Mexico’s president responds to remarks made by the top US diplomat in the latest spat over gang-fuelled violence.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has opposed a claim by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that parts of Mexico are controlled by drug cartels, calling the claim “false”.
“There is no place in the country where there are no authorities,” Lopez Obrador told reporters at a news conference on Friday.
The remark represents the president’s latest effort to address mounting criticism in the United States over the power of drug cartels in Mexico, which US lawmakers and officials say have fueled a US opioid epidemic.
A recent deadly cartel kidnapping of a group of U.S. citizens who had crossed into northern Mexico has also sparked a Republican-led push for the U.S. military to step in to deal with drug gang-related violence in Mexico.
At a US congressional hearing on Wednesday, Blinken said it was “fair to say” that parts of Mexico were under the control of powerful drug gangs, not the government.
At Friday’s press conference, Lopez Obrador replied, “That’s not true.”
The incident killed two of the four Americans kidnapped in early March in the northern border town of Matamoros and a Mexican bystander.
The Scorpions faction of the Gulf Cartel later handed over people it said were Scorpion members responsible for the violence and issued an apology.
Lopez Obrador, a leftist leader who pledged to end the country’s 12-year drug war, has said increased US scrutiny over his administration’s handling is politically motivated ahead of the 2024 US election.
In March, he slammed Republican-led calls for the US military to intervene in Mexico.
“In addition to being irresponsible, it is an insult to the people of Mexico,” he said.
Lopez Obrador has also rejected claims that Mexico is disproportionately fueling the region’s fentanyl epidemic, a claim Blinken reiterated during his testimony this week.
“I argue that more fentanyl reaches the United States and Canada directly than reaches Mexico,” Lopez Obrador said this month, adding that while there were fentanyl manufacturing labs in the country, the raw materials used to make the drug came from Asia.
“I can tell Mr. Blinken that we are constantly destroying labs,” the Mexican leader said Friday.
Despite his campaign commitments, Lopez Obrador has been criticized for continuing what opponents call a rebranded but still overly militarized approach to drug cartels. His policies included the creation of a national guard to ensure public safety, which has since been placed under the control of the military.
Mexico’s homicide rate has remained high since Lopez Obrador took office in 2018. The country recorded more than 31,000 homicides last year.
This week, Lopez Obrador called US State Department officials “liars” over an agency report that said there was credible information in Mexico pointing to unlawful or arbitrary killings by police, military and other officials.
The report also describes enforced disappearances by government agents, as well as torture and inhumane treatment by security forces.
“Impunity and extremely low prosecution rates continued to be a problem for all crimes, including human rights violations and corruption,” said the report, which also criticized an increase in violence against journalists in Mexico.
“It’s not worth getting angry about. That’s just how they are,” Lopez Obrador said, referring to State Department officials.
A spokesperson for the department responded to the president’s statements by saying the agency stands by its report.