MEXICO CITY – Mexican security forces swept into President Felipe Calderon’s home state of Michoacan on Tuesday and arrested 27 government officials, the largest operation to target politicians in Mexico’s bloody drug war.
The officials, including 10 mayors, are being investigated for alleged ties to drug traffickers and crime syndicates that effectively control large sections of Michoacan, the federal attorney general’s office said.
Michoacan Gov. Leonel Godoy, in a curt appearance before reporters, confirmed the arrests and said he had not been notified of the raids ahead of time.
Those detained include a top adviser to Godoy, a judge and several regional public-security officials, the attorney general’s office said. Most were taken to Mexico City for questioning.
Although Mexican authorities frequently have arrested corrupt security agents in drug-related cases, this is the first time they have gone after such a large number of elected officials.
The sweep was significant because it represented an effort to hit the political cover that traffickers have enjoyed, analysts said.
Michoacan is the base for a fast-growing, extremely violent drug-trafficking organization known as La Familia.
Dozens of mayors and other officials have been killed or kidnapped as La Familia has extended its reach. Calderon chose his native Michoacan to launch an army-led offensive against drug gangs shortly after he took power in December 2006. The death toll has since climbed by more than 11,000 people.
La Familia has been doing battle with the so-called Gulf cartel, which moved into Michoacan a few years ago in what initially was a strategic partnership. The arrangement ruptured last year, with the two groups struggling over control of land to produce drugs and transport routes.
La Familia specializes in marijuana, methamphetamine and cocaine. In the past year, it has set up shop in 20 to 30 cities and towns throughout the United States, a senior U.S. law-enforcement official said Tuesday. Like many Mexican states where traffickers act with impunity, Michoacan suffers from rampant corruption, residents say.
One person under arrest is the mayor of Uruapan, the city where traffickers famously tossed five human heads onto a dance floor in September 2006, an early signal of how grisly the drug war would become.
Six of the detained mayors are from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico for more than 70 years; two each represent Godoy’s leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party and Calderon’s rightist National Action Party.