Mexican president touts progress in fight against drug cartels

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Lopez Obrador puts spin on country's crime woes while also facing criticism for economic slump, growing COVID-19 crisis

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Guanajuato is not the most populous state in Mexico but it’s the one with the highest number of murders in the past 18 months.

It’s a place 228 miles northwest of Mexico City where two drug gangs have been fighting for control of drug distribution and various criminal activities such as fuel theft from pipelines and refineries.

By his own admission, this feud between the Cartel Jalisco New Generation (CJNG) and the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel accounts for an estimated 70% of the 4,422 homicides recorded in the state since Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador became president of Mexico.

Yet, the president on Wednesday reassured his countrymen that things are getting better not just in Guanajuato but in all of Mexico.

This screenshot from YouTube shows Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador pointing to a chart outlining progress against the drug cartels during his Wednesday visit to the state of Guanajuato.

“We inherited a situation of groups that acted with impunity and in (partnership) with the authorities. This allowed them to consolidate,” their power, Lopez Obrador said. “It has taken time to fight them, but there is no more impunity, no more collusion with the authorities.”

In the city of Irapuato, Lopez Obrador showed an international internet audience charts emphasizing progress against criminals. He even showed scorecards of arrests, gun and drug seizures for each of the two warring cartels.

A public reconciliation with the governor of Guanajuato, who belongs to a different party than the president, preceded Lopez Obrador’s presentation as he kicked off a three-day tour of Guanajuato, Jalisco and Colima — states that have become drug cartel battlegrounds.

“It’s a gesture of responsibility on the part of the governor,” the president said. “We are entering a new stage in our relationship.”

However, a Texas scholar said Lopez Obrador’s tour of cartel strongholds has more to do with saving face amid brazen activity by organized criminal groups and a weak response to the COVID-19 crisis.

This still of an anonymous cellphone video shows Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador shaking the hand of Consuelo Loera, mother of jailed Sinaloa cartel drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera. The captions are by the Mexican news portal Milenio.

Late last month, Jalisco cartel gunmen tried to assassinate the chief of police of Mexico City in broad daylight. On July 1 in Irapuato, gunmen broke into a building and murdered 27 recovering drug addicts.

And people are still shocked by the “surrender” of the Mexican army last October to Sinaloa cartel gang members sent to rescue from custody the son of jailed drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. To make matters worse, the president in April was caught on camera consoling Guzman’s mother during a tour of Sinaloa.

As far as COVID-19, Mexico has now surpassed several countries in Europe with 311,486 confirmed cases an 36,327 deaths, which equates to an 11.7% mortality rate.

“When a president is under fire and having difficulties, in this case the COVID situation — Mexico has done terrible with COVID — they love to start a war,” said Howard Campbell, professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Mexico doesn’t start wars against other countries, but in this situation, they have a drug war. “I think it’s a way for them to say they’re having a lot of success fighting the drug cartels,” he said.

Howard Campbell

Campbell points out that Mexico had a record number of homicides last year as a result of drug cartel warfare. The Lopez Obrador administration did manage to hurt the Jalisco cartel during a joint operation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in which they seized $1.1 billion in drug profits.

“Even though they attacked the police chief, he survived and they caught most of the shooters. So the political argument is, ‘Look, we’re doing really well in the fight against the drug cartels,'” Campbell said. “Despite what happened in Sinaloa with Chapo’s son, he could redirect the conversation and say, ‘no, I’m doing really well with the drug cartels.'”

Howard said Lopez Obrador and President Trump have a lot in common as far as being besieged by political, economic and COVID-19 management problems. They’re also leaders who rose to power through populist appeal. “One is a right-wing demagogue and the other a left-wing demagogue,” Campbell said. “Although (Lopez Obrador) has been a big disappointment, I think he’s doing a little better than Trump. He’s made mistakes but he’s still very popular in his country. I gotta give him credit for being a good politician.”

Lopez Obrador on Thursday is scheduled to visit Jalisco and on Friday is to be in Colima.

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