MEXICO CITY (AP) — A sloppy operation that captured Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán's son, only to let him go, followed by days of changing explanations has revealed that Mexico's government has no security strategy at all, experts say.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his security Cabinet have defined their strategy thus far by stating what it is not, saying that Mexico is no longer waging a war on drugs or seeking to capture or kill cartel kingpins, as previous governments did.
But these words were contradicted by the bungled Oct. 17 mission to capture Ovidio Guzmán in the western city of Culiacan, the Sinaloa Cartel's backyard, which aimed to nab a cartel figure and unleashed violence that turned the city into a war zone.
When asked to define what his strategy is to tame Mexico's sky-high murder rate and deadly drug cartels, López Obrador responds with philosophies more than strategies, often mentioning an assortment of social programs.
On Thursday, López Obrador said his government will not be forced into a drug war, and that his strategy is something else.
"Nothing has hurt Mexico more than the dishonesty of the governing," López Obrador said, implying corruption was to blame for the country's insecurity, violence and drug trafficking.
He seemed to lay blame for the Culiacan operation on everyone except the drug traffickers, even lambasting the press for "yellow" journalism.
"This is pacifying the country by convincing, persuading without violence, offering well-being, alternative options, better living conditions, working conditions, strengthening values," he said.
On the campaign trail he summed this up with the catchy phrase: "abrazos, no balazos," or "hugs, not bullets."
But now that he's president, Mexico is on track to record more than 32,000 murders this year and the public just watched 13 people die in the streets of Culiacan while a special army antidrug unit captured and then released a drug lord to avoid further bloodshed.
"He can't continue with this strategy of peace and love with the criminals and say that there isn't war," said Raúl Benítez, a security expert and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. "The criminals are declaring war on the government and the country, the citizens, the people."
López Obrador also faced questions Thursday about uncharacteristic public grumbling from the ranks of Mexico's military. A Mexican newspaper this week published a speech by Gen. Carlos Gaytán to other military officers after the Culiacan debacle, which followed a series of cartel attacks on Mexican security forces.
The retreat in the face of cartel gunmen reinforced the impression that the government long ago relinquished control of whole towns, cities and regions to the drug cartels.
"We're worried about today's Mexico," Gaytán said. "We feel aggrieved as Mexicans and offended as soldiers."
López Obrador brushed aside concerns about a schism in military ranks, whom he has favored with increased responsibilities and resources.
"I don't have the slightest distrust of the army," López Obrador said. "On the contrary, I have the support, the loyalty of the army."