MEXICO CITY – The Mexican government defended the decision to arrest a high-level member of the La Familia Michoacana drug organization last weekend while Mass was being celebrated at a church, citing the danger that the suspect might escape or start a shootout.
The operation to arrest Miguel Angel Beraza Villa last Saturday “was carried out with the greatest precision to ensure the safety of the more than 250 people” inside the church, the Public Safety Secretariat said.
Beraza Villa, suspected of being the principal distributor of synthetic drugs for La Familia Michoacana, was arrested along with 33 other people at a family event at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Apatzingan, a town in the western state of Michoacan, by some 200 federal police officers.
The majority of those arrested with Beraza have since been released.
“The priority of the Federal Police at all times was to avoid a violent incident that could have placed those present at the religious ceremony in danger,” the secretariat said.
Officers seized 11 luxury vehicles, two rifles, two grenades, $13,000 in cash, 30 cell phones and 4,500 pills of the type used to make synthetic drugs in and around the church.
The Mexican Bishops Conference on Monday protested the “disrespect and violence” exhibited by federal officers in arresting Beraza inside the church.
“Such action was taken at that time and place due to an intelligence evaluation that guaranteed the apprehension of the suspected criminal, thus preventing his escape or a possible confrontation,” the secretariat said.
Beraza was the main trafficker of methamphetamine from Mexico to the United States and was “responsible for multiple killings and executions, kidnappings and extortion,” the secretariat said.
Beraza, who is wanted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, allegedly sent up to half a ton of crystal meth monthly to the United States on trailers loaded with fruit that traveled from Michoacan to the border city of Tijuana.
The suspect, according to federal police, reported to Enrique Plancarte, who supplied the drugs sold in the United States.
Beraza sent two to three shipments a week to the United States with the assistance of a cell made up of at least 40 people.
Mexican security forces have stepped up their operations against La Familia Michoacana since the discovery on July 13 of the bodies of 12 federal police officers.
The killings were apparently a reprisal for the arrest on July 11 of a leading La Familia Michoacana figure, Arnoldo Rueda Medina.
More than 5,000 federal police have been deployed in Michoacan along with army troops to bolster security.
Beraza told authorities the operations conducted by federal police and troops against the criminal organization have forced several La Familia figures to scale back their activities and many are hiding in the mountains, officials said.
No shots were fired during Beraza’s arrest and the 250 people inside the church, many of them women and children, were safe at all times, officials said.
La Familia Michoacana and the Gulf cartel have been fighting for control of Michoacan.
The state is strategically located on the Pacific coast, giving drug traffickers access to routes for smuggling drugs into the United States, and it is also one of Mexico’s main producers of marijuana, poppies and synthetic drugs. EFE