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Jun 28, 2011 | 13:10 GMT

9 mins read

Mexico Security Memo: Michoacan After LFM Chief's Arrest

Mexico Security Memo

El Chango's Arrest

The leader of a faction of La Familia Michoacana (LFM) — the faction that continues to use the LFM name — was arrested June 21 without incident in Aguascalientes state in central Mexico. At the time of his arrest, Jose de Jesus "El Chango" Mendez Vargas and his branch of the LFM were under heavy pressure from the other LFM faction, known as the Knights Templar (KT) and led by Servando "La Tuta" Gomez Martinez, as well as from Mexican authorities and the Sinaloa Federation. Mendez Vargas' arrest clearly is a short-term blow to his faction of LFM, but it is too early to tell if it will result in the end of the group. More important, it is unclear what effect it will have on the battle for control of the drug flow through Michoacan state. Mendez Vargas' faction of the LFM is the weaker of the two currently fighting for control of the LFM territory and business. In fact, STRATFOR sources and media reports indicate that Mendez Vargas' faction was losing the battle against the Knights Templar. Mendez Vargas' forces had experienced some significant losses in the weeks prior to his arrest, and banners posted by the Knights Templar alleged that Mendez Vargas was so desperate that he had even reached out to his former enemies in Los Zetas for assistance. Presently, it appears that the Knights Templar has placed itself in a position to assume control of the LFM empire. The Knights Templar is a local organization with local support, and many of its members have a long history of close ties to the community. However, after being weakened by the fight with Mendez Vargas' faction, it is not altogether clear if the Knights Templar will have the strength to fend off a renewed push by its enemies in the Sinaloa Federation. It is also possible that the remnants of Mendez Vargas' organization will become even more closely aligned with Los Zetas, which will allow the Zetas to expand their presence in Michoacan by working through locals. All this means that the capture of Mendez Vargas may have removed one cartel leader, but it will likely do little to quell the violence in the state.

Troops in Tamaulipas

Around 2,800 Mexican soldiers deployed during the week of June 19 to 22 cities in Tamaulipas state along the U.S.-Mexico border. The objective of the deployment is to put the military in charge of security operations in the state while stamping out corruption in local police forces. After relieving all officers of duty, the military will conduct interviews and drug tests on new officers to determine who will receive further training and continue in law enforcement. Many of the officers who are not rehired likely will begin working for the cartels. The military has taken control in Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros and San Fernando, border towns that saw violence increase just last week, along with the state capital of Victoria. An audacious raid in Matamoros by Los Zetas on June 17 looked to be an indication that the violence was only going to get worse in Tamaulipas. In this context it is not surprising that the Tamaulipas state government felt the need to ask the federal government for help. The government position is that the presence of the military in Tamaulipas will lead to a decrease in violence. However, statistics on murders in Juarez, Chihuahua state, where the military took control in early March 2009, are evidence that military deployments do not necessarily correlate with a reduction in violence. In 2008, prior to the deployment, there were 1,600 murders in Juarez attributed to organized crime, according to Spanish newspaper Diario Universal. In 2009, the number went up to 2,650. The attorney general's office in the state's northern zone reported 3,200 murders in 2010, and as of June 15 there were already 1,500 murders on record for 2011. The military cannot be everywhere at once, and it would take far more than 2,800 soldiers to secure the entire state of Tamaulipas. Cartels know the military presence will not last forever, so while there occasionally can be direct conflicts, more often the cartels will hunker down and wait for the military to leave or simply strike where the military has no presence. Also, the Mexican military cannot risk being in a location too long because it faces the same corruptive forces that continually destroy the police departments. The longer the military comes in contact with those forces, the harder it is to guarantee soldiers are not being corrupted. The value of the military is that it has long been kept separate from the drug war and therefore has not been the focus of the cartels' corruption efforts. This is already changing, and authorities must be careful with using the military to fight the war. Another issue is that populations tend to tire of the presence of soldiers, who lack the police skills and training necessary to manage a civilian population. An extended deployment increases the chances of an incident that could upset the locals, and at the very least it is a hindrance to civilians' daily lives. The arrival of the military in Tamaulipas state is not a guarantee of security and tranquility. Los Zetas and the Gulf cartel are currently locked in a brutal battle for control of the northeast. The way they fight their battle may be altered a bit due to the presence of the military, but we believe that based on the experience of past military deployments in places such as Juarez, the violence between the two groups will continue despite the deployment. (click here to view interactive map)

June 20

  • A journalist, his wife and son were found murdered in their house in Veracruz, Veracruz state. The journalist, the second murdered in the state this month, wrote about crime and politics for the newspaper Notiver.
  • Five bodies were found throughout Michoacan state with a narcomanta on each claiming responsibility on behalf of the Knights Templar.
  • The police chief in Morelia, Michoacan state, was detained for possession of drugs and weapons for military use only.
  • More than three tons of methamphetamine and precursor chemicals were found in an industrial area of El Marques, Queretaro state.

June 21

  • A cache of weapons and military tactical gear, including camouflage uniforms, were found in Coneto de Comonfort, Durango state.
  • The burned bodies of three traffic cops were found on the street in Guadalupe, Chihuahua state.
  • Eight suspected members of the Knights Templar were detained in Piedras de Lumbre, Michoacan state. Among the detained were the group's leaders in Tuxpan and Zitacuaro, Michoacan state.

June 22

  • A man's body was found in Jesus Maria, Aguascalientes state, with a narcomanta alluding to the detention of Mendez Vargas, the LFM head who was detained by police the previous day.
  • A group of marines was ambushed by unknown gunmen in Panuco, Zacatecas state, leaving one marine dead.
  • The police chief in Praxedis G. Guerrero, Chihuahua state, and her family were attacked and held at knifepoint during a robbery in the state of Chihuahua.
  • The municipal police chief of Ciudad Isla, Veracruz state, Ricardo Reyes Alvarez, was attacked by gunmen. The police chief was killed and three others were injured in the attack.
  • Three individuals working for the criminal organization led by Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez Villarreal were detained in Tlaltizapan, Morelos state. The suspects were arrested with two kilograms (more than four pounds) of marijuana, one kilogram of cocaine and firearms.

June 23

  • A group of suspected extortionists opened fire on an escort vehicle in the convoy of Julian Leyzaola Perez, the municipal security chief in Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Leon state. One attacker was injured in the ensuing firefight.
  • Seven individuals suspected of belonging to a gang of kidnappers operating in Pachuca and Mineral de la Reforma were detained in Hidalgo state. The individuals are responsible for at least two kidnappings and one murder.
  • Seventy-eight Central American migrants were detained at a railway station in Irolo, Hidalgo state. Among the migrants were Hondurans, Salvadoreans, and Guatemalans.

June 24

  • Ninety-one police officers were arrested in Tlaxcala, Tlaxcala state, on charges of robbery and collusion among public officials.
  • Four Salvadorans were arrested in San Salvador, El Salvador, in connection to the August 2010 massacre in San Fernando, Tamaulipas state, that left 72 immigrants dead. The Salvadorans were responsible for transferring undocumented migrants to Mexico.
  • Approximately 60 undocumented migrants were kidnapped by armed men in Veracruz. The migrants were on a freight train headed from Oaxaca to Veracruz when the train was stopped by three vehicles parked in its path.
  • Eleven graves containing human remains were found in Nuevo Leon by the Mexican army.
  • The Mexican government announced the deployment of around 2,800 Mexican troops to Tamaulipas to take charge of public safety and counter corruption within the police force.

June 25

  • Mexican Federal Police captured alleged Los Zetas leader Albert Gonzalez Pena, aka "El Tigre," in Xalapa, Veracruz state. He was responsible for moving drugs farther into northern and central Mexico and was also linked to various other criminal activities in Veracruz state.
  • Nine women from the Institutional Revolutionary Party were assaulted and received death threats allegedly due to political affiliations in Pachuca, Hidalgo state. The attackers are allegedly working for the campaign of a rival candidate.
  • Seven bodies were found in the municipalities of Ixtapaluca and Valle de Chalco, Mexico state. A message from LFM was left with them.

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