MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador closed out 2019 with a parting shot at his predecessors, saying imprisoned drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera had had the same power as the country’s president.
In a video message from the southern city of Palenque on Wednesday, López Obrador recounted his administration’s successes in its first year and highlighted its challenges—foremost surging violence. He said 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.
“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,” López Obrador said.
It appeared to be a reference to the indictment and arrest last month of Mexico’s former public safety secretary Genaro García Luna. García Luna was public safety secretary in President Felipe Calderón’s Cabinet from 2006 to 2012. Before joining Calderon’s government, García Luna led Mexico’s equivalent of the FBI, the Federal Investigative Agency, under President Vicente Fox.
He was charged in federal court in New York with three counts of trafficking cocaine and one count of making false statements. He had been living in Florida and was arrested in Texas.
U.S. prosecutors allege he accepted millions of dollars in bribes from Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel and in exchange allowed it to operate without interference.
Guzmán was convicted on drug conspiracy charges in New York. He was sentenced last year to life in prison.
López Obrador’s public safety secretary Alfonso Durazo on Wednesday echoed the president’s comments about rooting out corruption in the security forces.
In a series of posts on Twitter, Durazo also said the government would recruit 21,170 people in 2020 to join the newly formed National Guard and continue to expand its presence in the country. López Obrador has bet big that the new federal security force will be able to wrangle violence that generated a record-setting number of murders in 2019.