Two death threats were made against the president of Mexico in the same week from two different criminal groups, suggesting that the president’s strategy for confronting such groups has done little to sway their confidence.
Authorities found a narco message January 31 in the city of Salamanca in central Guanajuato state that threatened President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and demanded that he pull back security forces in the area, Vanguardia reported. Guanajuato is home to the Salamanca refinery, a key hub for the lucrative oil theft business dominated by Mexico's cartels.
López Obrador has attempted to crack down on rampant oil theft by shutting down major pipelines and deploying soldiers to protect refineries and oil tankers run by the state-owned oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex). Days prior to the death threat, a bomb was placed inside of a truck outside of the Salamanca refinery.
The narco message threatening López Obrador referenced the bombing and was signed by the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel and its leader, José Antonio Yépez Ortiz, alias “El Marro.” The group is waging a bloody battle against the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) -- Mexico’s most powerful criminal group -- over control of oil theft in the so-called “Red Triangle” corridor that sits above a massive underground oil pipeline in east-central Mexico.
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Days later, López Obrador received yet another death threat. The Arellano Felix Organization, also known as the Tijuana Cartel, claimed responsibility for the message in response to the president’s deployment of security forces to Tijuana in Baja California state along the US-Mexico border, Vanguardia reported on February 7.
Tijuana, once home to some of the bloodiest conflicts during the so-called “war on drugs," has seen a resurgence in killings as a result of small-time dealers battling one another for control of local drug sales, primarily involving methamphetamine.
The recent death threats come just after López Obrador announced at a morning press conference in late January that his administration’s security policy was decreasing levels of violence, and that there would no longer be a war against organized crime groups. In response to the threats, the president said that he would not give in to intimidation.
InSight Crime Analysis
It is alarming that López Obrador has received death threats from two powerful organized crime groups shortly after recent security decisions and actions by his administration. Such public threats suggest that criminal groups are sending a message that they will confront him head-on as he and his administration increasingly return to a militarized security strategy.
Part of what propelled López Obrador to the presidency was his promise to move away from decades of failed militarized security strategies deployed by his predecessors and to end the “kingpin strategy” of attacking the heads of Mexico’s criminal groups.
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However, the president's heavy-handed response to oil theft and insecurity in Tijuana is the latest sign that he has walked back some of his key campaign promises and reverted to old techniques. With the latest death threats and rising violence in key criminal corridors, the country's criminal groups don't appear to have wavered. Meanwhile, López Obrador seems to have jumped the gun on claiming that his new strategy has secured important security gains.
The Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel, for example, set up roadblocks with burning vehicles to counter López Obrador's anti-fuel theft operations in municipalities the group controls in Guanajuato.
What's more, Mexico recorded nearly 3,000 murders during López Obrador’s first month in office in 2018, an almost 10 percent increase from the number of murders recorded in December 2017 under former President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Outside of Tijuana, other criminally strategic regions near major ports and along the US-Mexico border have seen grisly scenes of violence to start the year, including dismembered and calcified bodies.