Edgar N. ran a profitable business in the state of Michoacán during most of his adult life, but after falling victim to extortion by local organized crime groups five years ago, he closed his export business and relocated to the state of Querétaro.
“Business was doing fine, 500,000 pesos of sales monthly; I was one of the most successful businesses in my area of the region,” he says. “Michoacán has always had organized crime. Different criminal gangs ran their drug businesses in the area. But in those days they operated like businessmen,” explains Edgar. “When I got to Michoacán, the first thing they told me was not to look for trouble. Things were quieter then. We all knew who were the bad guys and we simply didn’t get into it with them, and they didn’t get into it with us.”
Then everything changed. “It was around midyear in 2005 when we began to see the black pickups that nobody knew. They were a bad sign. By the end of the year rumor had it in the community that they were Zetas. Within two years these were replaced in a bloody battle by an even more unstoppable group: La Familia Michoacana [The Michoacán Family], a kind of military and religious sect that today controls the whole region.”
Fear, the new way of life
Weekday afternoon on Calle Palacio de Paquimé in colonia Rinconada de las Torres: Closed for business. (©Borderzine.com)
Edgar, 45, recalls that in Michoacán extortion became more frequent. First a fire at a chicken farm, two days later an auto parts was burned, after that a shoe store. The message was clear; if you don’t cooperate, pay the consequences. “They demanded a very high quota that began with 10,000 pesos. As your business grew they increased the amount.” Each time they sent somebody to collect, that person would look around taking notes in a little accounting book about the business and earnings. If they saw improvements they increased the demand. “Fear took over our daily lives. Profits were marginal and we made our decision to begin a new life in Querétaro.” He, his wife and son had to rebuild their entire lives there.
Edgar and his family have now lived in a two-story house in a modest colonia in Querétaro four years. He was lucky to leave Michoacán in time. In spite of having to start his business again from zero, today he can say he lives free of threats. He pays rent and earns one third of what he made before, but unlike his Michoacán friends, he is worry free. Querétaro has benefitted from a significant influx of small and midsize businesses like his during the last two years.
In contrast, Edgar’s friend, Samuel, who stayed in Michoacán, is not doing as well. Today it is difficult to move from the city because La Familia keeps track of its victims. Samuel has an auto parts business in Morelia and he pays La Familia a monthly fee of $(US) 4,000. When he tried to move his business, a thug from the cartel threatened him and his family, describing where his children, parents, siblings and nieces lived. “I prefer not to fight them,” he laments.
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