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Click here for more about the drug war in Mexico.

Cartel Member Arrested in Connection with Federal Agent Murders Opens Up to the Press

People accused of crimes or who operate within criminalized industries are generally wary of speaking publicly - or at all - about their activities. However, Jose Alberto Lopez Barron broke with that tradition on July 23, 2009, as CNN reports ("Mexican Drug Cartel Suspect Opens Up About Operations"). Lopez Barron, who was "arrested this week in connection with the torture and killings of 12 federal police agents [on] July 13," addressed the "journalists shouting at him during a police lineup Wednesday, opening up a new window on how his reputed cartel [La Familia Michoacana] operates."

According to CNN, "Mexican federal officials say Lopez Barron, also known as 'El Gordo,' is one of the top leaders of La Familia Michoacana, a drug cartel blamed for a rash of violence that has left at least 18 federal agents and two soldiers dead since July 11." However, the article states that Lopez Barron spoke to journalists "in a calm manner" about his cartel, contradicting assumptions about and media portrayals of Mexican drug traffickers, as he continued to do throughout his statements. He asserted that "even if the cartel acted outside the law, it operates in an orderly manner and under rules that not only cartel members have to obey, but also residents in Arteaga, one of the cities the cartel controls." Lopez Barron spoke in some detail about those rules; for example, he told reporters that "You can't go around shooting off guns [...]. You can't go around killing people, [and y]ou can't speed in your vehicle. You can't traffick any kinds of drugs without telling us first." Additionally, the cartel higher-up discussed La Familia's state-wide prohibition on methamphetamine sales. Lopez Barron even went so far as to name his "direct boss," Servando Gomez, also "known as 'La Tuta.'" Readers may recognize Gomez's name from earlier reports that the cartel boss called into a radio show to "offer a truce with the federal government," only to be rejected due to Mexico's policy against "mak[ing] pacts with criminal organizations." According to Lopez Barron's statements, "authorities have tried to capture Gomez but local residents have protected him."

The picture Lopez Barron paints of Mexican drug trafficking - and particularly of La Familia - runs slightly counter to those North Americans and citizens of other affected countries typically see in the press. He describes an orderly organization that not only "respects the police" but that garners law enforcement's respect as well (though this may be at least partially a consequence of the protection-guaranteeing bribes cartels still offer local police). Moreover, Lopez Barron's account suggests that some Michoacan residents support the cartels. While describing an attempt by federal agents to ensnare Gomez, Lopez Barron states that "Elements from the federal investigations agency arrived in town [...] and we had to leave town for the hills. We arrived at a small ranch called La Pena, and they gave us nourishment and refuge."

None of this intends to suggest that the violent acts committed by cartels are justified or acceptable, but it does offer up a different interpretation of Mexican drug cartels not often considered in the mainstream media. Moreover, it could suggest a desire on the part of cartel members to legitimize themselves and their activities. Perhaps they, too, are tired of fighting the drug war.

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