Mexico’s President Under Pressure Over ‘Hugs Not Bullets’ Cartel Policy

FILE – In this July 9, 2018 file photo, Mexico’s President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gives a press conference in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo, File)

Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador is under sustained pressure to rethink his non-confrontational security strategy amid lingering questions over the botched arrest of a son of Joaquin “el Chapo” Guzmán.

Ovidio Guzmán was briefly held in the northern city of Culiacán last month, but was freed after hundreds of gunmen launched a wave of attacks on security forces and blocked roads with burning vehicles.

The show of strength shocked even the most hardened observers of organized crime in Mexico.

Ismael Bojórquez, editor of the investigative Sinaloa weekly Río Doce described the moment as a watershed. “Life goes on, yes, but not in the same way,” he wrote in an editorial. “We don’t know if this will now be the reaction every time criminal groups feel threatened – and we know even less what the federal government intends to do about it.”

But the president insists that the incident marks a turning point away from the punitive policies of his two predecessors.

“This is no longer a war. It is no longer about force, confrontation, annihilation, extermination, or killing in the heat of the moment,” the president said in one of the four news conferences he dedicated to the events in Culiacán last week alone. “This is about thinking how to save lives and achieve peace and tranquility in the country using other methods.”

By “other methods,” the president – who is often referred to as Amlo – means social programmes to alleviate extreme poverty, exhortations towards good behaviour, and the insistence that he has now banned corruption. He has pledged to offer “abrazos no balazos” – hugs not bullets. He has also created a new militarized national police force, though this had yet to take a significant role in operations against organized crime.

The problem, security experts say, is that nothing in Amlo’s strategy directly addresses the terrifying power of the country’s criminal underworld – which was brazenly displayed in Culiacán on 17 October.

Even before troops detained Guzmán, convoys of heavily armed cartel gunmen were speeding to strategic positions in and around the city. The effort to rescue Guzmán held the city hostage, but also targeted the military’s weakest points, such as the buildings where soldiers’ families live.

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Source: The Guardian