MEXICO CITY – Mexico quadrupled the federal police presence Thursday in a western state after a cartel killed 20 officers and troops in the boldest revenge attack ever mounted by drug traffickers against the government.
The government deployed 1,000 more federal police to the cartel's home state of Michoacan, bringing the total to 1,300, Public Safety Department spokeswoman Veronica Penunuri. They will be backed by at least three Black Hawk helicopters and three armored vehicles.
The weekend attacks were a blatant challenge to President Felipe Calderon, who has deployed about 45,000 soldiers and tens of thousands of federal police across the country in an attempt to halt the escalating drug trade.
La Familia cartel launched the coordinated offensive in Michoacan and two neighboring states within minutes of the arrest of its operations chief. In the worst, 12 federal agents were killed execution-style, their tortured bodies piled along a roadside as a warning for all to see.
Six federal police and two soldiers were killed in other attacks.
Calderon insists the backlash to the capture of Arnoldo Rueda proves the cartel has been hurt, but government critics said it revealed how vulnerable federal forces are to heavily armed crime organizations with intelligence networks within police.
On Wednesday, a man claiming to be La Familia leader Servando "La Tuta" Gomez called the CB Television station in Michoacan to offer a pact with the government. The man said the gang's wave of attacks are only a response to police action against cartel members' family and friends.
Officials have named Gomez as the cartel leader who ordered the weekend attacks.
Federal officials said they were trying to confirm whether the caller was indeed Gomez, but the government quickly reacted as if he was, issuing a formal statement ruling out any such deals.
"The federal government does not ever dialogue, does not negotiate, does not reach deals with any criminal organization," Interior Secretary Fernando Gomez Mont said.
The caller issued a rambling defense of the La Familia's actions, saying federal police and prosecutors "come and fabricate guilty charges; they are picking innocent people in Michoacan state."
Federal police have arrested and charged eight mayors in Michoacan for aiding the cartel, and have arrested some leading drug traffickers at events like baptism parties for relatives.
Gomez Mont denied traffickers' families were being targeted.
The caller said the La Familia had rules, such as kidnapping only politically connected people and "those who refuse to pay" — a reference to extortion. He acknowledged, "We know our work is disliked by the public."
Gomez Mont said "the criminal groups that the Mexican government are fighting are made up of criminal cowards without scruples" who "try to mask or justify their acts with all sorts of justifications."
The weekend attacks spread quickly to at least 10 cities, including towns in two neighboring states. Officers' hotels were shot up. Grenades were tossed at police posts.
The drug war has left more than 11,000 people dead since Calderon took office in 2006.