Mexico: Where the cartels rule the streets
Forget the government—drug barons are now the “true authority” in Mexico, said Raymundo Riva Palacio in El Financiero. That much is obvious following a disastrous operation last week to arrest Ovidio Guzmán López, a leader of the Sinaloa crime syndicate and a son of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. Seeking to execute a U.S. arrest warrant, some 35 soldiers raided a safe house in the Sinaloan capital of Culiacán, where Ovidio was hiding out. Adamant that no other member of his family would be extradited to the U.S.—El Chapo is now serving life at a supermax prison in Colorado—Ovidio’s older brother, Iván, quickly deployed an army of cartel gunmen. Some 150 sicarios surrounded the safe house, taking eight troops hostage. Another 200 outlaws caused havoc throughout the city, blocking major roads and busting some 50 cartel members out of a nearby prison. Culiacán—a modern city of 800,000 residents—was paralyzed, its citizens left cowering in homes and offices as shots rang out and cars burned. When the gunmen attacked the barracks where the soldiers’ families live, it was too much: The troops let Ovidio go free and retreated in disgrace. “You cannot fight fire with fire,” said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known popularly as AMLO. “We do not want deaths. We do not want war.” As it was, eight people were killed and more than 20 were wounded.
This “inexplicable surrender” to drug gangs is humiliating and dangerous, said Jorge Fernández Menéndez in Excélsior. López Obrador took office last December with a promise to end the drug war through a policy of “hugs, not bullets.” He proposed amnesty for those who left the cartels and a massive economic program to attack the poverty that provides the gangs with armies of desperate recruits. The cartels, though, “see that policy of pacification as a form of state surrender,” and so “violence and insecurity are growing daily.” Last week, a different gang ambushed a police convoy in Aguililla, slaughtering 13 officers. Now that the cartels see they can defeat the authorities, they will grow only more brazen and bloodthirsty.
Don’t blame AMLO, said Ernesto Camou in El Imparcial. The overwhelming force with which the Sinaloa cartel responded—some of its sicarios drove pickup trucks mounted with heavy machine guns—shows that it diligently built its capacity under previous presidents, “waiting for a provocation.” The military war on the cartels that former President Felipe Calderón declared in 2006 is a clear failure, one that has so far cost more than 150,000 lives. After so much pointless bloodshed, how can it be wrong to try AMLO’s gentler strategy? Critics say the government should hit back with greater firepower, said Verónica Malo Guzmán in Heraldo de Mexico. But voters don’t want that: They chose AMLO in large part because he promised to quit fighting the cartels. In the short term, Mexico “may have to accept that the government does not have a monopoly on the use of force.” ■