MEXICO CITY (AP) — Social distancing measures and calls for Mexicans to remain in their homes have not produced a drop in violent crime, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Friday.
There had been hope that the measures implemented in late March to slow the spread of the new coronavirus would lead to a significant decrease in criminality, but the president said that has not been seen in the numbers.
López Obrador blamed the stubbornly high homicide rate on confrontations between gangs. “They continue disputing territory, clashing amongst themselves,” he said.
He said officials are not seeing, as some have suggested, higher incidence of domestic violence because people have been confined to their homes in a stressful situation.
One industry group — the National Association of Vehicle Tracking and Protection Companies — predicted highway freight hijackings could actually increase as much as 50% during the pandemic, in part because of shortages of key goods.
While freight hijackings have declined in recent months, criminal groups frequently stage armed thefts of entire tractor trailers, in order to sell the merchandise in Mexico’s ubiquitous street markets.
“We are afraid that in coming months as the country’s economy takes a downturn, there will be an increased demand for basic goods at low prices, like processed foods, medicine, personal hygiene products, footwear and clothing,” said the association’s president, Víctor Manuel Presichi. “That is precisely where the black market will step in, to sell stolen or fake merchandise.”
There have already been some instances of mass robberies, with thieves breaking into stores in large groups and carrying off televisions and other items.
In some parts of Mexico, like the southern state of Guerrero, police have been stationed outside stores and the government has threatened to bring felony charges like criminal conspiracy against looters, with prison sentences of up to 16 years.
Alejandro Desfassiaux, president of the National Private Security Council, which represents private security firms, also predicted things will get worse as people’s money runs out.
“We will see general looting of electrical appliances, money and jewelry” in the initial stages of the outbreak in Mexico, Desfassiaux said, predicting trends would change in the worst days of the pandemic. “Sustained contagion combined with a lack of money in people’s pockets will be when we unfortunately start to see looting of products of necessity, such as food and medicine.”
As of Friday, 60 people had died in Mexico of the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus and 1,688 had tested positive for the virus.