Mexico’s drug crackdown spurs extortion wave

In the first eight months of 2013, there were 5,335 reported extortion attempts nationwide, equal to the number for all of the previous year. The total could surpass 8,000 this year, almost twice as many as in 2007.

A police vehicle is parked at Dr. Roman Gomez Gaviria’s Mexico City-area clinic. Security was boosted after he fought off a gang demanding protection money.

When the threatening phone calls demanding $20,000 in protection money began in December, Dr. Roman Gomez Gaviria shrugged them off, believing his clinic on the outskirts of Mexico City couldn’t possibly be of interest to criminal gangs.

A few months later, in February, his sense of security was shattered when three armed men barged into his office.

Such shakedown rackets are spreading.

One anti-crime group estimates that kidnapping across the country has jumped by one-third so far this year compared with 2012. And as the extortion industry expands, it has drawn experienced criminals and imitators.

Experts say the increase is a byproduct of Mexico’s crackdown on drug gangs. As authorities nab cartel bosses and break up chains of command, lower-level gunmen and traffickers are desperate for income and looking for it in new places.

Targets include everything from multinational businesses to corner pharmacies and unsuspecting vacationers. The gangs are less organized but more ubiquitous than the drug cartels, affecting broad swaths of the country.


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