La Familia has been known to be unusually violent. Its 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. Despite its short history, it has emerged as Mexico’s largest supplier of methamphetamines to the United States, with supply channels running deep into the Midwestern United States, and has increasingly become involved in the distribution of cocaine, marijuana, and other narcotics.
Michael Braun, former DEA chief of operations, states that it operates “superlabs” in Mexico capable of producing up to 100 pounds of meth in eight hours. However, according to DEA officials, it claims to oppose the sale of drugs to Mexicans. It also sells pirated DVDs, smuggles people to the United States, and runs a debt-collecting service by kidnapping defaulters. Because often times they use fake and sometimes original uniforms of several police agencies, most of their kidnap victims are stopped under false pretenses of routine inspections or report of stolen vehicles, and then taken hostage.
La Familia has also bought some local politicians. 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 Michoacán 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. Days later, 10 municipal police officers were arrested in connection with the slayings of the 12 federal agents.
The governor’s half-brother Julio César Godoy Toscano, who was just elected July 5, 2009, to the lower house of Congress, was accused to be a top-ranking member of La Familia Michoacana drug cartel and of providing political protection for the cartel. Based on these charges, on 14 December 2010, Godoy Toscano was impeached from the lower house of Congress and therefore no longer enjoys immunity (Spanish: fuero).
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 with some segments of Mexican society, where battling violent drug gangs has brought out several human rights charges against the Mexican Military.