Mexico Captures 'El Chango,' Leader of Familia Drug Cartel

Bloomberg/June 21, 2011

Mexican authorities arrested Jose de Jesus Mendez, known as "El Chango," or "The Monkey," the alleged leader of the Familia Cartel and one of the nation's most-wanted traffickers.

Mendez was captured today in the central state of Aguascalientes by members of the federal police, government security spokesman Alejandro Poire said today. He said the arrest was the government's "strongest blow" against the cartel, which a U.S. congressional report last month classified as "an extremely violent drug trafficking organization."

The Familia cartel, which combines violence with religious fundamentalism, is based in President Felipe Calderon's home state of Michoacan in western Mexico. The government had offered a 30-million-peso ($2.55-million) reward for information leading to Mendez's capture.

The arrest may cause rival cartels to intensify operations and fight for territory in Michoacan, a state that hosts one of the country's largest ports and produces marijuana, heroin poppies and methamphetamine, said Jose Reveles, author of the 2010 book, "The Uncomfortable Cartel."

Mendez had caused a split in the Familia by seeking an alliance with the Zetas, a cartel based in northeastern Mexico that is also known for violent tactics, Reveles said. Mendez took control of the organization after the death last year of Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, known as "El Chayo," he said.

La Familia has operated in Michoacan since 2000, Poire said Dec. 10 after announcing the death of Moreno, who wrote texts describing the doctrine cartel members must follow. The group produces and transports narcotics and is also involved in extortion and kidnapping, Poire said.

La Familia claims to protect Mexicans, preaching against use of methamphetamine in Mexico in favor of sending it to the U.S., according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The cartel also hands out free toys to children in Michoacan.

Editors: Jonathan Roeder, Ken McCallum

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