A company that distributes soft drinks for PepsiCo has said it is closing operations in a region of southern Mexico because of drug gang threats.
The closure of the Grupo Gepp plant in the city of Ciudad Altamirano comes amid an intensification of Mexico’s already raging security crisis that has included a rash of assassinations of politicians ahead of general elections on July 1st.
The 112th such murder since September, according to the Etellekt risk analysis consultancy, took place last Friday in the northern city of Piedras Negras.
A gunman shot Fernando Purón at point blank range from behind as he posed for a selfie with a supporter, just after a debate with rival congressional candidates.
The violence has been particularly bad in the southern state of Guerrero, which includes the city of Ciudad Altamirano where the closure of the Pepsi distribution plant comes less than three months after Coca-Cola Femsa also shut its plant there for similar reasons.
The city lies at the heart of the Tierra Caliente, or ‚Hot Land‘ region, which is home to several small but heavily armed and violent gangs that formed after high-profile arrests of drug barons triggered the fragmentation of their cartels.
These groups traffic heroin paste made from the sap of the opium poppies grown in local mountains to feed the epidemic of opioid addiction in the United States.
They have long terrorized small businesses with demands for protection money, but had previously tended to leave big companies alone.
Roberto Alvarez, spokesman for the joint federal and state level security operations in Guerrero, said this has changed because of a dramatic drop in the price of heroin as the use of the synthetic opioid fentanyl grows.
“A year ago gangs were paying local poppy farmers about 20,000 or 25,000 pesos (£1,000) for every kilo of opium paste. Now they are paying just 5,000 pesos (£200),” he told The Telegraph. “They are looking for other sources of income.”
Mr Alvarez said that the government believes the Pepsi distribution plant was targeted after it was left with the entire market because of the closure of Coca-Cola operations.
“That seems to have awoken the interest of the criminal gangs in the area,” he said. “When they start going after big companies as well as small, it shows how serious the situation has become.”