After one of their top men was arrested last weekend, gunmen from Mexico's La Familia cartel went on a rampage, shooting up police stations and leaving 12 federal officers in a pile alongside a highway.
La Familia now says that all they really want is peace and tranquility.
On a local news program in the state of Michoacán, where the drug organization is based, a man identifying himself as a leader of La Familia explained to viewers that their attacks in the past few days have been a response to police action against their families and friends.
"What we want is peace and tranquility," the leader, identified as Servando "La Tuta" Gomez, said. "We want to achieve a national pact."
"We want the president, Mr. Felipe Calderón, to know that we are not his enemies, that we value him, that we are conscientious people," he went on.
Although the legitimacy of the call was not immediately verified, the government of President Calderón immediately reacted. "The federal government does not ever dialogue, does not negotiate, does not reach deals with any criminal organization," Mexican Interior Minister Fernando Gomez Mont said. "There is no other alternative for their members but to submit to the law."
Public confidence in Calderón slips
But that hard stance might increasingly alienate voters. Calderón has had overwhelming support for his offensive against drug traffickers, the cornerstone of his presidency, which he launched immediately upon taking office in December 2006 and from which he has not backed down. He has sent some 45,000 troops and federal police across the country to where traffickers operate. But as violence has escalated across Mexico, so has public frustration.
It is one reason that political analysts say that Calderón's National Action Party (PAN) lost ground to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled the country for 71 years, in midterm elections earlier this month. Many Mexicans have long speculated that the PRI may have cut deals with drug organizations – allowing them to operate with more impunity but with less violence.
Bruce Bagley, a professor of international studies at the University of Miami, says that there is a growing sense that Calderón may have taken on more than he can handle. "In the minds of many Mexican voters, the real problem is not drug trafficking into the US," Mr. Bagley explains, "it's the violence."
In a recent poll published in the daily newspaper Milenio, by the Mexico-based polling group Cabinet of Strategic Communication, more than half of Mexicans consider organized crime networks to be defeating the government. Only 28 percent said the government is gaining ground.
Violence in Michoacán was set off over the weekend, after federal police arrested alleged La Familia deputy Arnoldo Rueda Medina. On Saturday, gunmen burst into police stations across the state, leaving five dead. In a later incident, 12-off-duty officers were ambushed and left on the side of the road, in what has been characterized as the worst single execution-style murder of federal officials since Calderón took office.
La Familia's 'code'
In the TV interview, broadcast via telephone Wednesday night, the caller said that federal police "come and fabricate guilty charges." In May, Calderón's administration launched an unprecedented anticorruption sweep in the state of Michoacán, arresting local officials, including mayors, alleged to be colluding with La Familia.
The caller offered a defense of the group's actions, saying that La Familia acts under a code of rules that target, for example, only those who are politically connected or "refuse to pay." He conceded: "We know our work is disliked by the public."
The government took no sympathy. "The criminal groups that the Mexican government is fighting are made up of criminal cowards without scruples," Mr. Gomez Mont said, who "try to mask or justify their acts with all sorts of justifications."
Mexico quadrupled the presence of federal police in Michoacan Thursday, according to public safety officials, sending 1,000 new officers to bolster security.