Mexico’s leftist president Andrés Manuel López Obrador appears to be abandoning his “hugs not bullets” approach to dealing with Mexico’s violent crime problem that is fueled by the country’s notorious drug cartels.
AMLO’s shift in thinking was made apparent this week when surreal images emerged of thousands of Mexican soldiers conducting a large-scale operation to capture Ovidio Guzmán López, the son of notorious Sinaloa drug cartel leader Joaquín Guzmán Loera, who is also known as “El Chapo.”
The operation was so large in scale because the last time that the Mexican military captured Ovidio Guzmán in 2019, they were forced to let him go after hundreds of heavily armed cartel gunmen threatened to murder families and overrun the soldiers.
AMLO’s initial thinking reflected the thinking of some in the U.S. who believe that the war on drugs is ineffective and who do not want to escalate violent confrontations with criminal organizations.
Raúl Benítez, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told The Wall Street Journal that this latest action marks an end to that way of thinking by Mexico’s president.
“López Obrador is leaving behind that stuff about hugs, not bullets,” he said. “It shows that such an anticrime strategy didn’t work and is not viable.”
Ten soldiers were killed during the 3,500-man operation in addition to 19 members of the cartel with 35 soldiers sustaining gunshot injuries. Nearly two dozen cartel members were arrested, and numerous .50-caliber weapons were seized, along with dozens of rifles, and more than two dozen armored vehicles.
A U.S. official told the Journal that while “things have improved … there is still a fair amount of suspicion on both sides.”
Last summer, Infamous Mexican cartel kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero, who murdered a U.S. federal agent in 1985, was captured by an elite Mexican military unit after being on the run for nearly a decade.
“Caro Quintero helped a lot, this will help a lot,” the U.S. official said.
Quintero was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the murder of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, but was let out after 28 years because a judge in Mexico ruled that he should have been tried in a federal court, not a state court.
When Mexican officials attempted to retry the case, Quintero went into hiding and remained on the run for almost 10 years.
With a $20 million price tag on his head from the U.S. government, Quintero reportedly reassembled his drug cartel shortly after being let out of prison.
However, a person who makes fentanyl for the drug cartels told the Journal that this latest major arrest changes nothing.
“There won’t be any more violence if the government doesn’t go any further,” he said. “The cartel will continue the same with minor adjustments.”