Pubdate: Fri, 17 Jul 2009
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Page: Front Page
Copyright: 2009 Los Angeles Times
Author: Ken Ellingwood, Reporting from Mexico City

Mexico Under Siege


Mexico is to deploy 5,500 security personnel to the western state of 
Michoacan, where a series of recent attacks has killed 16 police 
officers. The La Familia drug gang is suspected in the slayings.

By Ken Ellingwood, Reporting from Mexico City

Mexican authorities announced plans Thursday to send 5,500 police 
officers and military personnel to the western state of Michoacan to 
confront a violent crime syndicate offering some of the fiercest 
resistance President Felipe Calderon's government has faced since 
launching its war on drugs 2 1/2 years ago.

About 1,000 extra police officers were deployed Thursday before 
officials outlined the broader buildup. The move, which included 
providing helicopters and other equipment, represented a show of 
resolve in Calderon's home state, a major drug-trafficking corridor 
where 16 police officers have been killed recently in 
well-coordinated attacks. Following the assaults, police have 
patrolled in convoys and curtailed nighttime operations as a way to 
avoid further casualties.

One Mexican pundit said the recent aggressiveness by the 
drug-trafficking group La Familia was the equivalent of the surprise 
1968 Tet offensive by communist forces in the Vietnam War.

Michoacan is a key front in the drug war. The federal government's 
move to deploy more forces there, which reportedly included shifting 
officers from violence-ridden Ciudad Juarez, would bolster the 300 
officers already assigned to Michoacan. The government said the 
buildup would consist of 2,500 soldiers, 1,500 federal police and 
1,500 naval personnel.

The gang's gunmen are believed responsible for more than a dozen 
attacks against federal police, including the slayings of 12 off-duty 
officers Monday whose bodies were dumped in a ghastly heap near the 
state's Pacific coast. Attackers have sprayed gunfire and hurled 
grenades at police installations throughout Michoacan and shot at 
officers in the field.

The recent string of attacks began Saturday, after Mexican forces 
captured Arnoldo Rueda Medina, who allegedly served as the right-hand 
man for the group's founder, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, known as "El 
Mas Loco," or "The Craziest One."

The Calderon administration appears serious about pursuing La 
Familia, said Stephen Meiners, a Latin America analyst at Stratfor, a 
global- intelligence firm in Austin, Texas. The group has fast become 
one of Mexico's most formidable crime syndicates.

"The number of attacks and ability to coordinate them . . . is a 
reflection of La Familia's organizational capabilities," Meiners 
said. "Part of what [Calderon is] trying to do is assure the Mexican 
population that things are under control."

But the increase of forces in Michoacan appeared to show the strains 
on Mexico's drug-war capabilities.

The border city of Ciudad Juarez had received hundreds of new 
officers in March amid soaring killings.

The beefed-up deployment in Michoacan came after a bizarre exchange 
between Mexican officials and a man who claimed to be Servando Gomez 
Martinez, the gang's reputed operations chief.

The man called a Michoacan television phone-in show Wednesday and 
urged the government to reach an accord with La Familia, which he 
said had been unfairly targeted by police.

During a meandering explanation of the group's beliefs, the caller 
professed respect for Calderon and the Mexican military. But he 
accused federal police of going easy on other drug gangs and rounding 
up innocent people, including relatives of La Familia members.

A teenager identified as a nephew of Gomez Martinez was arrested this 
week in the central state of Guanajuato on suspicion of killing a 
federal officer.

"They are attacking our families," the caller complained. "We want to 
reach consensus, we want to reach a national pact."

A few hours later, the nation's interior minister, Fernando Gomez 
Mont, called a news conference to publicly reject the offer, even 
though officials said they were not sure whether the caller was the 
person he claimed to be.

"The federal government neither talks nor makes agreements, nor will 
ever negotiate with any criminal organization," Gomez Mont declared. 
"It fights against all criminal groups equally."

He warned that the government crackdown would continue. Senators from 
Mexico's main political parties joined Thursday in rejecting deals 
with drug traffickers.

Drug traffickers once worked relatively unfettered in Mexico through 
unofficial arrangements with the long-ruling Institutional 
Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ran government at all levels 
before losing to Calderon's party in 2000. Pacts were a favored 
tactic of the PRI as a way to resolve competing political and social 
interests, avoid turmoil and maintain its grip.

But democratic change in Mexico, which opened politics to other 
parties, has muddied the rules for drug traffickers and contributed 
to more conflicts and violence, analysts say.

Calderon, a conservative, declared war on organized crime soon after 
taking office in December 2006. He has sent 45,000 soldiers and 5,000 
federal police into trafficking hot spots.

The effort has yielded a number of high-profile arrests and big 
seizures of drugs and guns. But the escalating death toll -- now at 
more than 11,000 --frightens many Mexicans, and polls show most 
people think the government is losing.

The effort has also laid bare the extent of corruption by police and 
other public officials.

As part of the investigation into the attacks against police in 
Michoacan, federal authorities said this week that they were seeking 
the arrest of Julio Cesar Godoy.

Godoy, a lawyer and the half brother of state Gov. Leonel Godoy, is 
suspected of helping provide protection for La Familia. He was 
elected to Congress last week.

In a speech Thursday, Calderon sought to reassure Mexicans of the 
government's goals.

"We want a Mexico without fear, we want a free Mexico," Calderon said.

"We know that one day Mexico will be free, one day Mexico will be the 
safe country we yearn for."   
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake