Pubdate: Fri, 16 Feb 2007
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Section: A
Copyright: 2007 Los Angeles Times
Authors: Sam Enriquez and Carlos Martinez, Times Staff Writers
Note: Cecilia Sanchez in The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to 
this report.
Bookmark: (Mexico)
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


Evictions Are Ordered at a Notorious Apartment Complex.

MEXICO CITY -- Several hundred protesters marched to City Hall on 
Thursday as authorities moved to evict residents and sidewalk 
merchants from twin apartment buildings known as the Fortress, 
identified by police as the heart of the capital's retail drug trade.

The campaign in the so-called narco-neighborhood, which began with 
the serving of eviction notices Wednesday, was the government's first 
such attack on street dealers in Mexico's newly declared war on drug violence.

President Felipe Calderon has ordered thousands of troops to six 
states since December to quell a battle between drug smugglers that 
last year left 2,000 people dead. Calderon's campaign has broad 
support. With increases in drug consumption and addiction in Mexico, 
illegal narcotics are no longer viewed as a U.S. problem.

But the government's incursion this week into the rough-and-tumble 
downtown neighborhood known as Tepito has drawn protests.

"No one's leaving," said Maria Rosete Sanchez, a neighborhood and 
tenant leader. "We don't want any compensation. Even if they offer us 
money, we'll reject it. Tepito is not for sale."

As demonstrators protested their innocence at City Hall, scores of 
would-be customers arrived before noon at the Fortress, only to be 
turned away by young men slouching against the stucco buildings.

"We're not selling today," one of them said.

Police in the last year have confiscated 770 pounds of marijuana, 
nearly 8 pounds of cocaine and 10,000 illegal pills from drug dealers 
and residents of the 144 apartment units that make up the Fortress, 
officials said.

City officials said they had taken legal possession of the buildings 
and were using a mayoral decree to order evictions in 73 of the 
apartments, the only units with legal occupants.

The rest of the apartments are occupied by squatters or are used to 
keep illegal merchandise, officials said.

"This property is a domain for criminals," said Jose Angel Avila, a 
deputy mayor.

It was not immediately clear who held title to the buildings or what 
legal recourse the owner or owners might have to challenge the move.

The apartments form part of a notorious marketplace for counterfeit 
DVDs, stolen electronics and auto parts, as well as knock-off 
designer clothing and watches. Authorities confiscated 80 tons of 
pirated CDs there last year.

Street merchants spent Thursday morning dismantling display stands 
and packing merchandise from a stretch of sidewalk outside the buildings.

"They told me to pack, so I'm packing," said one DVD seller who 
specializes in musicals, Mexican movies, U.S. television episodes and 
X-rated films.

About 600 police officers delivered the eviction notices before dawn 
Wednesday. Avila said the city planned to convert the buildings and 
use them for public child care, education and healthcare.

Tenants said they had received no notice of the evictions. There was 
no public hearing, they said, so people did not have a chance to make 
their cases.

"Police just came at 3 a.m. and started knocking on doors," Sanchez said.

Most tenants have ignored the eviction orders. Protesters at City 
Hall held signs that read, "Tepito, United Until Death." The 
64,000-square-foot property was razed after the 1985 earthquake and 
rebuilt in 1988.

Officials said they would help evicted tenants find new apartments 
and possibly pay temporary rental subsidies.

After the protest, a meeting with tenants was scheduled for Tuesday.

Protesters said they felt betrayed by Mexico City Mayor Marcel 
Ebrard, who was elected last summer and finished his campaign with an 
appearance in Tepito.

Ebrard, a member of the Democratic Revolution Party, was a protege of 
losing leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a 
former Mexico City mayor.

Lopez Obrador said officials fixed the July 2 election in favor of 
Calderon, and in November declared himself Mexico's "legitimate" 
president. But his popularity has since dwindled.

On Thursday, Ebrard sounded like he had joined Calderon's anti-drug campaign.

"We will continue to attack the neighborhoods where narco-trafficking 
takes place," Ebrard said.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake