BY DAVID AGREN
THE MEXICAN government has apologised after federal police burst into a parish during Mass to arrest drug traffickers.
Police in armoured vehicles and two Black Hawk helicopters arrived at a church in Michoacan state and arrested over 30 members of an alleged drug cartel.
But Mexican bishops said the raid was a show of disrespect for the sanctity of Mass.
A statement from the Secretariat of Public Security apologised to the Mexican bishops’ conference “for the circumstances in which the operation had to be carried out”. The statement said it was undertaken to avoid gunfire and a “violent incident”.
It resulted in the arrest of 33 alleged members of a cartel known as La Familia Michoacana and the seizure of cash, weapons, fragmentation grenades and luxury vehicles.
The detainees included Miguel Beraza Villa – known as La Troca (“the Truck”) – a drug lieutenant who Mexican and US authorities claim is responsible for transporting tractor-trailers full of synthetic drugs such as “ice” and “crys
tal” to the United States. A statement from the bishops’ conference said: “We make an energetic protest against the lack of respect and the violence exercised on the part of the forces responsible for guaranteeing the security of all persons in our nation – principally in the state of Michoacan – by interrupting a religious act... at the moment in which Holy Mass is celebrated.”
The raid continued a highprofile crackdown on drug traffickers in President Felipe Calderon’s home state, where some 5,500 federal police and soldiers have been dispatched to fight organised crime. By the end of July, violence from organised crime had claimed more than 250 lives in Michoacan and more than 3,500 lives nationwide, according to the newspaper Reforma.
Local media reported that an estimated 250 worshippers and the priest were held in the parish for six hours.
The American embassy in Mexico and the US Drug Enforcement Agency praised the arrests as key accomplishments in President Calderon’s battle against organised crime.