On the orders of President López Obrador, talks between the federal government and self-defense forces will cease, Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez told reporters yesterday.
“The president has given us a very clear instruction, he doesn’t want us to continue down this line and we’re going to respect the instruction. The intention was good, the intention was pacification,” Sánchez said.
The interior secretary said on Tuesday that her department had been in talks with armed groups “and they have told us that they do not want to continue” to engage in violence.
Sánchez said officials had met with groups in Guerrero, Tamaulipas and La Huacana, Michoacán, “that have been fighting each other but have now expressed their intention to disarm” and contribute to the pacification of Mexico.
The Interior Secretariat (Segob) quickly clarified that Sánchez was speaking about “authentic self-defense organizations” rather than criminal organizations. “The federal government does not have nor will have dialogue with any organized crime group,” it said on Twitter.
But the governors of Guerrero, Tamaulipas and Michoacán rejected the claim, warning the government that self-defense groups are criminals in disguise.
A group that Segob undersecretary Ricardo Peralta met with in Tamaulipas allegedly has ties to the Gulf Cartel. Governor Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca said that warrants have been issued for the arrest of some of its members.
Sánchez said yesterday that Peralta thought it was a good idea to go to areas of the country where there are high levels of violence in order to seek an “alternative” path to peace.
The secretary clarified that officials had gone to Tamaulipas and Michoacán but not to Guerrero, although she added that people from that state have approached the government to seek dialogue.
Peralta traveled on Wednesday to La Huacana where, accompanied by former self-defense leader José Manuel Mireles, he laid the symbolic first stone for a new agro-industrial park. In the same municipality last May, so-called self-defense force members detained and disarmed soldiers.
Military intelligence reports indicated that members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel had in fact led the disarmament of the soldiers.
At his press conference on Thursday, López Obrador distanced himself from Peralta’s attendance at the groundbreaking ceremony, explaining that his government doesn’t endorse any projects in which armed self-defense groups are involved.
He directed the undersecretary to “stick to the constitution” while fulfilling his duties as a federal official. The president described self-defense groups as “illegal” and declared that they cannot be allowed to perform law enforcement duties.
Peralta attended the groundbreaking ceremony in La Huacana, López Obrador said, “because they invited him.”
“I do not agree. We talked about this issue in the security cabinet, and I have asked them to obey the mandates of the constitution and the laws,” he said, implying that he gave Peralta and other Segob officials a dressing-down.
Asked whether she had received a rebuke from the president, Sánchez paused before responding that she was only given an “instruction.”
The interior secretary rejected rumors that she was planning to resign, asserting that she is very secure in her position and that López Obrador has “great confidence” in her.
“. . . I’m more secure than ever. These mischievous adversaries I have are always saying that I’m quitting or that I’m sick. I’m not quitting and I’m not sick . . .” Sánchez said.
The López Obrador government is coming under increasing pressure due to its failure to stem violence since taking office last December. Homicide statistics for the first seven months of the year show that Mexico is on track to record its most violent year in recent history.
The president formally inaugurated the National Guard at the end of June and said yesterday that his government is implementing a “new paradigm” in public security policy that includes attending to the root causes of violence.
However, López Obrador’s announcement at the end of January that the drug war is over and arresting drug lords is no longer a priority opened him up to criticism and led to speculation that the government might be seeking a kind of truce with drug and crime gangs.
The opposition National Action Party said in a statement this week that the president’s policies appear to add up to one big amnesty for criminals.
“The only thing in doubt is whether these [talks] are the first steps in a formal amnesty for drug traffickers, because there has already been a de-facto amnesty since February 1 when the president announced the end of the drug war and government drug seizures fell.”