MEXICO CITY – A violent Mexican drug gang took out a rare, half-page ad in newspapers in which they claimed to be anti-crime vigilantes who wanted to stop kidnapping, robbery and the sale of methamphetamine in the western state of Michoacan.
The Family, a shadowy group believed to be allied to Mexico's Gulf drug cartel, has claimed responsibility in the past for bloody killings, such as a Sept. 6 attack in which gunmen dumped five severed human heads into a bar in the Michoacan city of Uruapan.
Those and other heads discovered since have been accompanied by hand-lettered, poorly spelled notes, but it was apparently the first time the group had taken out newspaper ads.
The newspaper El Sol of Morelia, 135 miles west of Mexico City, confirmed that the half-page ad ran in Wednesday's editions.
"Our only reason for being is that we love our state, and we are not willing to allow the dignity of our people to be trampled on," according to the ad, signed "Sincerely, The Michoacan Family."
"This organization was formed with the firm intention of fighting the uncontrolled crime in our state," it said, claiming the group was "growing, and now covers the whole state."
The ads blamed the violence and crime in largely rural Michoacan on "the Milenio cartel, and some people named Valencia, and some gangs like the '30 Gang,' who have terrorized much of the state since the 1980s up to the present day."
The Family appears to be fighting the Milenio Cartel — which in turn is believed to be allied with the Sinaloa Cartel — for control of drug trafficking routes in Michoacan.
But the Family's advertisement said it was against the sale of "ice," or methamphetamine, "because it is one of the worst drugs doing irreversible damage to our society."
Local media reports said thousands of leaflets were left in Morelia with the group's message.
The ad seemed to acknowledge that its brutal tactics had alienated many people.
"Perhaps at this time people don't understand us, but we know that in the most affected regions, they understand our actions," it said, adding "people who work at any decent activity have no reason to worry."
Another Morelia newspaper, La Voz de Michoacan, confirmed it ran a similar ad from the group.
It's not the first time that the group has used strange rhetoric to depict itself as the good guys. The sign left with the five severed heads on Sept. 6. read "The family doesn't kill for money. It doesn't kill women. It doesn't kill innocent people, only those who deserve to die."
The area is frequently used by drug traffickers, and dozens of suspected traffickers and Michoacan police officers have been killed in recent months amid gang turf battles. The battles involve leadership struggles within and among gangs after authorities captured some of their leaders.