Mexico imposes military control over Pacific seaport, neighbouring city in cartel-plagued state

MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s military has taken control of one of the nation’s biggest seaports as part of an effort to bring drug-cartel activity under control in the western state of Michoacan, officials said Monday.

Federal security spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said soldiers are now responsible for policing duties in the city of Lazaro Cardenas as well as in the Pacific seaport of the same name. The port is a federal entity separate from the city.

“We have received anonymous tips that lead us to believe there has been corruption and collusion from people at the port,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said navy personnel will take over as heads of the administration and port captaincy of the seaport. He said about 156 customs and tax inspectors and officials at the seaport will be rotated out of their positions gradually.

All 113 police officers in the city of Lazaro Cardenas have been replaced by soldiers while they undergo drug testing and police training, Sanchez added.

The port of Lazaro Cardenas is the country’s largest in terms of cargo volume and it has seen a number of huge seizures of precursor chemicals used to make methamphetamines.

The Sinaloa and Knights Templar drug cartels have been identified as gangs that engage in the production of methamphetamine. The Knights Templar cartel is based in Michoacan and is fighting vigilante “self-defence” groups for control of the state.

The Knights Templar, a pseudo-religious gang that takes its name from the ancient monastic order, has set fire to lumber yards, packing plants and passenger buses in a reign of terror in the state.

The cartel’s extortion of “protection” payments from cattlemen, lime and avocado growers and other businesses prompted some communities in a lime-growing region to form armed vigilante patrols in February. That drew more attacks from the cartel, which sought to punish the area by hampering the lime business.

Michoacan is the home state of former President Felipe Calderon and it is where he launched the federal government offensive against drug trafficking upon taking office in late 2006.