Drug cartels deployed terror in four states, targeting bystanders, blocking highways and burning vehicles and businesses. But the president accuses the media and his ‘adversaries’ of exaggerating.

Swaths of Mexico burned last week as cartel thugs unleashed waves of narco-violence across five states—acts many in the country called “terrorism,” but the populist president described as “disturbances,” being exaggerated by his political “adversaries.”

The violence claimed 260 lives in four days across suburban Guadalajara, Guanajuato state, Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana and several cities in Baja California, according to a count by the newspaper Reforma.

But President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) spent more time at his Monday press conference chastising Reforma and “conservatives” for exaggeration and “yellow journalism”—while presenting homicide numbers for days in which the narco-violence was not flaring. He insisted, “There is governability, there is stability. And at the same time our adversaries are interested in magnifying things.”

Others in the president’s party floated conspiracies of “conservatives” teaming with criminals to attack AMLO and his political movement—with AMLO himself often playing the victim at times atrocity.

But the violence brought fears of an escalation in narcoterrorism – most notoriously deployed by the Sinaloa Cartel in 2019 to force soldiers to surrender Ovidio Guzmán, son of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán – as cartels terrorize local populations to pressure and punish politicians. It raises the spectre of Colombia in the 1980s, when Pablo Escobar and Colombian cartels used narco-terrorism to avoid capture and extradition to the United States.

Organized crime expert Edgardo Buscaglia told Proyecto Puente in Hermosillo, “Terrorism is an act of violence committed by criminal networks against the innocent civilian population indiscriminately in the streets. … They commit these indiscriminate acts of violence against the civilian population in order to pressure the state to protect them, pressure the state to release El Chapo’s son, pressure the state to change the president of the municipal assembly of Ciudad Juárez, pressure the state for some reason.”

Buscaglia, senior research scholar in law and economics at Columbia Law School and an adviser to governments on combating organized crime, has urged Mexico to adopt anti-mafia policies – to minimize cartel incursions into politics, rid elections of cartel funding and end impunity, which fuels violence. He predicted without such measures, “This violence will continue to mature, continue to grow, taking increasingly more territories [and without anti-mafia policies] they will end up like Colombia, where people could not leave Bogotá” in past years because the countryside was too conflictive.

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