Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Friday, September 18, 2009

La Familia Michoacana

La Familia Michoacana (The Michoacán Family) or La Familia (The Family) is a Mexican drug trafficking cartel based in Michoacán, Mexico President Felipe Calderón's home state. Formerly the Gulf Cartel —as part of Los Zetas it has split off as its own organization since 2006.

The cartel's current leader, Nazario Moreno González known as El Más Loco (The Craziest One) preaches his organisation's divine right to eliminate enemies. He carries a "bible" of his own sayings and insists that his army of traffickers and hitmen avoid using the narcotics they sell. Nazario Moreno's partners are José de Jesús Méndez Vargas, Servando Gómez Martínez and Dionicio Loya Plancarte, all of which have a bounty of $2 million dollars each for their capture.

Mexican analysts believe that La Familia formed in the 1980s with the stated purpose of bringing order to Michoacan, emphasizing help and protection for the poor. In its initial incarnation, La Familia formed as a group of vigilantes, spurred to power to counter interloping kidnappers and drug dealers, who were their stated enemies. Since then, La Familia has capitalized on its reputation, building its myth, power and reach to transition into a criminal gang itself.

La Familia emerged to the foreground in the 1990s as the Gulf Cartel's paramilitary group designed to seize control of the illegal drug trade in Michoacán state from rival drug cartels. Trained with Los Zetas, the group splintered in 2006 into a drug trafficking operation itself. It is known to have a strong rivalry against Los Zetas and the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel, but strong ties with the Sinaloa Cartel, the alliance with the Sinaloa Cartel makes them one of the strongest cartel's in Mexico.

Faith-based cartel

La Familia cartel is sometimes described as a "pseudo-evangelical cult" since its current leaders, Moreno González and Méndez Vargas, refer to their assassinations and beheadings as "divine justice" and that they may have direct or indirect ties with devotees of the New Jerusalem religious movement, which is noted for its concern for justice issues.

La Familia’s boss and spiritual leader Nazario Moreno González, (a.k.a.: El Más Loco or The Maddest One) has published his own 'bible', a copy of this 'bible' seized by Mexican federal agents reveals an ideology that mixes evangelical-style self help with insurgent peasant slogans. Moreno González seems to base most of his doctrine on the work by a Christian writer John Eldredge.

The Mexican justice department stated in a report that Gonzalez Moreno has made Eldredge’s book Salvaje de corazón (Wild at Heart) required reading for La Familia gang members and has paid rural teachers and National Development Education (CONAFE) to circulate Eldredge's writings throughout the Michoacán countryside. An idea central to Eldredge’s message is that every man must have "a battle to fight, a beauty to rescue and an adventure to live."

Eldredge quotes from Isaiah 63, which describes God wearing blood-stained clothes, spattered as though he had been treading a wine press. Then he writes: "Talk about Braveheart. This is one fierce, wild, and passionate guy. I have never heard Mister Rogers talk like that. Come to think of it, I never heard anyone in church talk like that, either. But this is the God of heaven and Earth."

La Familia recruits members from drug rehabilitation clinics and forbids them to consume alcohol or drugs, but must transport and sell them. Advancement within the organisation depends as much on regular attendance at prayer meetings as on target practice. The cartel gives loans to farmers, businesses, schools and churches, and it advertises its benevolence in local newspapers in order to gain social support.

On July 16, 2009, a man by the name of Servando Martínez Gómez (La Tuta) identified himself as the 'chief of operations' of the cartel. In his TV message, the self-appointed spokesman for the group stated: "La Familia was created to look after the interests of our people and our family," La Tuta said. "We are a necessary evil." When the TV presenter interrupted to ask what La Familia really wanted: "The only thing we want is peace and tranquility," came the reply. President Felipe Calderón's government refuses to strike a deal with the cartel and rejected their calls for dialog.

On April 20, 2009 about 400 Federal Police agents raided a christening party for a baby born to a cartel member. Among the 44 detained was Rafael Cedeño Hernández (El Cede), the gang’s second in command and in charge of indoctrinating the new recruits in the cartel's religious values, morals and ethics.


The La Familia members use murder and torture to quash rivals, while building a social base in the Mexican state of Michoacán. It is the fastest-growing cartel in the country’s drug war and is a religious cult-like group that celebrates family values. In one incident in Uruapan in 2006, the cartel members tossed five decapitated heads onto the dance floor of the Sol y Sombra night club along with a message that read: "The Family doesn’t kill for money. It doesn’t kill women. It doesn’t kill innocent people, only those who deserve to die. Know that this is divine justice."

The cartel has moved from smuggling and selling drugs and turned itself into a much more ambitious criminal organization which acts as a parallel state in much of Michoacán. It extorts "taxes" from businesses, pays for community projects, controls petty crime and settles some local disputes. La Familia is now reckoned to be Mexico’s biggest maker of methamphetamines, as well as controlling the import, transport and sale of cocaine in the state. It also sells pirated DVDs, smuggles people to the United States, and runs a debt-collecting service by kidnapping defaulters.

La Familia has also bought some local politicians, and shows no mercy to those who reject its embrace: some 20 municipal officials have been murdered in Michoacán, including two mayors. Having established its authority, it then names local police chiefs. On May 2009, the Mexican Federal Police detained 10 mayors of Michoacán and 20 other local officials suspected of being associated with the cartel.

On July 11, 2009, a cartel lieutenant —Arnoldo Rueda Medina— was arrested; La Familia members attacked the Federal Police station in Morelia to try to gain freedom for Rueda shortly after his arrest. During the attacks, two soldiers and three federal policemen were killed. When that failed, cartel members attacked Federal Police installations in at least a half-dozen Michoacan cities in retribution.

Three days later, on July 14, 2009, the cartel tortured and murdered twelve Mexican Federal Police agents and dumped their bodies along the side of a mountain highway along with a written message: "So that you come for another. We will be waiting for you here." The federal agents were investigating crime in Michoacán state; President Calderón, responded to the violence by dispatching additional 1,000 Federal Police officers to the area.

The infusion, which more than tripled the number of Federal Police officers patrolling Michoacán, angered Michoacán Governor Leonel Godoy Rangel, who called it 'an occupation' and said he had not been consulted.

The governor's half-brother Julio César Godoy Toscano, who was just elected July 5, 2009 to the lower house of Congress, was discovered to be a top-ranking member of La Familia Michoacana drug cartel and is accused of being in charge of protection for the cartel. Days later, 10 municipal police officers were arrested in connection with the slayings of the 12 federal agents

President Calderón stated that the country's drug cartels had grown so powerful that they now posed a threat to the future of Mexican democracy. His strategy of direct confrontation and law enforcement is not popular within some segments of Mexican society, where battling violent drug gangs has brought out several human rights charges against the Mexican military.

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