By MARK LORENZANA
New Jersey Senator Bob Menéndez of the Democratic Party criticized on Sunday, March 12, the government of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), specifically its handling of security and democracy in the country, saying that it is “headed in the wrong direction.”
Menendez’s criticism comes on the heels of Republican Senator Lindsey Graham presenting an initiative to add Mexican drug cartels on the list of foreign terrorist organizations, and Republican lawmakers Dan Crenshaw and Michael Waltz proposing a bill to give U.S. President Joe Biden the authority to use the U.S. Army against Mexican drug cartels.
López Obrador called these proposals “propaganda” and “aggression by the Republicans against Mexico.” However, Menéndez adding his voice to the growing international clamor for Mexico to take security, drug trafficking and democracy seriously makes it complicated for AMLO to pin the blame on mere “Republican aggression.”
“Mexico has a responsibility, first and foremost, to its own citizens to establish safety and security within its own territory — and to those who visit its own country as well,” Menéndez said on Sunday, in an interview with American news-based television channel MSNBC.
“And so we need to up dramatically with Mexico. It can’t be all about economics, it has to be about safety and security as well. And I am afraid that we are headed in the wrong direction in Mexico on that, and on democracy questions as well. So this is a present danger that we have to deal with, and we have to engage the Mexicans in a way that says, ‘You’ve got to do a lot more in your security.’ We can help them — we have intelligence, we have other information we can share. But we need them to enforce security in their own country.”
Menéndez, however, disagreed with his Republican counterpart on the matter of adding Mexican drug cartels to the list of international terrorist organizations, and said he believes the label should be reserved “for the real terrorist organizations in the world.” In the case of Mexican drug traffickers, he said he was “more interested in doing something that seeks to destroy the cartels. Designating them terrorists … doesn’t mean anything.”
The senator from New Jersey also took aim at López Obrador’s controversial “hugs, not bullets” policy.
“President López Obrador spoke when he took office of hugs and kisses, not bullets. Well, that is not working very well. The reality is that throughout the border communities, it is the cartels that run the communities’ border agencies, not the Mexican government,” said Menéndez, chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.
Meanwhile, López Obrador, in his daily morning press conference on Monday, March 13, insisted that “Mexico is much safer than the United States” and accused the media of “manipulating and seeking to create a perception of insecurity.”
“Mexico is safe, it’s much safer than the United States. For example, the media, they don’t talk about the cartels in the United States, they don’t talk about that. It’s as if drugs arrived in submarines, right?” said AMLO. “Mexico is safer than the United States, and there is no problem traveling through Mexico safely, but U.S. citizens already know that, and our countrymen who are there (in the United States) know that too, they are well informed.”
AMLO also took a swipe at the U.S. media, which he said was “under the control of economic and political blocs,” and favor either Democrats or Republicans, depending on the network.
“There are some television networks in favor of the Democrats, and networks in favor of the Republicans. They do not represent the American people, they represent groups of vested interests,” said López Obrador.
Recent violent incidents in the country, however, belie AMLO’s statement that Mexico is safer than the United States.
On Friday, March 3, four U.S. citizens were abducted by gunmen after crossing over to Matamoros, Tamaulipas, from Brownsville, Texas. Four days later, two of the Americans were found dead.
Just one week after the kidnappings and killings in Tamaulipas, U.S. authorities revealed on Friday, March 10, that three Texas women — two sisters and their friend who had crossed over the border to sell used clothing at a flea market — had gone missing a week earlier in the Mexican border state of Nuevo León.