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Michoacan peace march turns into rally for La Familia drug lord

Marcha michoacan peace la familia

A peace march called by the government of a Mexican town that was the scene of a deadly gun battle between federal forces and the local cartel ended up as a rally in support of a slain drug lord.

Saturday's marcha in Apatzingan, Michoacan, a stronghold of the drug-trafficking group La Familia, had been called as a demonstration for peace after a federal operation against the cartel left 12 people dead last week. Among them was purportedly one of the drug group's two top leaders, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, also known as "The Craziest" and "The Doctor," among other names.

Photographs show people who took part in the march carrying posters expressing support for La Familia and loyalty to Moreno, regarded as the group's "spiritual leader." One poster said "Viva La Familia Michoacana" and others displayed the phrase, "Nazario will always live in our hearts."

The municipal government distanced itself from the march in a statement released Sunday. But on Monday, in an astonishing radio interview, Mayor Genaro Guizar seemed to lay the blame for the violence on the federal government, not La Familia (links in Spanish).

"The insecurity is not caused by the delinquent groups," Guizar told W Radio. "It is the federal police, who, pardon me, but they go into houses, in almost the entire municipality."

Pressed to elaborate on his accusation, Guizar said he would not comment further and expressed fear for his safety. Later, he told another interviewer that he didn't mean to imply that he did not support the federal government's drug war.

The protest turned narco-rally in Apatzingan demonstrates just how deeply the cult-like La Familia has penetrated society in Michoacan, the home state of President Felipe Calderon. La Familia strictly prohibits heavy drug use among communities that it dominates but is also known for brutal tactics against enemies, such as decapitation. The group has a quasi-religious component that was built largely by Moreno, a co-founder of the cartel who was known to pass out booklets containing spiritual quotes he coined.

Mexico's president launched his campaign against the drug cartels in December 2006, with a heavy deployment of military to the Michoacan area. Calderon has also sought to tackle institutional corruption in Michoacan, but that front in the government's anti-drug strategy is so far failing.

A federal operation last year in which 35 Michoacan mayors and government officials were arrested on suspected cartel connections is now "in ruins," as Los Angeles Times correspondents Ken Ellingwood and Tracy Wilkinson show in an in-depth report published Sunday.

"Judges ruled that the evidence was too flimsy, and all but one of the suspects has been freed," the report says. "Many have returned to their old jobs, accusing the government of a politically motivated witch hunt during an election season."

Politically, Michoacan is dominated by the center-left Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, while Calderon belongs to the center-right National Action Party, or PAN. Apatzingan's mayor is a PRD member and one of those who was arrested and later released in Calderon's "Michoacanazo," as the operation has since been dubbed.

He told The Times: "Calderon just had to try to impress the world, to prove that he was catching traffickers. But we are all out now. So you tell me what he achieved."

Read the whole report here.

Some Michoacan residents appear to be taking their loyalties to the streets. Despite the federal operation last week that killed Moreno, marches against the presence of the federal police in Michoacan -- not marches praising or thanking them -- were also reported Sunday in the state capital, Morelia. Several narcomantas, or narco-banners, were found hung near roads over the weekend also bearing messages of support for La Familia, reported the Quadratin news website in this video report (links in Spanish).

La Familia customarily makes extra efforts to collect and bury its own dead after battles with rival groups or with the government. Moreno's death hasn't been conclusively verified, but authorities believe that he died in Apatzingan during the intense fighting that gripped much of the state Wednesday and Thursday.

The military is still conducting operations in the area Monday, and authorities said they were determined to locate and identify Moreno's body (link in Spanish).

La Familia has shown signs of duress under the government pressure. In November, the group hung another narcomanta in which it in effect offered a truce to the federal government if authorities could "guarantee" peace and safety for the people of Michoacan. Here is a link to the full text in Spanish.

"If the government accepts this responsibility and fulfills it, La Familia Michoacana will dissolve, so that it will cease being the flag under which the federal authorities trample on the human rights of michoacanos."

The federal government dismissed the message at the time and said it does not negotiate with criminals.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: A woman holds a sign in support of La Familia Michoacan in Apatzingan on Sunday. Credit: Quadratin via Milenio.com

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claro q arriva la familia y toda la gente q trabaja con todo para salir adelante y gracias a todos michoacan se respeta orgullosos nos sentimos d ser mexicanos y siempre staremos con la familia mucho para ellos y como dice michoacan es nuestra casa y la vamos a cuidar......... la familia es MICHOACANA


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