Morelos Governor Cuauhtémoc Blanco has gone into damage control mode after a photograph in which he appears with three alleged narcos surfaced Tuesday.
Published first by the newspaper El Sol de México, the three-year-old photo shows Blanco, a former soccer star, with Irving Solano – a suspected Guerreros Unidos leader and a Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) plaza chief in Morelos; Raymundo Castro – alleged former leader of the CJNG in Morelos; and Homero Figueroa – the presumed leader of a criminal group called Comando Tlahuica.
Solano is currently in jail after being arrested in February 2021, while Castro was killed during a prison brawl in late 2019. Figueroa, who has been linked to the 2019 murder of indigenous activist Samir Flores, remains at large.
The Guerreros Unidos is a Guerrero-based criminal organization suspected of killing 43 students in 2014. The CJNG is generally considered Mexico’s most powerful criminal organization.
Blanco, governor since October 2018 and mayor of Cuernavaca before that, told reporters Tuesday that he didn’t know the identity of the men with whom he posed for the photo. He said that he appears in thousands of photos and couldn’t be expected to ask every person who they are and what they did for a living.
The photo – reportedly found on the cell phone of a presumed Guerreros Unidos leader who was arrested last November – was allegedly taken at Blanco’s Cuernavaca home in early 2019, but the governor denied that was the case.
He charged that the publication of the photo was part of a dirty war against him waged by “narco politicians” who are under investigation by federal authorities.
“I’m not a criminal nor do I make pacts with criminals,” said Blanco, who obtained the governorship after winning the 2018 election as a candidate for a small religious party that is allied with Mexico’s ruling Morena party.
“I’m going to keep working to bring peace to the state. … I have nothing to hide,” he said, adding that he was willing to be subjected to a thorough investigation.
“… I’ve already passed on information to the federal Attorney General’s Office about all the people involved in drug trafficking in Morelos, … the narco politicians. [The ball] is no longer in my hands or my court…” said Blanco, who has also faced criticism for taking a two-week holiday to Brazil last month.
J. Jesús Lemus, an investigative journalist, author and expert on organized crime, claimed that the Comando Tlahuica provided significant funding for candidates that stood at elections in Morelos in 2018 and that Blanco, as governor, has given “free rein” to the criminal group.
He told El Sol de México that the gang, also known as Los Tlahuicas, is the dominant criminal organization in Morelos.
“It’s a splinter group of the Beltrán Leyva cartel, and from the beginning, it has been led by Homero Figueroa,” Lemus said.
Another journalist who spoke to El Sol de México on the condition of anonymity said that Blanco had a cozy relationship with Figueroa when he was mayor of Cuernavaca between 2016 and 2018. However, there was a subsequent “distancing” between the two men, the person said.
The journalist, who writes about security issues and drug trafficking in Morelos, said the ex-mayor gave the criminal leader control of the municipal water utility in Cuernavaca, which has been plagued by water supply problems.
The reporter also said that Figueroa had threatened to leak compromising photographs and audio if Blanco didn’t comply with agreements they reached. “He invested a lot [of money] in … [Blanco’s 2018] campaign,” the journalist added.
The same source told El Sol de México that the Morelos prison chief, Jorge Israel Ponce de León, is believed to be an intermediary between the governor and drug traffickers that operate in the small central Mexico state. The journalist claimed that the prison chief transfers hundreds of thousands of pesos to Blanco every month.
The source said that 25 prisoners, including Raymundo Castro, have died in prison brawls since Blanco took office, yet Ponce de León has not lost his job. “In other words, he’s immovable,” the journalist said.
Another anonymous source linked the governor to the 2019 murder of activist Samir Flores, who opposed the opening of a thermal power plant in Morelos. The source, a leader of an environmental activist group, told El Sol de México that it is known that Blanco met with a federal government delegate in January 2019. The source claimed that Blanco and the delegate reached an agreement to ask Figueroa to kill Flores.
“There was an agreement at that meeting that the leader of … Los Tlahuicas would pay a favor to the new governor. Cuauhtémoc wanted to get along with the president [who supported the power plant] on the thermoelectric issue, and the decision was to … [kill] Samir,” the source said.
Lemus, the investigative journalist, agreed that the Comando Tlahuica killed Flores but claimed that the order to kill Flores – murdered just before a referendum on the power plant – came from within the Federal Electricity Commission.