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Mexico: Cartel suspects attack snack food company

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Wed May 30, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Attackers set ablaze Sabritas warehouses and delivery trucks
  • The company is a subsidiary of PepsiCo, distributing snack products in Mexico
  • Authorities arrest four suspects they say are members of the Knights Templar
  • Business leaders call for authorities to punish the perpetrators

Mexico City (CNN) -- Products like Ruffles, Doritos and Cheetos may be among the latest targets of cartel violence in Mexico.

Authorities said armed attackers over the weekend set ablaze warehouses and delivery trucks for Sabritas, a subsidiary of PepsiCo that distributes many of the company's snack foods in Mexico.

Five of the company's distribution centers were attacked in the states of Guanajuato and Michoacan, officials said. Sabritas has not provided details about the damage, but Mexico's state-run Notimex agency said the attacks caused "serious material losses." No one was injured or killed, authorities said.

On Monday, authorities arrested four suspects who they said were members of the Knights Templar, a cartel that officials have accused of extorting business owners, decapitating and dismembering kidnapping victims and setting vehicles ablaze to block roads during shootouts with police.

The suspects in this month's attacks face charges of aggravated arson, but federal authorities are investigating them for connections with organized crime, Guanajuato state prosecutors said.

To prevent further attacks, state authorities were guarding 10 of the company's warehouses on Tuesday in Michoacan, a Knights Templar stronghold, Notimex reported.

Sabritas said it was working with authorities to investigate the attacks.

"The company is taking all the necessary measure to re-establish the operation as soon as possible (in the affected distribution centers). Sabritas reiterates that its priority will always be the safety of all its collaborators," the company said Monday.

Word of the attacks quickly spread in Mexico's business community, with the leader of at least one industry group saying seeing such a large company fall victim to violence could discourage others from investing in the country.

Already, amid widespread threats and extortion, many companies are devoting an increasing portion of their budgets to security, Sergio Cervantes Rodiles, president of the National Chamber of Transformation Industries, told Notimex.

The head of another national business group condemned the attacks Tuesday and called on authorities to punish the perpetrators.

"The hurting or threatening of companies, which are the principal generators of wealth and jobs in Mexico, must not be allowed under any circumstances," Confederation of National Chambers of Commerce President Jorge Davila Flores said in a statement.

Analysts have argued that Mexico's economy is thriving, despite widespread violence in a drug war that has claimed more than 47,500 lives since President Felipe Calderon began a crackdown on cartels in December 2006.

Gun and bomb attack on hotel in Mexican border town wounds 10

Speaking at a regional security conference in Cancun on Monday, Calderon said that organized crime was a threat to democracy and economic growth.

"Organized crime is also a threat to growth and development, and an obstacle for prosperity. It attacks companies and businesses, big and small storekeepers, and with that infringes on the urgent need to generate jobs and employment for our people," he said.

CNNMexico.com contributed to this report.

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