La Familia Drug Cartel: Implications for U.s.-mexican Security

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CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Jun 22, 2012 - 124 pages
La Familia Michoacana or as it is also known, La Familia, has emerged as one of Mexico's strangest and most grotesque drug cartels. Its leaders-Nazario "El Chayo" Moreno González and José de Jesús "El Chango" Méndez Vargas-insist they are doing the Lord's work when they discipline teenagers for wearing long hair or spraying graffiti on colonial buildings in the Michoacán state capital of Morelia. However, this syndicate is not content with trying to civilize young people. It captures enemies, who may belong to Los Zetas or another competing cartel, and tortures, dismembers, and decapitates them-often leaving heads in public venues as a warning. Despite their pious opposition to drug consumption by michoacanos, "El Chayo" and "El Chango" have amassed a fortune by importing precursor drugs from Asia and Europe through the Michoacán Pacific Coast port of Lázaro Cárdenas. They have constructed scores of sophisticated laboratories to convert these chemicals into methamphetamines for sale in an expanding U.S. market. La Familia also acquires resources by selling protection to merchants, street vendors, loggers, hotel owners, local gangs, and small-scale drug sellers. Rather than speak in terms of extortion, the shadowy organization insists that it "protects" its clients. La Familia has recruited members from the ranks of the dispossessed. The North American Free Trade Agreement and the 2008-10 economic recession have left thousands of young people, mostly males, wandering the streets of Lázaro Cárdenas, Morelia, and many of the state's other 111 municipalities. Uprooted from their families, unemployed, poorly educated, and homeless, many of these individuals had turned to drugs, alcohol, prostitution, and petty crime to cope with their dreary lives. Along come La Familia's recruiters with a message of hope. They say, in effect: "Enter a rehabilitation center, clean up your life, and we will provide meaningful opportunities." Only after a person has shed their addiction are they invited to enter a 2-month program based on periods of silence, intensive Bible study, and exposure to Evangelical-style speakers. If they complete this training-which is unabashed brainwashing-they receive a job, a salary, and integration into a social group. Meanwhile, they contribute to La Familia's ability to move drugs, especially methamphetamines, through Baja California and Sonora onto the streets of the United States. La Familia's strength has grown because it has aligned with the Gulf and Sinaloa Cartels against Los Zetas in Tamaulipas and other areas south of the border with Texas. If the three groups enjoy success, they will gain access to Nuevo Laredo, which is the largest portal for the bilateral flow of people, money, vehicles, arms, contraband, and drugs. Dr. George W. Grayson provides an extremely astute analysis of La Familia, emphasizing its origins, evolution, ideology, leaders, and goals.

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About the author (2012)

GEORGE W. GRAYSON, the Class of 1938 Professor of Government at the College of William & Mary, has made more than 200 research trips to Latin America. He is a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and a board member of the Center for Immigration Studies. He served as a Democratic member of the Virginia state legislature for 27 years and belongs to Phi Beta Kappa. Dr. Grayson lectures regularly at the U.S. Department of State, at the National Defense University, and at universities throughout the United States and Mexico. In addition to preparing a dozen books, as well as monographs for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, he has written Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State? (Transaction Publishers, 2009), Mexico's Struggle with Drugs and Thugs (Foreign Policy Association, 2009), Mexican Messiah (Penn State University Press, 2007), Mesías Mexicano (Random House-Mondadori, 2006), Mexico: the Changing of the Guard (Foreign Policy Association, 2001), Strange Bedfellows: NATO Marches East (University Press of America, 1999), and Mexico: From Corporatism to Pluralism? (Harcourt Brace, 1998). Dr. Grayson has written articles for the Commonweal Magazine, the Harvard International Review, Foreign-, Foreign Policy, Orbis, World Affairs, the Baltimore Sun, the Christian Science Monitor, the Houston Chronicle, the Globe and Mail, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Reforma (Mexico City), the San Diego Union- Tribune, the Washington Post, the Washington Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He wrote a weekly column for Milenio Semanal (Mexico City) and is a frequent commentator on CNN and NPR and affiliate stations. Dr. Grayson holds a J.D. from the College of William & Mary and a Ph.D. from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University.

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