Authorities in Mexico said Friday they’re investigating a video that appears to show gunmen from a drug cartel forcing female bar hostesses to kneel on the floor in a mock execution and extorting money from them.
The video, posted on social media, shows one of the gunmen holding a pistol to the head of one woman as she is forced to lie flat on the floor. His foot is on her shoulder as she pleads with him not to shoot.
"Yes, yes, yes. Please don't shoot. Please," says the woman in the video.
"This is so you know, the owner of the escort business is the CJNG," the masked gunman says, referring to the initials of the Jalisco New Generation cartel. Those initials also appear on the tactical vests the gunmen are wearing.
"You have to report to us every week," the gunman says, though he did not say how much the women will be forced to pay.
The Jalisco cartel is one of the groups that have waged a bloody years-long turf war in the north-central state of Guanajuato, which has Mexico's highest number of homicides. Authorities there said Friday they are studying the video to determine if its authentic, or where it was taped, noting they did not yet have any evidence it was taped in their state.
The gunman says all bar hostesses or waitresses will be forced to pay protection money, and that the cartel will distribute bracelets to show who has paid and who hasn’t. Those who don’t pay will be killed, he threatened in colloquial terms.
Drug cartels in Mexico are increasingly branching out into extortion, kidnapping and demanding protection money from all sorts of businesses, including immigrant smugglers.
During last year's upsurge in people crossing the U.S. border from Mexico, some migrants were given bracelets to wear, showing which gang had smuggled them and, in some cases, where they were headed.
Guanajuato-based security analyst David Saucedo said that drug cartels have reached new heights in controlling who has paid up and who hasn't, including inspection-style stickers on some frequently-extorted vehicles, like buses.
"Some organized crime groups are distributing stickers to show who has paid, and who hasn't," Saucedo said.
He noted that, while some businesses have still not been targeted by the extortion racket, the shake-downs are growing ever wider.
"As time goes on, more businesses are added to the list of extortions," he noted.
They need not even be very lucrative businesses. For example, in Guanajuato and the southern Mexico state of Guerrero, drug cartels have shot up or burned tortilla shops for failing to pay protection money —or paying it to a rival gang. Tortillas in Mexico sell for about 65 cents per pound, with relatively small profit margins.