The leader of the Familia Michoacana, Nazario Moreno González, alias "El Chayo" or "El Más Loco," was killed Thursday in a police shootout, said a government spokesman.
The government is still trying to confirm the intelligence, said security spokesman and presidential advisor Alejandro Poiré Friday (see video below).
"The government's advances has forced the criminals into retreat and escape [mode]," Poiré said.
Poiré said Moreno was killed Thursday in the city of Apatzingán, while the Familia imposed violent road blockades throughout the state of Michoacán. Government authorities were offering a reward of 30 million pesos ($2.5 million) for information leading to his capture. Poiré did not offer details or present a photo of the slain leader.
If true, the death of Moreno would be the latest in a series of high-level drug traffickers brought down by the Mexican government this year. Antonio Ezequiel Cárdenas, alias "Tony Tormenta," a top operative of the Gulf Cartel, was shot and killed November 5. In July, authorities killed Ignacio Coronel, alias "El Nacho," a top leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Moreno was infamous in the Familia for his use of evangelical Christianity to gain recruits. He has long been based in Michoacán, the center of operations for the Familia, and has run with operations with a firm hand, centralizing the group's activities and extending its operations deep into the United States, according to this (pdf) U.S. indictment. Moreno's successor is José Jesús Méndez Vargas, alias "El Chango."
The Familia first emerged in Michoacán when the traditional power brokers in the state, the Milenio Cartel, split. The rival Gulf Cartel sought to take advantage of this split and sent its armed wing, the Zetas, to train a dissatisfied group of lieutenants of the Milenio group, among them Moreno. By 2003, its mission was accomplished, and the Milenio group was dissolved.
But the new wing, which at that time called itself "La Empresa," soon sought power for itself and expelled the Zetas with the same sophisticated tactics it had been taught. Since then it has grown into one of Mexico's largest drug-trafficking organizations, taking advantage of Michoacán's strategic location near one of Mexico's most important ports.
In early November, the Familia made apparent moves at seeking a "truce" with the Mexican government. A Familia operative, arrested on November 29, later said it was a public relations stunt. Mexican authorities seized the opportunity to declare that this was evidence of the group's weakening hold in Michoacán.
The deadly shootouts on Thursday may have been an attempt by the Familia to reassert their authority. But the death of Moreno would represent another significant blow to the group.
Gunmen from the Familia began burning vehicles and ambushes police patrols on Wednesday night, essentially shutting down the deparment captial, Morelia. The violence lasted well into Thursday, and the death toll currently stands at eleven, which includes three civilians. The head of Mexican federal police, José Ramón Salinas, said that the security forces were still pursuing members of the Familia in Apatzingán. Several hundred Marines have been deployed to the area.
In its coverage of the battles and the death of Moreno, the Mexican press has focused on different elements. La Jornada de Michoacán said that Security Advisor Poiré did "not present one iota of evidence" to prove that Moreno was killed. It adds that when other leaders have been killed, authorities have provided details of the operations and pictures of the dead.
El Proceso highlights the lack of coordination and communication between the federal government and the Michoacán government, quoting the Michoacán governor as saying, "They never said anything to us."
El Excélsior newspaper talks of the psychosis of the local population following the battles. Storefronts and schools remained closed, the paper said. It adds a disturbing statistic about flight from the zone: Close to 400,000 houses, or 27 percent of the housing, in the state of Michoacán, has been abandoned since the 2005 census, it says, quoting INEGI, the acronym for Mexico's census bureau.
Finally, El Sol de Morelia, the news source from the capital of the province, says 500 people marched on Friday to protest the deaths of three civilians that included an eight month old baby and a seventeen year old.