Is San Miguel de Allende less safe than a year ago? Sadly, yes. At least 68 homicides were committed during the first half of this year in San Miguel compared with just two in all of 2018.
Why this huge spike in homicides? We are about an hour and a half drive from Santa Rosa de Lima, a small village near Guanajuato City, which, until earlier this year, was known to me only as a maker of fairly mediocre majolica. I now know that it is also the home of the leading gasoline-stealing gang in Mexico. The abandoned mines behind and underneath Santa Teresa have held – and may still hold – a great deal of stolen gasoline. There have been several shoot-outs between government troops and local residents this year as Mexico’s new president has sought to eliminate the very wide spread theft of gasoline. These efforts seem to be succeeding. However, this has left the Santa Rosa gang in need of “employment.” The very prosperous economy of San Miguel de Allende holds much interest.
A seldom discussed story here is that over the last 10 years or so most businesses have had to pay protection money to another gang. This has been a tragedy and has forced more than a few small businesses into bankruptcy. Now, the two gangs are fighting over the protection money business with much human fallout. The sadness of all this is beyond words. In the last two weeks, two teenagers were shot at a taco stand and innocent bystanders were also hit, one killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The entire city is discussing these crime issues at length. There is a clear recognition that this is a serious problem and there has been much discussion about potential solutions.
On the positive side, there is now a great deal of serious money in the major hotels and restaurants in San Miguel, many of which have prominent and politically-connected backers. And, the new president of Mexico has made security for the country a top priority. So far, this upsurge in violence has not yet affected expats living in San Miguel. There was a shooting of two policemen this week that resulted in the apprehension of three suspects within an hour, helped greatly by city security cameras. More will be installed in the future.
Has this increase in crime affected my life or the life of my friends? No. Has it changed San Miguel? Not much, at least from my viewpoint as a local expat resident and a businessman. Of course, there is great compassion for the loss of life and concern about the future of personal safety here, but life goes on as before. But there is now a new reality to living in one the world’s most favored cities.