MEXICO CITY — On February 23rd, two people were shot dead on the historic campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in the heart of the country’s capital. According to Mexico City-based newspaper El Universal, the long-running drug war has reached the streets of the capital as three cartels battle for control of the drug trade in the area surrounding the country’s most prestigious university.

Cartels began moving in for access to the student population and for the campus’ lack of police officers and checkpoints. The Tláhuac cartel, born in the eastern Mexico City neighborhood of the same name, had long dominated the drug trade at UNAM, operating more than 20 dealers in the area. But that reign came to an end in January after the death and capture of two key cartel leaders, Felipe de Jesús Pérez Luna El Ojos and Uriel Isaac El Cochi.

The group’s demise led to a violent turf war with two new arrivals: the Tepito cartel from the eponymous barrio in the capital's north, and the Los Rodolfos cartel from Xochimilco in the south. That war is bringing shootouts to the streets of the UNAM campus, founded in 1950 and recognized as architectural patrimony by UNESCO.

The Tláhuac cartel had long dominated the drug trade at UNAM — Photo: DPA/ZUMA

Los Rodolfos, led by Rodolfo Rodríguez Morales La Gorda, was once a Tláhuac ally before seizing on its downfall to move into UNAM for itself. The group took control of key drug trafficking routes into the area, allowing it to earn up to $11,000 a week. The temporary alliance with the Tepito cartel was broken in January when Tepito operatives began selling drugs in the Los Rodolfos-controlled area near the department of Philosophy and Letters.

He is not your friend.

Armed clashes began at the end of January leading to the February 23rd double homicide, which sent a signal that the two cartels are escalating their fight over control of the trade in marijuana, cocaine, crystal meth, and LSD on the UNAM campus.

The university has rejected calls to hire armed guards to protect students on campus. “We will never consider armed vigilance as a solution to this problem,” UNAM rector Enrique Graue told El Universal. “Instead we will opt for improving our campaign of peaceful dissuasion and vigilance.”

The university newspaper Gaceta de la UNAM is part of that strategy. One week after the deadly shooting, the paper ran a stark warning on its front page imploring students to report known drug traffickers. In block letters plastered over a black silhouette, the headline declared “he is not your friend, he is a drug trafficker.”


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