Things That Matter

Mexico’s President AMLO Just Said ‘El Chapo’ Had As Much Power As The President And That’s A Big Deal

Even behind bars in a maximum security prison in the United States, where he will live for the rest of his life, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán exerts enormous political influence due to his legacy. This legacy involves not only the still viable and very much present criminal organization that he founded, the Sinaloa Cartel, but also the networks of vested interests and corruption that the cartel threaded with and within all levels of government throughout the decades. These acts of corruption are being slowly revealed and the magnitude of the Cartel’s influence in past and current administrations at all levels of government is just now beginning to be fully understood. 

Just recently Genaro García Luna, the architect behind President Felipe Calderón’s 2006-2012 full frontal war against the cartels was arrested by United States authorities for allegedly receiving bribes from Sinaloa and using federal security forces to decimate its enemies. This was seen by opponents of the former president as a validation of their point of view that Calderón had benefited the Sinaloa Cartel by using the army against other organizations such as Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel. 

Now a New Year’s video from the city of Palenque in which current Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador recounts what he believes are the accomplishments of his first year in power further fed the myth of El Chapo as an omnipresent figure in cultural, social and political life in Mexico . The video also made many question whether Mexico is in fact a narco-State, a country whose government dances to the rhythm set by criminal organizations. What AMLO said is nothing new, but rather sort of validates what was un secreto a voces. 

AMLO said that El Chapo was just as powerful as his predecessors.

Power is the capacity to make others do what you want them to, either for personal or communal benefit. Plain and simple. AMLO said: “There was a time when Guzmán had the same power or had the influence that the then president had … because there had been a conspiracy and that made it difficult to punish those who committed crimes. That has already become history, gone to the garbage dump of history.” He was referring, of course, to Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto, with whom he had an antagonistic relationship for years. 

Few political pundits question whether El Chapo had an influence in past administrations, but what can be debated is whether AMLO’s presidency has a stronger hold of power vis a vis the cartels. 

He also used a word that has been long one of his favorites: conspiracy. It sometimes seems that for AMLO anything that escapes a logical explanation falls into the category of a “complot” in the highest spheres of power.

As The Guardian states, AMLO’s words are sort of empty and in line with his rhetorical style of offering little proof when stating big, important things: “He claimed without offering any evidence that he had already done away with the high-level corruption that was rampant in previous governments, but said it was crucial to draw a bright line between criminal elements and authorities so that the two sides do not mingle as they had in the past.”

But how can this line be drawn when municipal, state and federal forces find it hard and almost impossible to coordinate? As The Guardian reminds us, the lack of specificity in AMLO’s political style is often dumfounding: “But his vaguely defined strategy has itself come under intense criticism after a string of high-profile violent crimes, including an ambush which killed 13 state police officers, the murder of nine members of a US-Mexican family and the humiliating release of one of Guzmán’s sons after cartel gunmen besieged an entire city after he was briefly detained.”

Critics were quick to remind AMLO that his “abrazos no balazos” (hugs instead of bullets) policy has been ineffective.

Credit: Keriarko / Instagram

Cartoonists and commentators were quick to point out that AMLO’s first year in power was the most violent ever (save for the period known as the Mexican Revolution). Also key in the first year of government was the embarrassing episode in which Ovidio, El Chapo’s son, was found by security forces but then let go when hitmen from all over Sinaloa descended on Culiacan to fight state and federal forces. In videos captured by bystanders and then shared on social media, we can see cartel members carrying heavy weaponry that in theory can only be used by the military.

It was overwhelming to see how much influence they also have in the population, as online chatter was divided in how positively or negatively they thought of the cartel.

Critics blamed AMLO for his lack of leadership in face of the cartel’s intimidation tactics, while supporters cheered his decision to stop the bloodshed and protect human life above anything else (it is said that cartel hitmen held a building hostage; this building worked as a housing facility for military families).

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