Residents of Mexico City's trendiest area are reeling from a spate of armed robberies, and even gunfire in the streets, shattering its reputation as a safe haven in Mexico's wider security crisis.
On Monday night a tree-lined street in the city's Roma neighborhood suddenly lost its tranquility when six armed men ran over to the sidewalk tables of two adjacent bars and robbed dozens. Then, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, locals in the adjacent Colonia Condesa awoke to the sound of gunfire. Police shot multiple rounds at a vehicle, as at least 30 patrol cars lined the typically quiet street, and confused onlookers filmed the scene from above.
It is not yet clear whether the robberies were connected to the police swoop and shooting in which police fatally wounded a 27-year-old man who later died from his injuries. They had nothing to do with the murder, a few days earlier, of a 50-year-old dentist who was shot dead in his office in the Condesa after he reportedly refused to pay 40,000 pesos ($2,341 dollars) in extortion payments.
Violent attacks on bars, gunfights in the streets, and deaths related to extortion are common in many parts of Mexico — including on the outskirts of the capital. But the Roma and the Condesa have long been considered removed from these kinds of violent crime that are more associated with drug war hotspots where cartels run a whole range of criminal rackets that reach far beyond narcotics.
People in the bars hit in the Roma on Monday said that a possible armed robbery was the last thing they expected while out for a quiet drink at the beginning of the holiday season.
"The whole thing happened so quickly. It was total chaos," one of them told VICE News. Like other witnesses he did not want to see his name printed for fear of being identified by the criminals who stole IDs, house keys, and contact information. "They started at the bar next door and then came over to our table screaming, 'You sons of bitches — phones, wallets, everything you have, NOW!'"
The armed men then ran around the corner, he said. Despite a heavy police presence in the area there have been no arrests.
The robberies came less than two months after a similar incident occurred at a nearby restaurant, when at least four armed men robbed customers before speeding off in a waiting getaway car. Just weeks before that robbery, staff at a restaurant around the corner discovered that their cleaning lady had been strangled to death inside. The unidentified killers reportedly escaped with about 50,000 pesos (under $3,000) in cash.
Local authorities this week reiterated the importance of reporting crime. A recent government survey found that less than 10 percent of Mexico's violent crime is ever reported — primarily due to widespread distrust in the authorities.
The Roma restaurant robbery in October was not reported to the authorities until a flurry of social media accounts of the incident were picked up by local media. Hours before the chaos began on Monday, Mexico City authorities announced the arrest of three of the men who were allegedly involved in that earlier case.
"I don't know how much the cops are colluding with these criminals," one of the victims from this week's assaults told VICE News. "Everything is so suspicious. Who can you even trust?"
Whenever such high-impact crimes grab the headlines, Mexico City's authorities typically insist they are isolated incidents rather than signs of organized criminal activity in the capital.
The bound and executed body of a young man found hanging from a pedestrian bridge over a major highway in late October directly echoed drug war related crimes in many parts of the country. Mexico City's Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera, however, downplayed the severity of the message by stressing the bridge lay on the city's edge.
Mancera has also always insisted that the May 2013 kidnaping and murder of 13 youths from an after hours spot called Heaven's Bar had nothing to do with organized crime, despite the numbers and level of coordination obviously involved. On Sunday, authorities sentenced two men to a total of 1,040 years in prison for their alleged involvement. Only five people have been convicted for the crime.
But the claims that Mexico City is somehow immune to serious — and organized — violent crime have been met with increasing incredulity that is now being fueled by the recent attacks in the Roma and the Condesa that took place despite a major hike in police presence in the area following the October restaurant assault. Now, it seems, even hipsters hanging out in wealthy, central, and trendy neighborhoods with police protection are under attack.
"This is going to affect me from here until forever. I mean, I'm not going to live in panic and isolation, but I will definitely be more aware," one of the victims said. "This shit is real, and it's happening. It'll happen on a busy street to dozens of people at the same time."
Follow Andrea Noel on Twitter @MetabolizedJunk.