Residents of the rural Michoacán state in western Mexico are being subjected to violence, intimidation, and extortion by a local drug cartel called the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG). The cartel has set up makeshift Wi-Fi antennas in the area and is demanding that locals pay approximately $15 per month for access, or face severe consequences.
Cartel Installs Hundreds of ‘Narco-Antennas’
According to residents, the cartel has installed hundreds of so-called “narco-antennas” that emit Wi-Fi signals across Michoacán. While internet access is spotty or nonexistent in many rural regions of Mexico, the cartel’s Wi-Fi offers locals the ability to get online. However, very few residents can afford the $15 monthly extortion fee, which is exorbitant given average incomes in the agricultural area.
“They told us that if we didn’t pay, they would kill us,” said one man from the village of Turicato. “I make about $100 per week growing and selling vegetables, and internet access isn’t a necessity for us. But they don’t care – they just want the money.”
The antennas are fairly easy for the cartel to erect – they install cheap commercial antennas connected to internet switches, routers, and other hardware. The equipment is powered using illegally tapped electricity. By creating this parallel infrastructure, the cartel is essentially inserting itself as an ISP in the communities under its control.
Failure to Pay Leads to Severe Retaliation
There are dire consequences for those who fail to pay the “fees” imposed by the cartel. Local residents have reported cartel members threatening serious violence – including death – against those who don’t pay promptly. Others who have resisted have had family members abducted in retaliation. The cartel is notorious for ruthlessness when it doesn’t get its way.
In once instance in late 2022:
“Cartel members showed up at my neighbor’s house because he refused to pay,” one woman reported. “They shot and killed his son in front of him to send a message, then beat the man badly. My neighbor quickly fled town after that, fearing they would kill his whole family.”
These brazen acts have most locals quietly paying out of fear of becoming the next victims. And many of those impacted are subsistence farmers living hand-to-mouth, meaning the $15 per month charge takes food off family tables.
Government Lacks Resources to Intervene
Experts say the government lacks the resources to confront cartel operations in rural regions. Police and military units dedicated to confronting organized crime are concentrated in Mexico’s urban areas where the population is much higher. This leaves small agricultural communities highly exposed to the whims of violent criminal groups.
And even when authorities can intervene, the consequences are unpredictable:
|Conduct raids against cartel Wi-Fi infrastructure
|Retaliatory attacks and killings of police and family members
|Cut power and internet lines feeding antennas
|Alternative power sourcesEnable cartel infrastructure upgrades
|Arrest cartel extortionists
|New recruits fill the void quickly
“The cartels operate with near impunity across stretches of rural Mexico,” said security analyst Juanita Vasquez. “They have more guns, money, and manpower than police in these areas. And they are absolutely ruthless – the government is limited in what it can realistically do.”
The government’s difficulty in protecting these remote areas has led to a situation where locals live under cartel rule rather than formal governance.
Locals Forced to Tolerate Cartel Rule
With authorities unable to rein in cartel excesses, many locals have resigned themselves to tolerating – and even enabling – criminal groups to avoid violence. The cartel provides not only Wi-Fi, but other parallel services as well:
- Piped water
- Transportation infrastructure
- Protection and justice
“The cartel acts as a de facto state in this region,” explained resident Miguel Fernandez. “We are forced to pay for the services they provide even if we never asked for them. And there’s no one else who can stand up to them.”
This means the Wi-Fi extortion racket will continue unabated indefinitely unless conditions change significantly.
What Does the Future Hold?
Most experts believe the status quo of cartel rule and exaction of Wis-Fi fees will continue in the short to medium term. Locals are powerless to overcome the guns and violence wielded by criminal groups. And the government lacks the capabilities and resources for sustained confrontation.
However, some analysts think increased rural connectivity could accelerate economic development that gradually shifts power dynamics:
“If people can leverage internet access over time for education, jobs, and outside opportunities, they may become less beholden to cartels,” said economist Juanita Martinez. “Connectivity brings options – but real change will take substantial time.”
Alternatively, the installation of official above-ground internet infrastructure could eliminate the extortion racket’s foundations if connectivity became abundant:
“The government should prioritize major infrastructure upgrades bringing standard cellular and broadband services to rural regions,” said technology non-profit director Ricardo Mota. “Remove the stranglehold on internet access, and you weaken this source of cartel revenue and control.”
Realistically, though, rural development is not an immediate priority, meaning the cartel’s Wi-Fi racket will likely persist for years barring more assertive security interventions. Locals have little choice but to comply with extortion for now lest they risk vicious retaliation.
The situation highlights the Mexican state’s delicate dance with powerful criminal elements and limited ability to exert formal governance uniformly across rural areas. For communities in cartel crosshairs, violence, intimidation, and forced payments for services are an imposed way of life until conditions fundamentally shift.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.