Weekend of violence lashes Mexico, sparks dispute

MEXICO CITY (AP) — After a weekend of drug-gang killings left almost three dozen people dead in the industrial state of Guanajuato, Mexico’s president cited it Monday as an example of “neoliberal polices that have been a resounding failure.”

A group of men attacked a drug rehabilitation center in Irapuato, Guanajuato on Saturday and killed 10 people there, but those were just part of 34 murders committed in the state over the weekend.

The state is home to a growing industrial sector, including a half-dozen foreign auto manufacturers. But the state is the scene of a bloody turf battle between the Jalisco Cartel and the home-grown Santa Rosa de Lima gang.

“During the whole neoliberal period Guanajuato has grown by 5 percent per year and has seen investment and new auto plants opening, but it is in first place for homicides," President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday.

López Obrador has rejected direct confrontation with drug cartels and bet on long-term social programs, like job-training and scholarships, to reduce the number of young people recruited by drug gangs. But he thinks government-run programs — not the kind of private-sector job creation that is happening in Guanajuato — is needed.

It's all part of López Obrador's proposals for a “new economy,” where progress and well-being is not just measured by economic growth.

“So are we are just going to measure Gross Domestic Product? Shouldn't peace be measured? People's welfare, their tranquility?" said López Obrador, who has proposed a new “Well-being Index” to measure progress, instead of relying on GDP.

The Mexican Employer's Federation quickly retorted that “People's well being is achieved with a sound economy and jobs, not with a new “Well-being Index.” The federation, which has been critical of López Obrador for not implementing economic stimulus programs during the coronavirus pandemic, said “if the economy collapses, the well-being of Mexicans also collapses.”

Projecting ideological differences onto the continued violence in Guanajuato — which is governed by the conservative National Action Party — is nothing new. Guanajuato leads Mexico in homicides, though state officials blame out-of-state killers from the Jalisco Cartel, based in a neighboring state. Guanajuato, with just 5% of Mexico's population, accounts for about 13% of the country's murders. López Obrador said the state accounted for 20% of the country's homicides last week.

The approach to handling the violence has also differed; while López Obrador's federal National Guard has been posted to Guanajuato, those officers largely perform guide duty and routine patrols. But Guanajuato's state police has more directly gone after the gangs, with the result that, on June 1, four police officers were gunned down by gangs in the city of Celaya.

López Obrador has said "you cannot fight violence with more violence," and has practiced a more hands-off approach toward fighting the cartels.

But the limits of that policy were on display over the weekend in the northern border state of Tamaulipas, where the burned-out wreckage of a handful of home-made tanks used by warring drug cartels littered a road just a few miles from the U.S. border. The cartels weld metal plates onto trucks to create the tank-like vehicles, known as “monsters.”

The remnants of the old Gulf and Zetas cartels have been fighting bloody turf battles over that stretch of the border for about a decade. Mexican marines once patrolled the area and tried to keep the cartels in check, but they have since pulled off land duty and the National Guard and army have struggled with the problem.

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