Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrado visited the states of Guanajuato, Jalisco and Colima on Friday and received a rather unusual greeting from the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, who consider those provinces their territory.
Needless to say, you have to wonder just who is in charge in this part of Mexico.
In the two-minute clip, members of the fearsome Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) stand in fatigues alongside a seemingly endless procession of armored vehicles.
“Only Mencho’s people,” members of the cartel shout, pumping their fists and flashing their long guns. The cry was a salute to their leader, Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera, one of the country’s most-wanted drug lords.
The video’s release coincided with Lopez Obrador’s visit to the states of Guanajuato, Jalisco and Colima, some of the cartel’s strongholds.
“They are sending a clear message… that they basically rule Mexico, not Lopez Obrador,” said Mike Vigil, a former chief of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Lopez Obrador already knows this because it was he who handed the country over to the cartels.
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Unlike his predecessors, Lopez Obrador has taken a less confrontational approach on security, preferring to attack what he describes as root causes like poverty and youth joblessness, via social spending.
But the strategy, branded by Lopez Obrador as one of “hugs, not bullets,” has emboldened criminal groups, many security analysts say.
The president’s approach “has only led these cartels to operate with more impunity,” Vigil said.
The cartels in Mexico may be poorly educated and grow up in the worst sort of poverty. But they have the guns and most ordinary people in Mexico don’t, although that’s changing slowly. What they have more than guns is money — money that they spread around liberally to police and local officials to make sure their business enterprise prospers.
Lopez Obrador is one of those earnest liberals who actually believe you can fight crime by addressing the “root causes” of it. In this case, the root cause is fatal weakness by the president and his government that allows the cartels to trample on his authority with impunity.
The strategy by Lopez Obrador to coddle the cartels hasn’t worked so good. Last year, a record number of 35,000 murders occurred in Mexico, most of them the result of cartel violence.
Last year, U.S. DEA agents along with the Mexican army tried to arrest a family member of a prominent leader in the Sinola cartel. The Sinolas easily beat back the army and surrounded them. Only the intervention of a negotiator saved the army unit from destruction.
The ensuing scene could have been mistaken for Syria or Yemen. Footage posted on social media showed burning vehicles spewing black smoke, heavily armed gunmen blocking roads, dead bodies strewn in the streets, and residents fleeing for cover amid high-caliber gunfire.
Armed with military-grade weapons and driving custom-built armored vehicles, cartel henchmen targeted security forces throughout Culiacan, launching more than one dozen separate attacks on Mexican security forces. They captured and held hostage eight soldiers, then kidnapped their families. Amid the fighting, an unknown number of inmates escaped from a nearby prison. At least eight people were killed and more than a dozen were injured.
Lopez Obrador is in a civil war and doesn’t even know it — or pretends not to. The bodies keep piling up and the president continues to virtually ignore it. The cartels are almost as well equipped as the nation’s military.
Perhaps Lopez Obrador could invite the cartels to negotiate an end to the violence. He can carve up his country into autonomous states where the cartels would be free to operate. Maybe they can solve the problems of poverty and hunger.
They certainly can’t do any worse.