With a series of public banners posted around the Mexican state of Michoacan, the Familia drug gang has sought to distance itself from recently arrested boss Jose de Jesus Mendez, alias 'El Chango,' and his alliance with the Zetas
Written by Patrick Corcoran
After Mendez, one of the Familia's leading figures, was captured some days previously, the government said the group was in its death throws. But the new messages cast doubt on that diagnosis, and suggest that with Mendez out of the picture, the split between the Familia and splinter group Los Caballeros Templarios may be salvageable. Far from heralding its decline, this could clear the way for the gang to become still more powerful.
As the banner’s authors wrote:
To the society of Michoacan as a whole: you are hereby informed that the Familia Michoacana distances itself from all acts carried out by El Chango Mendez and his people, who were part of the Familia Michoacana, in fact Chango was one of the bosses but with his degrading actions, a front was formed to combat him, and he was later expelled upon the discovery of his links to the social cancer the Zetas.
We wish to make clear, we the Familia are Michoacanos, not Chango Mendez. We appeciate the support of the Michoacan guard and the Caballeros Templarios for their assistance in expelling Chango Mendez from Michoacan, because his group stole, extorted, raped, while unfairly using and referring to the sacred name of the Familia Michoacana.
The expression of support for the Caballeros is striking, because it contradicts the dynamic that had seemingly prevailed in Michoacan for the past several months. As InSight has reported, the Familia, led by Mendez, had been fighting with the Caballeros, headed by Servando Gomez, alias "La Tuta," a former Familia boss and enemy of Mendez.
Whether or not the Familia did in fact expel Mendez, the message indicates that there is a significant portion of his faction eager to end the recent bloodshed driven by the two groups' rivalry, and work with Gomez’s gang. This could lead to an easing in the recent outbreak of violence in the southern Pacific state, which is home to fertile drug production zones, key trafficking routes, and one of the nation's largests ports, namely Lazaro Cardenas.
The banner slams Mendez for his alliance with the Zetas, who the authors call a “social cancer.” This is not the first demonstration of the unique distaste the Zetas inspire in the rest of the Mexican drug industry. Following his arrest last year, Edgar Valdez Villarreal, alias "La Barbie,” blamed the group for the surge of the violence in Mexico, saying that "not even their mothers love them.”
In recent months, the Gulf and Sinaloa Cartels have allied themselves with the the Familia in a grouping known as Carteles Unidos Contra los Zetas, or Cartels United against the Zetas.
In contrast, the Zetas only seem to find allies among gangs on the verge of sliding off the map. Mendez’s alliance seems to have been born out of desperation, as he fought a losing fight against both the Caballeros Templarios and the security forces. The Zetas also recently announced an alliance with La Linea, a Chihuahua group that has suffered significant setbacks in recent months, to the point that the government says that the gang is practically dismantled. It appears as though the Zetas become an attractive ally only when there is no other choice.
There are a number of possible reasons for the general enmity towards the Zetas. One is that, unlike the traffickers from Sinaloa and elsewhere, Zeta leaders like Heriberto Lazcano did not go through a gradual process of making their way up the drug trade’s totem pole. The group was notorious essentially from the moment of its founding, as hit men in the service of Gulf boss Osiel Cardenas in the late 1990s. In less than a decade, the surviving founders were heading one of the foremost networks in Mexico. In other words, they barnstormed to the top in a way that would provoke resentment in any industry.
The Zetas also have a reputation for being freer with violence, which draws the attention of the authorities and alienates the civilian population, causing problems for the operations of the entire drug trade. But most importantly, the Zetas are expansionists. Not content to operate in their homeland on the Gulf Coast, they have steadily advanced south and west, increasing their presence in various regions, such as San Luis Potosi, Coahuila, Jalisco, and the Yucatan Peninsula. This makes them a dangerous force for instability and a driver of violence, resented by the other trafficking groups.