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Mexican president pushes back US criticism of violence


MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s president on Friday angrily rejected comments from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the Mexican government has lost control of parts of the country.

However, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador acknowledged that Mexican cartels had placed people in Mexico’s drug regulatory agency to approve imports of fentanyl precursor chemicals from China.

Earlier this week, Blinken said “I think it’s fair to say yes” when asked at a Senate hearing whether drug cartels control parts of Mexico.

The Mexican president responded to those comments during his morning press briefing on Friday, saying, “That is not true, it is not true. … There is nowhere in the territory of the country where the authorities are not present.”

But López Obrador acknowledged that cartels had extended their tentacles in the Mexican government’s federal drug regulatory agency, known in Spanish by the initials Cofepris.

“They even had representatives in Cofepris, people who lobbied inside Cofepris,” the president said, adding that some officials have been charged in that case.

Mexican cartels have been importing fentanyl precursors under fake names or as mislabeled products, with help from within the regulatory agency. They then process it into fentanylsqueeze it into counterfeit pills made to look like oxycodone, Xanax, or Percocet and smuggle it into the United States, where the drug has caused more than 70,000 overdose deaths each year.

López Obrador also opposed comments by Blinken suggesting that Mexico’s takeover of a port owned by a US company would hurt investment in Mexico. Last week, Mexican police seized a cargo terminal owned by Alabama-based building materials company Vulcan Materials.

Speaking to lawmakers, Blinken said, “I’m very concerned about that situation” and “the potential that a case like this could have a chilling effect … on further investment or engagement from our companies if they see what happens.”

López Obrador claimed he was defending Mexico’s environs from the Vulcan quarry on the Caribbean coast. However, Mexican authorities had already shut down Vulcan’s quarrying activities last May, and López Obrador did not explain how taking the port would protect the environment.

“I understand Mr. Blinken very well,” the president said. “He has to do his job.”

The president has been sparring publicly with Vulcan for over a year. He needs the Port of Punta Venado, near Playa del Carmen, to get cement, crushed stone and other materials to the area to complete his pet project, a tourist train known as the Train Maya.

López Obrador’s comments on drug cartels control came after the Mexican government was stung by the execution earlier this week — apparently by a drug cartel — of a drug gang leader wanted for months in the murder of two Jesuit priests.

Mexican police were unable to locate the suspect despite massive searches, until the drug gangs took matters into their own hands and apparently killed the suspect themselves.

The Mexican president confirmed that it was a common practice among drug cartels, who often kill or hand over police cartel members to police cartels that have caused too much trouble and tarnished the gang’s business.

“They executed him, we don’t know,” López Obrador said, “maybe because they thought this would end the search and leave the soldiers who were there.”

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.