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Drug Cartel Suspect Arrested in Church, Bishops Protest Police Raid

On August 1, 2009, federal authorities interrupted a Mass service with raid that resulted in the arrest of purported La Familia lieutenant Miguel Angel Beraza, also known as "The Truck," and "another suspect after surrounding a church in Apatzingan, in Michoacan state," the Washington Post reported on August 4, 2009 ("Drug Cartel Suspect Seized in Church Raid"). Beraza was arrested on suspicion of "moving a half-ton of crystal methampethamine into the United States each month" and is said to be "in charge of La Familia's methamphetamine shipments to the United States." Michele Leonhart, "acting administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration," called Beraza's arrest "the result of the 'resolute partnership' between the United States and Mexico." The Catholic Review additionally reports that "33 alleged La Familia members" were arrested in the raid, including Beraza and the aforementioned unnamed suspect ("Mexican Bishops Criticize Federal Police for Drug Raid During Mass"), but most of "those arrested with Beraza have since been released," as the Latin American Herald Tribune reports ("Mexican Government Defends Arrest at Church").

However, according to an August 5 post at Catholic Culture, local church authorities have expressed much less jubilance over raid and resulting arrest than have their federal counterparts in both the U.S. and Mexico. As the blog post states, "Insisting that 'Mass is sacred and must be respected,' Mexico's bishops condemned the federal police raid of a church during Mass on August 1 in order to make a drug-related arrest." In an statement issued the previous day, the bishops proclaimed their "energetic protest against the lack of respect and the violence exercised o nthe part of the forces [...]. Nothing explains this kind of action inside a religious place, and must less in these moments were Mexico is noted internationally as an insecure and violent country." The Catholic Review provides a much more indepth description of the raid, which involved "armored vehicles," and "two Black Hawk helicopters." Addictionally, "photos of the parish showed dislodged furniture and other minor damage to property." According to Father Mateo Calvillo Paz, the raid "marked the first time that police officers have burst into a parish to arrest suspects linked to organized crime." In short, drug warriors have now resorted to staging militaristic attacks on places of worship and their inhabitants simply because one or two drug suspects might also be partaking in Sunday services.

A later Latin American Herald Tribune article reports that the "Mexican government defended [its] decision to arrest" Beraza during the Mass celebration, "citing the danger that the suspect might escape or start a shootout." However, "[n]o shots were fired during Beraza's arrest," and it remains unclear how a suspect might escape from something that never would have happened had authorities reconsidered their decision to raid a religious service. If federal police possess intelligence so precise that they are aware of a suspect's location on Sunday afternoon, why couldn't that same intelligence have informed them of where Beraza might head following the Sunday Mass? Either way, as the Catholic Review states, the incident shines a spotlight on "the increasing vulnerability of church officials and the faithful [...] being caught up - inadvertantly or not - in the ongoing federal crackdown of drug cartels."

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