Weekend of violence lashes Mexico, sparks dispute over response

Border Crime

In this Feb. 12, 2020 photo, police stand guard outside the entrance to one of the former homes of Jose Antonio Yepez Ortiz, known as “El Marro,” a leader of the local Santa Rosa de Lima cartel, in the town after which it the gang is named, in Guanajuato state, Mexico. The Jalisco New Generation cartel is mounting a propaganda campaign, using videos and social media to threaten rivals like the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel, while promising civilians that it won’t prey on them with extortion and kidnappings. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

CIUDAD VICTORIA, Mexico (AP) — After a weekend of drug-gang killings left almost three dozen people dead in the industrial state of Guanajuato, as well as confrontations along the border, Mexico’s president cited it Monday as an example of “neoliberal policies that have been a resounding failure.”

A group of men attacked a drug rehabilitation center in Irapuato, Guanajuato on Saturday and killed 10 people there, but those were just part of 34 murders committed in the state over the weekend.

The state is home to a growing industrial sector, including a half-dozen foreign auto manufacturers. But the state is the scene of a bloody turf battle between the Jalisco Cartel and the home-grown Santa Rosa de Lima gang.

“During the whole neoliberal period Guanajuato has grown by 5 percent per year and has seen investment and new auto plants opening, but it is in first place for homicides,” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador waves to supporters in Lazaro Cardenas, Quintana Roo state, Mexico, Monday, June 1, 2020. Amid a pandemic and the remnants of a tropical storm, President Lopez Obrador kicked off Mexico’s return to a “new normal” Monday with his first road trip in two months as the nation began to gradually ease some virus-inspired restrictions. (AP Photo/Victor Ruiz)

López Obrador has rejected direct confrontation with drug cartels and bet on long-term social programs, like job-training and scholarships, to reduce the number of young people recruited by drug gangs. But he thinks government-run programs — not the kind of private-sector job creation that is happening in Guanajuato — is needed.

It’s all part of López Obrador’s proposals for a “new economy,” where progress and well-being is not just measured by economic growth.

“So are we are just going to measure Gross Domestic Product? Shouldn’t peace be measured? People’s welfare, their tranquility?” said López Obrador, who has proposed a new “Well-being Index” to measure progress, instead of relying on GDP.

The Mexican Employer’s Federation quickly retorted that “People’s well being is achieved with a sound economy and jobs, not with a new “Well-being Index.” The federation, which has been critical of López Obrador for not implementing economic stimulus programs during the coronavirus pandemic, said “if the economy collapses, the well-being of Mexicans also collapses.”

Projecting ideological differences onto the continued violence in Guanajuato — which is governed by the conservative National Action Party — is nothing new. Guanajuato leads Mexico in homicides, though state officials blame out-of-state killers from the Jalisco Cartel, based in a neighboring state. Guanajuato, with just 5% of Mexico’s population, accounts for about 13% of the country’s murders. López Obrador said the state accounted for 20% of the country’s homicides last week.

FILE – In this Feb. 12, 2020 file photo, soldiers patrol a neighborhood in Irapuato, Guanajuato state, Mexico. Mexico’s drug war has long played out in dusty northern border cities or the poppy fields of its southern mountains, but now the killings have moved to the conservative industrial heartland state of Guanajuato. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

The approach to handling the violence has also differed; while López Obrador’s federal National Guard has been posted to Guanajuato, those officers largely perform guide duty and routine patrols. But Guanajuato’s state police has more directly gone after the gangs, with the result that, on June 1, four police officers were gunned down by gangs in the city of Celaya.

López Obrador has said “you cannot fight violence with more violence,” and has practiced a more hands-off approach toward fighting the cartels.

But the limits of that policy were on display over the weekend in the northern border state of Tamaulipas, where the burned-out wreckage of five home-made tanks used by warring drug cartels littered a road just a few miles from the U.S. border. The cartels weld metal plates onto trucks to create the tank-like vehicles, known as “monsters.”

A bystander was killed during the cartel shootouts in which the armored vehicles were destroyed, and her two daughters were wounded. The woman made a living producing charcoal near the city of Camargo, Tamaulipas, and was hit by gunfire Sunday at a gas station where she had gone to buy food.

The gun battles had started Friday, when gunmen told local residents not to go out on the streets. The Northeast Cartel, once a part of the Zetas, is trying to win control over the area around Miguel Aleman from the Gulf cartel.

The remnants of the old Gulf and Zetas cartels have been fighting bloody turf battles over that stretch of the border for about a decade. Mexican marines once patrolled the area and tried to keep the cartels in check, but they have since pulled off land duty and the National Guard and army have struggled with the problem.

A local official speaking on condition of anonymity said that the army had failed to show up during the gunbattles despite repeated calls.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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