Mexico's 'La Familia' declares war

MEXICO CITY: The powerful "La Familia" drug cartel has unleashed one of the most spectacular murder offensives in recent years against Mexican authorities, boldly targeting President Felipe Calderon's home state.

No drug cartel has ever gone so far or dealt such a harsh blow to the federal police -- not even in the country's northern reaches near the US border, often the scene of unspeakable violence, or in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's crime capital.

La Familia has claimed responsibility for the killing of 12 federal police officers, including one woman, whose bodies were found Monday piled atop one another along a road in the western state of Michoacan.

The cartel left death threats close to the bodies that read "La Familia, join its ranks or leave" or "let's see if you try to arrest another one."

Last weekend, the group launched a series of attacks against police posts in Michoacan that left four people dead, including three members of the security forces and one suspected cartel hitman, in retaliation for security agents having detained La Familia kingpin Arnoldo Rueda.

Authorities say that Rueda, nicknamed "La Minsa" and allegedly La Familia's second in command, is a key cartel operative in charge of managing synthetic drug production and shipping cocaine and marijuana to the United States, the world's top consumer of cocaine.

Michoacan, Calderon's home state, has seen the deployment of some of the 36,000 troops and police the president has dispatched following his election in late 2006 as part of a nationwide crackdown against drug cartels fighting for control of lucrative cocaine trafficking to the United States.

More than 7,700 people have been killed in drug violence in Mexico since 2008, according to government figures.

La Familia, which operates mainly in Michoacan, burst into the headlines in October 2006 when an armed commando linked to the cartel entered a bar and tossed five severed heads onto the dance floor.

At the time, the drug cartel said it was fighting drug trafficking, but it later allied itself with the notorious Golfo cartel. The partnership has since been terminated and the two groups are fighting a ruthless war against one another.

In several Mexican states, the infiltration of drug traffickers in political circles is considered a fact of life.

Michoacan has been especially hit, as reflected in the late May arrest of 10 mayors, a judge and 16 other local officials for their alleged links with organized crime.

Some suspects were close to the administration of the state's leftist governor, Leonel Godoy, who is opposed to Calderon, a conservative.

Monte Alejandro Rubido, a senior security official in Calderon's government, on Tuesday accused Godoy's brother, Julio Cesar, who was elected as a deputy on July 5, of "being in charge of institutional protection networks for the operations" of La Familia.

Julio Cesar Godoy is fleeing the authorities, Rubido said, while the governor met Mexican Justice Minister Eduardo Medina Mora on Tuesday.

In September 2008, La Familia organized a first public attack in Michoacan, killing eight people with hand grenades thrown at a crowd assembled for Independence Day in the heart of the state capital Morelia.