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Mexican drug cartels now illegally mining iron ore for shipment to China

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 2nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Mexican drug cartels have kept their nation in a grip of fear with random acts of violence and mayhem. Even worse, the cartels are permeating all levels of the nation's economy, maintaining a Mafia-like stranglehold on businesses and exports. The most disturbing revelation made in recent months are drug gangs who are now in the business of illegal iron mining - which is in turn shipped to China.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Since 2010, evidence surfaced of irregular mining of iron in the states of Jalisco, Michoacan and Colima," the Mexico Economy Department declared in a statement.

"That illegal activity was encouraged by the great demand for iron by countries such as China, to develop their industries," the department added. "Many trading companies began to build up big stockpiles of legally and illegally obtained iron (ore), that was later shipped out for export."

Not authorized to speak on the record, a Mexican federal official has come forward to say that the cartels would use a combination of threats and outright theft to get the ore from mines. The nexus between the cartels and export companies makes this possible.

"They extort the merchandise from mining companies and then export it through legal companies, or they rob trucks full (of ore) that later turn up in a legal manner," the official said.

The Knights Templar drug cartel in particular has maintained a visible presence in illegal mining operations. Ofelia Alcala, a resident of the Michoacan mining village of Aquila says that the cartel has demanded residents hand over part of the royalty payments from a local iron ore mine operated by Ternium, a Luxembourg-based consortium.

A member of a self-defense group that rose up in arms in Aquila this summer to kick the cartel out, Alcala says that the cartel also had been hiring people to extract the ore without permits, and then exporting it through another Pacific coast port, Manzanillo.

"They weren't content with getting our money and robbing our trucks, so they began secretly extracting our minerals," Alcala says.

There have been official reports of irregular mining near its operations in Aquila. "Those have been passed on to the appropriate authorities," the company said in a statement.

The amount of iron ore being exported to China quadrupled between 2008 and the first half of 2013, rising to 4.6 million tons per year. It was during this time that the La Familia cartel, and later the Knights Templar cemented their control over Michoacan.

Officials said the export scheme may have involved other sea ports, and that more military takeovers may be necessary.

The only known arrests related to cartel mining operations happened in Michoacan in 2010. Ignacio Lopez Medina, an alleged member of La Familia, was accused of selling ore illegally to China. The arrest had little effect. The Attorney General's Office could not say whether Lopez Medina had been tried or convicted of that crime.

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