The assailants took at least eight hours to remove the goods, yet not a single bullet was fired and there were no arrests. The biggest heist in the history of Manzanillo, Mexico’s main commercial port, looks like something out of a mystery novel. The authorities have confirmed that 20 freight containers carrying gold and silver ore as well as electronic devices have disappeared without a trace, after an armed group broke into the facilities of a freight dispatch company.
“It is unprecedented, there had been no robbery of this nature before this,” said Gustavo Adrián Joya, spokesman for the security department of Colima state, in statements on Monday. The case was uncovered by the Mexican press this past weekend, almost seven days after the event and prior to any official statements by the Attorney General’s Office (FGR), state prosecutors, the Secretary of the Navy or any other government institution.
A group of more than a dozen armed men broke into the facilities of a company named Maniobras Alonso Mireles before dawn of June 5 and gagged the guards who were watching the yard where containers are stored before entering the port. According to a reconstructions of events by the press, as well as facts that were confirmed by the authorities at a news conference, the assailants took their time. They opened several containers, selected only those that they were interested in, and left the rest intact. “They were very selective about the type of goods that was stolen, especially the precious metals,” said Joya. The theft required the use of cranes, forklifts and trucks to remove the items. “They had the logistics,” added the spokesman.
Drug cartels have vied for control of the port, where they unload synthetic drug precursors that are made in Mexico and sold mainly in the United States
The press and the public were quick to describe the robbery as the “heist of the century,” drawing comparisons with television series such as Money Heist. In addition to its spectacular nature, the robbery sparked criticism against the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his decision to militarize port security with the argument of fighting organized crime. The decision, made in mid-2020, was not without controversy. Manzanillo, located on the Mexican Pacific, is the country’s main gateway to the Asian market, with China as the main origin and destination of port operations. Drug cartels have vied for control of the port, where they unload synthetic drug precursors that are made in Mexico and sold mainly in the United States. However, no group has been accused of the theft.
The authorities have not denied the media’s reports of the robbery, but they have emphasized that it was not committed within the port facilities. “Apparently there was a robbery in a container yard, but such facilities are not part of the port area proper,” a spokesperson for the Navy Secretary’s Office told this newspaper. “Whatever happened, happened outside in a private freight dispatch yard where private parties store their goods until these enter the port area for shipment,” he added.
Joya, who represents several state and federal corporations that coordinate security in Colima, insisted that the responsibility for protecting the merchandise was the company’s. “They did not have the infrastructure that a place of this nature requires,” said the spokesman. The official said that several investigations have been initiated by the State Prosecutor’s Office and his counterparts from the FGR, and he also acquitted local authorities of any responsibility, arguing that this was a federal crime. Federal prosecutors have not spoken publicly yet. Horacio Duarte, head of the country’s customs service, was seen last Sunday at a political event in support of Morena, López Obrador’s party, but he has not issued any comments on social media.
The state spokesman said that robberies near the port of Manzanillo “are not as frequent as they seem” and that thefts usually occur when the products are in transit by road, especially through Jalisco, stronghold of the homonymous Jalisco Nueva Generación cartel. Governed since last year by Morena, Colima has maintained in recent years that the high crime rates per capita are a consequence of the presence of criminal organizations in the neighboring states of Michoacán and Jalisco, as well as its low population, which barely exceeds 730,000 inhabitants.
Asked about the value of the stolen goods, Joya replied with “I don’t have that figure,” in one more of the unknowns surrounding the case.