.

But attempts to detain José Yépez have so far failed, with the gang leader reportedly escaping through a network of tunnels when the security forces moved in on him in 2019 in the town his cartel is named after.

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