Photograph by By Puerto Lázaro Cárdenas (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons.  Accessed on 09.05.17


Lázaro Cárdenas is Mexico’s second largest container port, and key for drugs and precursor chemicals importation and transshipment. Given the economic benefits associated with the port, key state actors have been unable or unwilling to take decisive action against criminal groups, or have outright colluded with them. Extortion and cargo theft remain an issue, though logistics firms operating out of the port have advanced efforts to shield flows of goods through private initiatives and favorable ties to federal state actors.

In a report released on the Shadow Governance store today, the recent criminal colonization of Lázaro Cárdenas port is outlined. The report also details the evolving patterns of criminal control and state corruption in the aftermath of a federal intervention into the state of Michoacán in 2013. The port of Lázaro Cárdenas remains a key point for the transshipment of illicit goods, with criminal actors contending for control; these groups, and the key individuals that drive criminal operations at the port are identified. Finally, state inefficiencies are outlined, with a note on how criminal infiltration of the port will impact security over the short to medium term.

Summary Report Findings
Between 2006 and 2013 The Knights Templar (LCT, Los Caballeros Templarios) - the Familia Michoacana’s (LFM) successor organisation – held a criminal monopoly over Lázaro Cárdenas. Their monopoly, however, was disrupted as a result of a federal intervention that saw port authorities replaced, the municipal police dissolved, and armed forces put in charge of the provision of public security in the city.

In spite of the rupture of LCT and the disintegration of its quasi-monopolistic handling of illicit imports through Lazaro Cardenas, the port remains a key hub of criminal activity.

This problem is exacerbated by findings that strongly indicate that the authorities are either unable or unwilling to further disrupt criminal operations, or in fact collude with criminal actors. Shadow Governance sources have indicated a concerningly high level of state-criminal collusion – a factor that has resulted from limited law enforcement capacity to outright corruption.

Shadow Governance intelligence sources in Mexico called the federal government’s continued prioritisation of a kingpin strategy vis-à-vis the country’s organised crime groups “paliative”, adding that limited intelligence as well as sporadic arrests and armed action against local groups enabled these groups to carve out semi-autonomous operational spaces and territorial strongholds situated both within and outside of Lázaro Cárdenas’ urban area – this includes the Guacamayas area, and La Mira.

In these areas in particular, issues include assaults on trucks and theft of goods from both trailers and containers – facilitated by criminal groups with access to route information and shipment manifestos retrieved through the bribery of Border Agency employees.
Violence in Lázaro Cárdenas is intimately tied to the geopolitical-criminal dynamics of the surrounding areas. No less than 10 small- to medium-sized armed groups that used to be tied to LCT have splintered off from that structure following its disintegration, and according to Shadow Governance sources close to these armed groups, could be divided into two principal alliances.

The first (which consists of 3 sub-groups) is supported by the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (Jalisco Cartel New Generation, CJNG), currently considered Mexico’s most powerful as well as fastest rising criminal group. The second alliance is composed of two principle armed blocks incorporated the Viagras and LCT in sensu stricto.  Both alliances are represented in Lázaro Cárdenas through their respective lieutenants.

The overall security situation in Lázaro Cárdenas is unlikely to undergo significant changes in the short and medium terms. A complexity of criminal groups, which has resulted from the disintegration of LCT, is pitted against each other both on Michoacán’s coast and inland.

In spite of intensified fighting amongst the two principal criminal alliances, territorial gains have been minimal, making a solution to this conflict to either side’s benefit unlikely at any time in the near future. Both alliances sustain ties to, and enjoy some support by the nationally dominant criminal actors, the Jalisco and Sinaloa cartels, thus further prolonging contention over Michoacán.
In addition, state actors remain highly compromised, engaged in independent criminal operations, and unable and/or unwilling - given the overall absence of a true national anti-organised crime strategy and the political unwillingness to tackle widespread and hihg-level corruption - to fully engage in corresponding operations.

A continuedly volatile situation in Lázaro Cárdenas’ low-income urban and surrounding rural areas thus seems inevitable.


The report "The Criminal Colonisation of Mexico’s Lázaro Cárdenas Port" is available for purchase in the Report Store.