When vacuums occur in Mexico’s drug war, someone always moves in.
Yesterday’s capture of La Familia Michoacana’s alleged top honcho, Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas, AKA “El Chango” or The Monkey, may be a case in point. When top capos fall in Mexico, especially without a shot being fired, one can’t help but wonder what happened.
Mendez Vargas, left, was seized in Cosio, Aguascalientes, a bit of a distance from his stronghold in Michoacan state. Feds gave new details about his arrest early this morning when displaying him on the equivalent of a “perp walk.”
They said Mendez Vargas thought he would be safe in Aguascalientes because he had wide protection from local police. They added that his capture was the result of an operation that began May 27 and culminated in a “surgical” raid without any firefight.
Given the split in La Familia following the apparent death of fellow La Familia leader Nazario Moreno last December, I wonder if the rival faction, known by the rather baroque name of the Knights Templar, helped rat Mendez Vargas out.
As Stratfor has noted in its weekly Mexico Security Memo, the Knights Templar have underscored their disgust with El Chango repeatedly in recent days.
On June 17, they hung banners around Michoacan state “professing their commitment to serving the community and calling La Familia Michoacana and Los Zetas traitors to Mexico,” Stratfor says. A day later, eight bodies turned up in the port of Lazaro Cardenas. A message left at the scene said all those associated with El Chango would meet a similar fate.
Then this banner appeared in Michoacan in which the Knights Templar flat out accuse El Chango of having allied with Los Zetas, and declaring this treason.
Such an accusation holds a certain logic. El Chango is believed to be a former lieutenant in the Gulf Cartel and would know leaders of Los Zetas, which split off from the Gulf Cartel. After Nazario Moreno met his death, El Chango may have felt weakened and needed a lifeline from a fellow crime group.
In any case, federal police backed off a bit this morning from National Security spokesman Alejandro Poire’s statement yesterday that La Familia’s leadership has been wiped out. Federal Police commissioner Facundo Rosas said six top crime bosses from what was once La Familia remain free and “operate across the country.” They include Servando Gómez Martínez (“La Tuta”) and Dionicio Loya Plancarte (“La Chiva”), both leaders of the Knights Templar.
So La Familia may be history, but the Knights Templar are filling the vacuum.