Here we go again. Mexican authorities announced March 9 the death of Michoacán's top drug lord Nazario Moreno AKA "El Chayo" in a shoot-out that erupted when a mixed force of military and federal police troops raided his 44th birthday party in the pueblo of Apatzingán. Also known as "El Más Loco" (the Craziest One), "El Macho Loco" and "El Doctor," Moreno was the founder of both La Familia cartel and its offshoot, the Knights Templar. But there is an all-too-familiar sense of deja vu here: this is the second time that El Chayo was reported killed in a shoot-out with federal cops in Apatzingán. The first time was in December 2010, although authorities didn't produce the body. This time they have, and boast positive forensic identification. (Univision, March 10; BBC News, La Jornada, AP, Milenio, March 9)
Mexican authorities on March 4 announced the seizure of 119,000 tons of iron ore—with an estimated value of $15.4 million—along with 124 bulldozers, backhoes and trucks at Michoacán's Pacific seaport of Lázaro Cardenas, following tips about drug cartels exporting black-market ore to China. More than 400 federal police and military troops were involved in the coordinated raids on 11 processing facilities in the port city. Six Chinese workers at the sites were arrested, apparently on immigration charges. The federal security commissioner for Michoacán, Alfredo Castillo, told Periódico Digital that the ore is being tested to determine which mines it came from in order to crack down on the operation. In November 2013, the Mexican Navy took control of Lázaro Cardenas to cut off illicit exports for the Knights Templar drug cartel. (Metal Miner, March 7; Mining.com, Port Technology, March 4)
Authorities in the northeastern Mexican state of Coahuila announced Feb. 7 that they had recovered at least 500 sets of human remains from mass graves scattered across 11 municipalities—mostly in the north of the state, along the Texas border. Most of the remains were bones, which had largely survived apparent attempts at incineration. Several vats used to dissolve the remains in acid were also found in the graves. No group has been named as responsible for the killings, but Coahuila is a battle-ground in the ongoing war between the Zetas and their rivals in the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels. The Mexican media are calling the finds "narco-graves." The state Prosecutor General's office says it will take at least four months to ascertain the number of victims among the remains, much less identify them. (Latin Times, Feb. 10; Siglo de Torreón, Feb. 8; Pulso, SLP, Feb. 7)
Mexican security forces announced Jan. 30 the arrest of a top leader of the New Generation drug cartel, based in the western state of Jalisco. Rubén Oseguera González AKA "El Menchito" is said to be second-in-command in the criminal organization led by his father, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes AKA "El Mencho," and is also known as "El Junior." He was arrested in a major operation that involved dozens of army troops in Zapopan, a city in the Guadalajara metropolitan area. There remains a 2 million peso ($150,000) price on the head of El Menchu, and media accounts said he narrowly escaped capture last year. The New Generation group is said to be allied with the Sinaloa Cartel, Mexico's most powerful trafficking organization.
Mexico's federal government signed an accord with Michoacán's "community police" network Jan. 27, calling for the self-defense militias to be incorporated into the official security forces. The pact was signed by Alfredo Castillo, the government's special pointman for pacification of Michoacán, and 30 leaders of the "community police" forces. The ceremony took place at the village of Tepalcatepec, one of those recently seized by the militias. The "community police" are to be absorbed into the Rural Defense Corps, a paramilitary network under the command of the National Defense Secretariat.
Mexico's violence-torn state of Michoacán produces millions of kilos each year of its famous specialty crop, highly prized in US markets... Yes, avocados. Michoacán accounts for 72% of total Mexican production of this rich, green fruit, and over 80% of the state's output is exported to the United States. The trade amounts to nearly a billion dollars a year—even ahead of the state's notorious (and prohibition-inflated) marijuana. But now the two industries are experiencing a grim synergy, as narco lords acquire avocado plantations to launder money, facilitate smuggling and maintain a cover of "legitimate" income. According to a recent exposé in Mexico's Vanguardia newspaper, the Knights Templar cartel has in recent years been running an extortion racket on avocado farmers, seizing their lands if they can't pay up (on pain of family members being abducted and threatened with death), building a "legal" agrarian empire in the state. The local agribusiness association, with the clunky name of the Michoacán State Committee on Vegetable Health, has been co-opted by the Templarios through threats and bribes, according to the report.
Mexican federal police arrested 38 people across violence-torn Michoacán state on Jan. 20, claiming a blow against the notorious Knights Templar drug cartel. Among those detained was Jesús Vázquez Macías AKA "El Toro"—claimed to be a top kingpin of the blood-drenched narco network. "El Toro" was apprehended in the port city of Lázaro Cárdenas, and flown to a prison in Veracruz state, far from his home turf. But Lázaro Cárdenas, one of Mexico's key Pacific ports and industrial hubs, was actually taken over by federal security forces back in November, ostensibly to protect it from the warring narco gangs. That El Toro apparently managed to remain at large in the city until now loans credence to the claims of Michoacán's vigilante network that the government is turning a blind eye to the drug lords. (AFP, BBC News, Milenio, Jan. 20; BN Americas, Jan. 10; Reuters, Jan. 1)
On the night of Jan. 13, one day after "community police" gunmen seized several pueblos that had been controlled by the Knights Templar narco-gang in Mexico's west-central state of Michoacán, federal army troops were sent in to take back the villages from the vigilante force. "Community police" leaders say up to 12 of their men have been killed in clashes with the army. The bloodiest incident is reported from Antúnez pueblo, Parácuaro municipality—where a 17-year-old youth is said to be among seven dead. Mexico's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) says it has confirmed the deaths of four at Antúnez, including a minor.