09/14/12 – 16 bodies were found on Sunday, September 9, by Mexican police in an abandoned van on the side of a highway in Cayuca de Catalan, a city in the state of Guerrero. According to police officials, the bullet-ridden bodies showed signs of torture; several were blindfolded and their hands bound by rope. In a statement made Monday, Guerrero Governor Ángel Agurre said he believed the victims had been murdered in nearby Michoacán and then transported, due to the fact that no recent reports of missing persons were filed in his state lately. Guerrero, a southwestern state that shares borders with Michoacán and the Pacific Ocean, has seen some of the highest death tolls in the drug cartel turf wars. It currently ranks as the state with the fourth highest total of narco-related killings (ejecuciones) according to Grupo Reforma‘s data, with a count of 692 such homicides, only behind Nuevo León (981), Chihuahua (864), and Sinaloa (807), as of September 7.
The incident was reminiscent of a similar occurrence that happened just two weeks ago in Guerrero, when police uncovered 11 bodies in vehicles along a highway in the same area. The bodies showed similar execution-style bullet wounds, restraint, and torture. News agency EFE reported that alongside the corpses were what police identified as narco-messages (narcomensajes) left by the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) gang, which suggested that the killings aimed to “settle scores” with a rival cartel, La Famalia Michoacana.
Messages found inside the vehicle from the September 9 incident that read “Simplimente La Familia Michoacana (Simply the Michoacan Family)” led police to believe that the killings were committed by members of La Familia. As well, local Mexican news sources reported that many of the victims found Sunday were covered with words scrawled in black pen reading, “I am a Templar Knight,” likely indicating that the killings were related to the war between the two rivals. La Familia had been one of the most powerful presences in the state when it came to power in Michoacán in 2006 after splitting from the Gulf Cartel (Cartel de Gúlf, CDG). In one of their more infamous displays of public violence, associates of the gang dropped severed heads onto a night club dance floor in 2010, along with a note stating, “Only those who deserve to die will die.” Nevertheless, experts believe the cartel has significantly diminished in power and presence, especially with the increased presence of the Knights Templar.
The rise to power of the Knights Templar, which separated from La Familia in March of 2011, has highlighted what experts are saying is a fundamental problem in the effort to destroy cartels. Once the leadership of a cartel is targeted and the power of the gang itself begins to diminish, another is simply formed in its place. Often times, the leaders of these new gangs are former members, as is the case for the Knights Templar. In a Times article from 2011 that details the group’s rift with La Familia Michoacana and subsequent rise, it explains that their kingpin, Servando Gómez, used to be a lieutenant to Nazario Moreno, the leader of La Familia before he was killed in a shootout in December of 2010. The two bosses were migrant workers together in the United States in the 1990s, a time during which they both converted to Evangelical Christianity, the ideological basis for both cartels. Due to the religious influence, fighting with or among the remnants of La Familia Michoacana and Knights Templar groups is referred to as Mexico’s drug gang “Holy War.” Both gangs specialize in the trafficking of methamphetamine, with the Knights Templar being one of the biggest exporters of meth to the United States. Mexican intelligence officials estimate the Templars have a force of around 1,200 gunmen.
Reuters noted that this past weekend’s incident marks one of the more gruesome events that has occurred in Guerrero in recent months. The victims’ identities have not yet been released.
“Ejecutómetro 2012.” Grupo Reforma. Accessed September 14, 2012.