A top state security official in Mexico confirmed Monday that one of the country’s most wanted members of the Familia Michoacana drug cartel was one of four people killed in a firefight Sunday at a joint state-federal checkpoint in the town of Amatepec, State of Mexico, 128 miles (207 km) southeast of Mexico City. The suspect -- nicknamed The Stubble, or El Rastrojo -- was identified as a local crime boss and member of a group that saw its power significantly curtailed in recent years. His real name was not disclosed Monday.
“Four of the people who attacked the Joint Operating Base died, and one of them was identified as a leader of organized crime in the area, nicknamed ‘The Stubble,’” said José Manzur Quiroga, the state’s secretary general of government, in a statement published in Excelsior newspaper. The death of a Familia Michoacana member shows the crime syndicate still operates to some degree in central Mexico.
Last month, state and federal police boosted patrols in the southern part of State of Mexico and the adjoining states of Guerrero and Michoacán, and area known as the “Triangle Gap,” which authorities believe is heavily trafficked by criminals including the remaining vestiges of La Familia, according to a report in Spanish language Milenio newspaper.
Mexican authorities in March announced La Familia leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez was killed in a shootout with police. It was the second time Moreno was pronounced dead. He was supposed to have died in a two-day battle with security forces in 2010, but earlier this year Mexican authorities said that report had been inaccurate. In May 2011, 11 La Familia members were killed and 36 others were arrested following a shootout on a ranch in Western Jalisco state.
Since then the group’s power has diminished. At its height La Familia was one of the most feared and violent of Mexico’s organized crime gangs, rivaling the violence committed by radical Islamist groups. The group was well known for using beheadings as a fear tactic. In one case masked members of the group barged into a bar in 2006 in Uruapan city, Michoacan state, and dropped five severed heads on the dance floor as a warning to “those who must die.”
La Familia and its offshoot, the Knights Templar Cartel, adopted spiritual justifications for their actions, calming not to target innocent bystanders and civilian. But the groups are believed to have been widely active in drug trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping, arms trafficking and a slew of other organized criminal activities.
Earlier this year the Knights Templar Cartel was blamed for making worse the lime shortage that caused prices to spike for the green citrus fruit. Severe winter weather and drought conditions last year cause a shortage that the drug cartel exploited through extortion of Central Mexico growers to drive prices up further.