Presented to the media on June 22, 2011 in Mexico City is first a group of sicarios from the Caballeros Templarios and then Jesús Méndez Vargas, alias "El Chango" leader and co-founder of "La Familia Michoacana".
Mexico catches reputed leader of La Familia cartel
By Dudley Althaus
Mexican federal police Tuesday captured the leader of La Familia, one of the country's most powerful criminal gangs, whose brutality against its rivals led President Felipe Calderon to launch his far-from-finished crackdown on organized crime nearly five years ago.
Agents arrested Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas - widely known as El Chango, or "The Monkey" - without incident in a small town in central Aguascalientes state. The arrest comes after weeks of violence between La Familia and a breakaway gang that calls itself the Knights Templar that has killed dozens in recent days.
"With this capture, the remnants of the command structure of this organization is destroyed," said Alejandro Poire, the government's national security spokesman. Calderon, via his Twitter account, called the arrest a "big blow" against organized crime.
For all of that, Mendez's arrest hardly means immediate peace in the territories where La Familia holds sway. The killings or capture of other Mexican drug lords - such as Arturo Beltran Levya in December 2009 - unleashed gangland feuds that killed hundreds.
Rooted in - and closely identified with - the western state of Michoacan, La Familia burst into the public consciousness in 2006 when it went to war with the Zetas, the vicious band based along the South Texas border.
La Familia assassins in September of that year rolled the detached heads of five rivals onto the floor of a disco in the Michoacan city of Uruapan - the first time decapitations were used in Mexico's gang wars.
Had code of 'ethics'
Promoting themselves as protectors of the Michoacan people, La Familia leaders issued a code of ethics for its members, executing those who broke it, and professed a quasi-religious social philosophy.
"La Familia doesn't kill for money, doesn't kill women, doesn't kill innocents," declared a placard left with the disco heads. "Those who die deserve to die.
"Let everyone know," it warned. "This is divine justice."
Those early beheadings appalled Mexico, providing Calderon reason to send thousands of troops into Michoacan - the president's native state and a leading source of immigrants to the United States - in an effort to bring peace.
Calderon quickly deployed the military and federal police to gangster-infested areas across much of Mexico. Gangland violence exploded. Now, after some 40,000 dead, the bloodshed continues in Michoacan and most everywhere else.
Despite its supposed high-mindedness, La Familia grew into one of the most feared of Mexico's seven major gangs, with a firm grip on Michoacan, parts of neighboring states and the outskirts of Mexico City.
Originally specializing in manufacturing methamphetamine for export north, it later branched into extortion, kidnapping and street-level drug trafficking.
Mendez had assumed command of La Familia following the December killing by security forces of Nazario Moreno, known as "The Craziest One." But Moreno's death led to a split between Mendez and other La Familia bosses, who formed the Knights Templar. Those other leaders - Servando Gomez and Enrique Plancarte - remain at large.
Rivals killing members
More than three dozen men have been killed since late last week as the Knights Templar have executed alleged La Familia members, leaving notes promising to free Michoacan communities from crime.
Amid the new killing, the breakaway group announced last week that La Familia had become allies again with the Zetas. Mendez was captured Tuesday near the state line of Zacatecas, a Zetas stronghold.
"This is what happens to those who support Chango Mendez, the Zetas and all their allies," warned a note left with some recent victims. "Thieves, kidnappers, extortionists, rapists and all those who act against our state will follow."