Mexican President Says Country Won’t Combat Cartels on Orders From U.S.


At a conference last week, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s president since 2018, said, “We are not going to act as policemen for any foreign government,” as quoted by the Associated Press. “Mexico First. Our home comes first.”

As the Associated Press noted, López Obrador has, in previous years, “laid out various justifications for his ‘hugs, not bullets’ policy of avoiding clashes with the cartels.” 

“In the past he has said ‘you cannot fight violence with violence,’ and on other occasions he has argued the government has to address ‘the causes’ of drug cartel violence, ascribing them to poverty or a lack of opportunities,” the AP reported, adding that “López Obrador’s view — like many of his policies — harkens back to the 1970s, a period when many officials believed that Mexican cartels selling drugs to gringos was a U.S. issue, not a Mexican one.”

On Friday, the president “basically argued that drugs were a U.S. problem, not a Mexican one,” and he “offered to help limit the flow of drugs into the United States, but only, he said, on humanitarian grounds,” according to the Associated Press.

“Of course we are going to cooperate in fighting drugs, above all because it has become a very sensitive, very sad humanitarian issue, because a lot of young people are dying in the United States because of fentanyl,” the president said. Over 70,000 Americans die annually because of synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which are mainly made in Mexico from precursor chemicals smuggled in from China,” López Obrador said.

In February, The New York Times reported that United States “law enforcement officials spent years looking into allegations that allies of” López Obrador “met with and took millions of dollars from drug cartels after he took office.”

The Times, citing U.S. records and three people familiar with the matter, said that the previously unreported inquiry “uncovered information pointing to potential links between powerful cartel operatives and Mexican advisers and officials close to the president while he governed the country.”

“But the United States never opened a formal investigation into Mr. López Obrador, and the officials involved ultimately shelved the inquiry. They concluded that the U.S. government had little appetite to pursue allegations against the leader of one of America’s top allies, said the three people familiar with the case, who were not authorized to speak publicly,” the Times reported at the time.

More from the Times’ report at the time:

“Much of the information collected by U.S. officials came from informants whose accounts can be difficult to corroborate and sometimes end up being incorrect. The investigators obtained the information while looking into the activities of drug cartels, and it was not clear how much of what the informants told them was independently confirmed. For example, records show that the investigators were told by an informant that one of Mr. López Obrador’s closest confidants met with Ismael Zambada García, a top leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, before his victory in the 2018 presidential election. A different source told them that after the president was elected, a founder of the notoriously violent Zetas cartel paid $4 million to two of Mr. López Obrador’s allies in the hope of being released from prison. Investigators obtained information from a third source suggesting that drug cartels were in possession of videos of the president’s sons picking up drug money, records show.”

López Obrador, responding to The New York Times’ reporting, vehemently denied the allegations and called on the United States to clear up the matter.

“It’s all completely false,” López Obrador said in February. “The U.S. government is going to have to address this.”

He even suggested that the report could damage Mexico’s relationship with the U.S.

“Does this diminish the trust the Mexican government has in the United States?” Mr. López Obrador said, as quoted by the Times. “Time will tell.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice said there was no investigation into the Mexican president at the time.

The Associated Press, in its report on Lopez Obrador’s latest comments, has a rundown on his relatively lax view toward the cartels:

“López Obrador has argued before against ‘demonizing’ the drug cartels, and has encouraged leaders of the Catholic church to try to negotiate peace pacts between warring gangs. Explaining why he has ordered the army not to attack cartel gunmen, López Obrador said in 2022 ‘we also take care of the lives of the gang members, they are human beings.’ He has also sometimes appeared not to take the violence issue seriously. In June 2023, he said of one drug gang that had abducted 14 police officers: ‘I’m going to tell on you to your fathers and grandfathers,’ suggesting they should get a good spanking. Asked about those comments at the time, residents of one town in the western Mexico state of Michoacan who have lived under drug cartel control for years reacted with disgust and disbelief.”



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