Criminal groups in Mexico operate with greater impunity in the midst of a pandemic

Mexican criminal groups see the Covid-19 crisis as a great opportunity to gain more power.

Close to 200 active criminal groups act as guardians and protectors of communities across Mexico, handing out aid packages with groceries, and at the same time using extortion, kidnapping, and violence to control the local population.

Men with assault rifles stand guard as their colleagues hand out plastic bags of groceries from a pick-up truck to a crowd of mostly older women.

Off-screen, the man recording the mobile phone footage announces that the aid packages come from a local crime boss “who runs things here”, in the city of Apatzingán in Mexico’s western state of Michoacán.

As Mexico braces for Covid-19 – the peak of infections is expected in May – criminal groups are positioning themselves to leverage the pandemic for their own ends.

Over the past 20 years, successive Mexican governments have proven incapable of curbing illegal armed groups whose expanding territorial control has brought ever- worsening levels of lethal conflict.

Close to 200 criminal groups are active in the country, according to open-source analysis conducted by Crisis Group, driving new homicide records by the year.

34,582 homicides were recorded in 2019, making it the bloodiest year in the country since modern record-keeping began in the 1990s.

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