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“El Chayo,” boss who brought “divine justice” to Michoacan with AK-47s, killed.
Mexican authorities said Friday that they believe a top leader of the violent La Familia cartel was killed during two days of pitched fighting in the home state of President Felipe Calderon.
In violence that erupted Wednesday afternoon and raged until early Friday, federal forces deployed in the western state of Michoacan battled scores of gunmen from La Familia who set vehicles on fire and barricaded roads in a dozen cities. At least 11 people were confirmed killed, including five federal police officers and an 8-month-old.
The drug lord’s death Thursday came amid an ongoing operation that began Wednesday night in the Michoacan city of Apatzingan and has involved intense gunbattles between security forces and cartel gunmen.
Federal security spokesman Alejandro Poire told the media shortly after midday Friday, reading from a prepared statement, that Moreno Gonzalez, alias “El Chayo,” was one of 11 people – five federal police, three suspected cartel gunmen and three civilians – who had been killed in the operation to that point.
The operation involving federal police, army soldiers, and marines was launched after an anonymous tip alerted authorities to the presence of armed men in Apatzingan.
The ferocity with which the gunmen defended that cartel stronghold led authorities to presume that they were not only protecting a key trans-shipment point for drugs but also one of their top leaders.
Gunmen used torched and bullet-ridden vehicles to barricade roads even as federal forces pursued them with helicopter support, effectively turning parts of Michoacan into a war zone.
That southwestern state, La Familia’s home base, is coveted by drug traffickers because of its marijuana and opium fields and its long stretch of Pacific coastline, ideal for receiving shipments of cocaine and chemicals used to manufacture synthetic drugs.
La Familia declared war against Felipe calderon through a letter delivered a warning.The following is a segment of the message from La Familia Michoacana, reacting after the death of Nazario Moreno González.
"Beware Felipe Calderón, pray to your holy saint because we come with the blessing of our God. Our God Nazario, may God rest his soul. This will not stop until Familia Michoacana dies. And we will never die; Los Pumas, Los Bravos, Los Leones, La Resistencia, El 5-5, Los Élites, Los LF, Los Chayitos, Los Machitos, Las Fieras, Los X, Los de la A, and many more.
We are going after Calderon and all his fucking family, our groups are already in Michoacan, recognize; Cheran, Capacuaro, Cheranastico, La Arantepacua, La Mohonera, Nuevo Morelos, they are united with us. This is not "narco terrorism", it's a guerrilla, it's war for peace and against the federal troops in Michoacan, Don Juan de Arantepacua has his people and we will give our lives for everything."
La Familia also left a message to the people of Michoacan:
"Do not panic, try not to go out on the streets because the pigs federales do not have any respect and this is to avoid stray bullets and more loses. Do not go to the hospitals, do not go shopping, watch TV and stay at home please.
Atte. La Familia Michoacana, El Fantasma 6 y Bravo 6.
With respect and support to our leaders El Chango y La Tuta, and successors of La Tuta, Cenizo y El Bravo 6.
So that you don't argue we tell you who the leaders of La Familia are so that you don't mislead the people and tell more lies."
They mentioned that prior to the death of Moreno, they had just started the war against the federal government.
Moreno's death would be a significant blow to the cartel, which is among the newest in Mexico and one of the most brutal.
The 40-year-old Moreno Gonzalez is one of several drug kingpins who have been arrested or killed in security force operations over the past year.
Arturo Beltran Leyva, the kingpin of the now-splintered Beltran Leyva drug gang, was killed in December 2009; Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, a top leader of the Sinaloa cartel, was slain in July of this year; and Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, alias “Tony Tormenta,” a high-ranking leader of the Gulf cartel, was killed in November.
Teodoro Garcia Simental, former kingpin of a drug mob in Tijuana; Edgar Valdez Villarreal, “La Barbie,” who fought for control of the Beltran Leyva cartel after Arturo’s death; and Sergio Villarreal, a top drug lord and rival of “La Barbie,” have all been arrested in recent months.
All of these blows to the drug gangs have been delivered under President Felipe Calderon, who militarized the struggle against the cartels after taking office in December 2006.
Analysts expect the death of Moreno Gonzalez – who had shared leadership of La Familia Michoacana with Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas, “El Chango” – to touch off an escalation of violence.
They recalled that in 2009 the cartel responded ruthlessly to the capture of one of its operations chiefs, Arnoldo Rueda, alias “La Minsa,” by killing 12 federal police officers.
The federal Attorney General’s Office had offered 30 million pesos (some $2.4 million) for information leading to the capture of the kingpin, who appeared on a list of top La Familia leaders along with Mendez Vargas and Servando Gomez, alias “La Tuta.”
La Familia’s origins can be traced to a precursor group known as La Empresa that emerged as a large-scale drug-trafficking operation in 2004 through an alliance with the powerful Gulf cartel, based in northeastern Mexico.
It won local support among low-income sectors by offering loans to peasants, micro-enterprises, schools and churches, and provided other types of social assistance to the needy.
That benevolence allowed the gang to develop an important network of informants and collaborators, while it also began making efforts to infiltrate the local police and government.
Moreno Gonzalez even opened clinics for drug addicts who received quasi-religious doctrination and were recruited to work for his organization, and he authored a book considered the group’s “bible” that details its methods and supposed good intentions.
La Empresa broke its alliance with the Gulf cartel in 2006 and decided to branch out on its own, prompting an all-out war with Los Zetas – the former armed wing of the Gulf mob that has since gone independent as well – and the Beltran Leyva cartel.
Known since as La Familia Michoacana, Moreno Gonzalez’s gang has maintained ties to the Sinaloa and Tijuana cartels.
According to experts, the organization combines it main business of cocaine, marijuana and synthetic-drug trafficking through Mexico and into the United States with kidnapping and extortion, always relying on extreme violence.
The gang announced its presence as an independent organization in 2006, when La Familia enforcers threw five human heads onto a dance floor with the message: “La Familia doesn’t kill for money. It doesn’t kill women. It doesn’t kill innocents. Only those who deserve to die. Be aware that this is divine justice.”
Calderon, a native of Michoacan, deployed thousands of soldiers and police to the state in August 2009 after the brutal killings of the 12 federal police officers, though a letter saying the cartel wants to disband and negotiate a truce with authorities was sent last month to media outlets.
The missive said La Familia will “retreat and return to our productive activities if the federal and local government, the police and other authorities promise to take control” of the state of Michoacan firmly and decisively.
La Familia stepped into a void left because authorities have been incapable or unwilling to drive “thieves, rapists, drug traffickers, and kidnappers” out of the state, the letter said.
Experts rank La Familia – considered Mexico’s largest trafficker of synthetic drugs and a major source of the crystal meth consumed in the United States – as one of Mexico’s most powerful drug-trafficking organizations, along with the Sinaloa, Tijuana, Gulf, Juarez and Los Zetas mobs.
Calderon’s decision to deploy some 45,000 soldiers and 20,000 federal police nationwide against the drug mobs has been widely criticized, with detractors pointing to roughly 30,000 drug-related killings in the past four years as well as cases of rights abuses by the army while performing law-enforcement duties.
The Mexican government has consistently maintained that its war against drug trafficking is necessary to halt the advance of these criminal gangs, but acknowledges that the wave of violence will continue for the foreseeable future.