Jan 3, 2011 | 21:01 GMT

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Mexico Security Memo: Jan. 3, 2011

Mexico Security Memo

La Familia Breakdown

Mexican Federal Police Regional Security Director Luis Cardenas Palomino said La Familia Michoacana (LFM) has fallen into disarray and been dismembered since the death of LFM leader Nazario "El Chayo" Moreno Gonzalez in a Dec. 17 firefight with Federal Police. Palomino made these statements at the Dec. 31 presentation in Morelia, Michoacan state, of recently arrested LFM plaza boss Francisco "El Bigotes" Lopez Villanueva, who reportedly led operations in La Mira and Guacamayas. Palomino did caveat his statement, however, saying a few LFM cells continue to operate in certain areas of the state. He continued that such cells were operating independently and were struggling — resorting to conducting robberies to maintain a cash flow to the remaining individuals — citing intelligence from the Federal Police intelligence unit. A letter reportedly from LFM began circulating in Michoacan on Jan. 2 saying the group would cease all criminal activities during January to show the people of Michoacan that LFM was not responsible for the robberies and other crimes they have been accused of by the Federal Police. An unnamed official with the Michoacan attorney general's office said the authenticity of the letter has not yet been verified. While the group has suffered tremendous setbacks in the latter half of 2010, its top-tier leadership and chain of command remain intact. Lopez Villanueva reportedly revealed during his interrogation that he continues to receive direct orders from LFM operational leader Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas and now-LFM No. 2 Servando "La Tuta" Gomez Martinez. LFM has faced both a joint Mexican government operation against it and a sustained joint offensive by the Cartel Pacifico Sur (CPS) and Los Zetas in both southern and northern Michoacan. Moreover, its former partners in the Sinaloa Federation abandoned LFM after the latter attempted to move into Sinaloa territory. This has significantly disrupted LFM's operational capability, but it has not caused the complete dismemberment of LFM claimed by Palomino. As we have frequently observed, whenever a Mexican drug-trafficking organization experiences a setback to its ability to traffic drugs, they resort to other criminal activities to supplement their income. For example, the Arellano Felix Organization resorted to kidnappings and extortion in the early part of the last decade, while more recently we have seen Los Zetas and the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes (VCF) organization resort to the same practices in Monterrey and Juarez, respectively. The allegations that LFM cells have resorted to robbery campaigns to supplement their lost cash flow from drug trafficking are therefore not surprising. Also like other groups before it — such as the Arellano Felix Organization in Tijuana, which kept a low profile while it regrouped after several of its top leaders were either killed or arrested — LFM appears to be lowering its profile (albeit telegraphing its intentions with fliers and e-mails). STRATFOR sources have reported that the group's remaining leadership is not located within LFM's home territory for both security and personal reasons, but mainly to ensure the continuity of the organization. After being designated the most violent organized criminal group in Mexico by former federal Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora in May 2009, the Mexican government has made LFM a top target. But while the government has experienced significant successes against the group, LFM's deep networks in Michoacan and even in the United States mean that the group is far from being completely dismembered.

2010, a Record for Drug-Related Killings

Mexico witnessed 11,583 drug-related murders in 2010, breaking the previous record of 6,598 set in 2009. The development of new conflicts in Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Morelos, Mexico, Colima and Jalisco states, as well as persisting conflicts in Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Durango, Michoacan and Guerrero states worsened this already-tattered security environment. This geography of violence has changed quite a bit since 2009, when the violence was concentrated mainly in five states: Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Guerrero, Michoacan and Baja California. One of the main reasons for the tremendous increase in violence in 2010 was the conflict between the Gulf cartel and Los Zetas, which finally boiled over into all-out warfare in February 2010. This new conflict between the two former partners spread violence throughout much of the eastern half of the country, territory where the two groups had significant influence (and common territory), and where violence had remained at relatively low levels compared to other regions of Mexico. Another source of violence emerged from the rift in the Beltran Leyva Organization between the faction loyal to Hector Beltran Leyva, now known as the CPS, and the faction loyal to Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez Villarreal. This has seen escalating conflict in the southern states of Morelos, Mexico and Guerrero. This plus the ongoing conflict between the VCF and the Sinaloa Federation in Chihuahua state; LFM and the CPS in Michoacan and Guerrero states; and the persistent low-level fighting between the CPS and the Sinaloa Federation in Sinaloa state yielded 2010's unprecedented death toll. According to several media reports and STRATFOR sources, the fighting in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon state has been more severe than reported by the press and federal security forces in the region. This media blackout in large part has been due to self-censorship because of the omnipresent threat from Los Zetas and the Gulf cartel. State and city officials simply do not acknowledge death tolls in the region, and funeral homes have stopped tracking the number of corpses they process for fear of retribution from one of the criminal organizations in the region. Total 2010 drug-related deaths in Mexico thus actually may be several hundred to several thousand higher than reported. (click here to view interactive graphic)

Dec. 27

  • Unidentified gunmen opened fire on a police car in China, Nuevo Leon state, kidnapping and later decapitating the officer driving the vehicle. Two bystanders were injured during the attack.
  • Police announced the liberation of 50 day laborers held by suspected kidnappers in the municipality of Caborca, Sonora state. Police arrested five suspects.
  • Military authorities announced the seizure of 770 kilograms (about 1,700 pounds) of marijuana and approximately 130 firearms in Tamazula, Durango state.
  • Authorities discovered a dismembered body inside several plastic bags in the Lomas de Medina neighborhood of Leon, Guanajuato state.

Dec. 28

  • Unidentified gunmen kidnapped a police officer in the Cortijo del Rio neighborhood of southern Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state.
  • Unidentified attackers detonated grenades outside a police building in the municipality of San Francisco de los Romos, Aguascalientes state, killing a suspect inside a police car and injuring a police officer.
  • Four people were killed and two were injured during a firefight between police and suspected members of the La Linea criminal group in the Cristobal Colon and Liberacion neighborhoods of Durango, Durango state. Thirteen people were arrested.

Dec. 29

  • Military authorities announced the arrests of 11 suspects in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora state. Soldiers seized 12 firearms during the raid.
  • Four people were injured in a firefight between Federal Police and state investigative agents near the Durango state attorney general's office in Durango, Durango state. The incident reportedly began when a truck from the state investigative agency failed to stop at a police checkpoint.
  • Unidentified gunmen opened fire on a house in the Leyes de Reforma neighborhood in Acapulco, Guerrero state, killing one man. The attackers then used explosive devices to burn the house and three nearby vehicles.
  • Unidentified gunmen attacked a police station in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, killing two police officers and a medic.

Dec. 30

  • Authorities discovered the bodies of five shooting victims near a road in Sainapuchi, Chihuahua state.
  • Authorities discovered the severed head of an unidentified man in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state. The victim's body was found in a nearby building under construction.
  • Unidentified gunmen shot and killed two senior citizens in their home in the municipality of Pedro Ascencio de Alquisiras, Guerrero state.
  • An unidentified gunman shot and killed the son of a U.S. Internal Revenue Service agent at a restaurant in Culiacan, Sinaloa state.

Dec. 31

  • Soldiers arrested 10 suspected kidnappers and freed two kidnapping victims at a hotel in the San Bernabe neighborhood of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state.
  • Soldiers arrested the suspected chief of La Familia Michoacana for the towns of La Mira and Guacamaya, Michoacan state.
  • Unidentified gunmen killed six people at a car wash in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state.
  • The body of a kidnapper seized from a prison transport by a group of gunmen on Dec. 27 was found hanging from a bridge in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state.

Jan. 1

  • Unidentified gunmen shot and killed an employee of the Mexican consulate in Chicago in El Naranjo, Guerrero state.
  • Four people were killed and five people were injured when gunmen opened fire on a family in a house in Coyuca de Catalan, Guerrero state.

Jan. 2

  • Two police officers were arrested in Nezahualcoyotl, Mexico state, for allegedly stealing a car.

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