This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Mexico's Hydra

The Mexican state of Michoacan has long been a battle ground for opposing members of organized crime. Both the Gulf Cartel and Sinaloa Federation have fought over this important territory in the middle of Mexico, where cocaine supply from Colombia or precursor chemical supply from Asia can be received and quickly moved north.

One criminal group, however, has emerged as the true power in Michoacan. Since its inception, believed to be in 2004, it has grown from a small, clandestine entity to one of Mexico’s rising stars in the criminal underworld – a testimony to the nature of the hydra effect in organized crime. When one head is cut off, another quickly replaces it.

Known as La Familia Michoacana, or simply La Familia, this group was an unknown group of armed thugs in Michoacan, quietly going about its perverse form of social justice until late 2006, when Mexican daily, El Universal, interviewed one of the group’s spokesman, an individual who called himself “Most Crazy.”

Most Crazy revealed that La Familia had some 4,000 members working in various parts of Michoacan. Everyone received a salary of between $1,500 and $2,000 a month, and all were born in Michoacan. The group’s focus was to rid the state of “hielo” or ice as methamphetamine was called, take out any kidnappers, and extortionists, and protect the youth.

Its enemies were members of the Milenio Cartel, a second-tier drug smuggling organization tied to the Sinaloa Federation.

Most Crazy ended his interview stating that his group did not like to kill. But by the end of 2006, the state of Michoacan had registered some 520 executions, 17 of which were decapitations. By most accounts, this “reluctant” violence worked as La Familia is now considered the reigning criminal organization in the Michoacan area, with a strong grip on the state of Mexico and the Federal District.

Since the group’s public announcement, La Familia has inched its way up the ladder, moving from a second-tier local outfit to a more powerful group with an increased amount of financial backing and human resources across at least two states and in the capitol city.

La Familia reportedly pays millions in bribe money every month, and offers protection to various business owners in Michoacan, the state of Mexico, and the Federal District. The protection, however, mostly translates to extortion, where some business owners are taxed every week, others once a month.

Now, in August, the Mexican Attorney General’s office has made an announcement, revealing what many observers have known all along. La Familia intends to control the drug smuggling market in Michoacan and open a route all the way north, passing though the traditionally held lands of the Sinaloa Federation, where many claim El Chapo Guzman has been weakened by the Mexican government’s constant focus on dismantling his organization and his ongoing battles with Los Zetas and other rival groups.

What began as a small group of armed men on the prowl to protect their kids from hielo has turned into a first rate criminal outfit that often dresses in the uniforms of elite federal police, the AFI, and is just as well armed and organized as any top-tier drug smuggling organization in Mexico.

This group’s move to the top levels of Mexican organized crime, perhaps more than any other example, shows how dismantling one group normally leads to another taking its place.

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