Comments in a speech made by a retired general shortly after the botched attempt to arrest a son of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán suggests that a rift is growing between President López Obrador and the military.
Five days after a security operation during which suspected Sinaloa Cartel leader Ovidio Guzmán López was arrested and later released during a wave of cartel attacks in Culiacán, Sinaloa, Carlos Gaytán was highly critical of López Obrador and his government in an address made at the Defense Secretariat on behalf of retired officers.
“We are worried about today’s Mexico,” Gaytán said during a speech that was given a standing ovation by attendees who included current and former high-ranking military officials, including Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval.
“We feel aggrieved as Mexicans and offended as soldiers,” he said.
The transcript of the speech was leaked to the newspaper La Jornada, which is unusual because the Mexican armed forces are known for their secrecy.
“. . . We currently live in a politically polarized society because the dominant ideology, which isn’t that of the majority, is supported by currents that are supposedly of the left, which for years built up great resentment,” Gaytán said.
“Today we have a government that represents approximately 30 million Mexicans whose hope is change; a change that allows them [the government] to rectify what they consider a deficit of the state for said sector of the population,” he continued.
“. . . We cannot ignore that the head of the executive has been legally and legitimately empowered. However, it’s also an undeniable truth that fragile counterweight mechanisms have permitted a strengthening of the executive, which has made strategic decisions that haven’t convinced everyone, to put it mildly,” Gaytán said.
“. . . Each of us here was formed with solid ethical values, which clash with the way in which the country is being run these days.”
The retired general didn’t refer to the failed Culiacán operation during which at least 13 people were killed and soldiers were taken hostage but a national security expert with long-established sources in the military told The Washington Post that the purpose of the speech was to respond to the mission on behalf of the army.
Javier Oliva Posada, a professor and researcher at the National Autonomous University, also said that it reflected the concern of the armed forces about an inadequate government strategy for combating violence in Mexico, which is currently at record high levels.
The López Obrador administration has favored a strategy that avoids the use of force whenever possible. The president pledges that his government’s social programs will reduce violence and has dubbed his approach “abrazos, no balazos” (hugs, not bullets). However, homicides have risen rather than fallen on his watch.
López Obrador said on Thursday that Gaytán’s speech was merely an opinion and highlighted that the former general was a defense undersecretary during the government of Felipe Calderón, who launched the so-called war on drugs shortly after he took office in December 2006.
The president, a staunch critic of the militarized crimefighting strategy that cost more than 200,000 lives during the previous two governments, said that if Gaytán’s argument “is that there’s skepticism in the army about our new policy, it’s understandable because for a long time there was a policy of extermination, of repression, that we are not going to continue.”
He asserted that he was completely confident in the military’s loyalty to him. Cresencio, Navy Secretary José Rafael Ojeda Durán and Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo also said that all areas of the government are united.
However, López Obrador’s claim that the speech represented the opinion of just one man is misguided, military analysts said.
Guillermo Garduño Valero, a national security analyst at the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico City, told The Post that Gaytán was selected by his military peers to give the address.
“This is the way in which they are revealing the disapproval of the group,” he said.
Sergio Aponte, another retired general, said in an interview with the news magazine Proceso that military leaders were frustrated with the decision to release Ovidio Guzmán shortly after he was arrested.
López Obrador said he wasn’t aware of the operation to capture the 28-year-old son of “El Chapo,” who is wanted in the United States on trafficking charges, but has repeatedly defended the decision to release him, asserting that it saved lives.
Former senior security official Ricardo Márquez said that military officials have expressed political concerns on occasions in the past “but never like this, with such firmness and clarity and in such a delicate moment.”
Falko Ernest, senior Mexico analyst for the International Crisis Group, said that during the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto any criticism by the military of its prominent role in fighting organized crime was “not in the open, because that’s part of the code of the military.”
However, the current situation represents a break with that tradition, he said.
According to UNAM professor Oliva, anger within the military was further stoked last week when López Obrador instructed the defense secretary to reveal the name of the official in charge of the Culiacán operation.
The military “are really upset with that — it was a serious indiscretion,” he said. Oliva was one of several security experts who said that identifying Drug Trafficking Information Analysis Group chief Juan José Verde Montes endangered his life.
The president and Cresencio clarified on Friday that Verde Montes coordinated the operation from Mexico City and was not on the ground in Culiacán.
On Saturday – as the leaked speech by Gaytán continued to generate significant controversy – López Obrador took to Twitter and generated yet more by raising the issue of a possible coup d’etat.
He declared that his supporters will not permit a coup such as those that occurred during the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century.
“. . . The transformation that I lead has the support of the free, conscious and fair majority who are lovers of legality and peace, who won’t allow another coup d’état,” he said.
López Obrador remains a very popular president, according to recent polls, but his support has begun to wane slightly.
A poll published by the newspaper El Financiero after the events in Culiacán showed that a slight majority of respondents said it was a mistake to release Guzmán but the president’s approval rating declined just one point to 67%.
However, surveys conducted by polling firm Mitofsky showed a bigger slump, with the president’s approval falling to 60.4% from 63.6% in the two weeks after Culiacán.