The entire local police force of a town in central Mexico is being investigated for alleged ties to the Familia Michoacana, in a reminder that, although its leadership appears fractured, the drug trafficking organization’s support network is still firmly in place.
An anti-corruption drive in the municipality of Acambaro, Guanajuato, has placed every single member of the municipal police -- numbering 190 in total -- under investigation for alleged ties to the Familia. According to El Milenio, state police officers swarmed the municipal police headquarters on May 4, disarming the local police and confiscating their belongings, before flying them to the state police headquarters for questioning. Although state officials have reportedly released some of the Acambaro police, so far no official announcement has been made about the total number that will face charges.
The sweep began days before in the nearby town of Tarandacuao, where 23 municipal police officers were arrested, according to Mexican newspaper El Universal. The state’s attorney general, Carlos Zamarripa Aguirre, told the paper that some of those detained are suspected of involvement in three murders that took place in February and April this year.
On top of the murder charges, Zamarripa claimed that the local police chief was on the Familia Michoacana’s payroll, and had ordered his men to guard the roads in to and out of the municipality. The officers were told to notify their commander about any sightings of federal police or military forces, by phone and not over the radio, so that he could warn Familia agents.
These incidents are a surprising indicator of strength for the Familia Michoacana, which many assumed was a spent force after the death of one of its leaders in December 2010. The Familia announced its intention to "completely dissolve" itself in January 2011, declaring (in the group's typical pious tone) that it sought to end the suffering of the people of Michoacan at the hands of the Federal Police.
If the scale of their criminal infiltration in Guanajuato is as deep as these investigations suggest, it may be a sign that the Familia is regrouping. Historically, the organization has proved adept at corrupting even high-level politicians. Last December, for instance, the federal Attorney General’s Office publicly accused congressman Julio Cesar Godoy Toscano of accepting money from the organization. As proof of the allegations, the attorney general sent an audio recording to Mexican radio which reportedly captures a conversation between Godoy and Servando Gomez Martinez, alias "La Tuta," a Familia boss. In the recordings Godoy guarantees Gomez protection from the law, and at one point calls him "uncle." Throughout the conversation, Gomez repeatedly refers to Godoy as "my son."
Such penetration is made easier, in part, by the organization’s extensive support base. The group's control over parts of Michoacan has been likened by some to that of a de facto state. In addition to providing employment through the drug trade, the group has been known to fulfill police roles like enforcing contracts and resolving domestic disputes. Thanks to years of funding social projects, such as building schools and roads, the Familia enjoys far more domestic support than Mexico's other drug trafficking organizations, and, in some parts of the country, more than the government.