THE cartels battling for control of Mexico's multibillion-dollar narcotics trade are as notorious for their drug use as their violence.
But the fastest growing faction is a quasi-religious sect that celebrates family values and insists on teetotalism.
La Familia recruits members from rehab clinics and forbids them from drink and drugs, according to documents leaked steadily to the Mexican press. Advancement depends as much on attendance at prayer meetings as target practice.
The cartel's leader, known as El Mas Loco, "The Most Crazy", preaches La Familia's divine right to eliminate enemies and insists the group only traffic drugs outside home territory. Local press has reported he carries a "bible" of his own sayings and insists that his army of traffickers and hitmen avoid the narcotics they sell.
"La Familia uses religion as a way of forcing cohesion among its members," said Raul Benitez, an expert on Mexican drug trafficking.
"They are building a new kind of disciplined army that we have never seen here before. It makes them more dangerous."
The first hints that something unusual was afoot came in November 2006 - La Familia formally announced its existence in a newspaper advertisement. "Some of our strategies are sometimes strong, but this is the only way to impose order for the good of the people," it said. "Maybe some people won't understand at first, but they will."
The cartel has since spread across Mexico from its base in Michoacan state and is believed to have operations in dozens of US cities.
From trading in cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine, it has diversified into kidnapping, armed robbery and counterfeiting. It is alleged to have financed and supported dozens of politicians and is considered one of Mexico's five largest trafficking groups.
Its rapid expansion has defied the government of President Felipe Calderon, who made curbing the cartels a central aim of his administration when he took office in 2006.
His National Action Party lost midterm elections at the weekend, picking up 29 per cent of the vote. The elections were dominated by violence linked to cocaine trafficking and the recession. An unofficial count by the newspaper Milenio reported last week that 3492 people were killed in the first six months of the year, up 60 per cent on last year.
Jo Tuckman in Mexico City
Source - http://www.smh.com.au/world/bible-bashers-run-drug-cartel-20090706-daib.html