José Díaz Briseño / REFORMA Correspondent in Washington DC, United States (April 28, 2021) .- “The President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has adopted a passive attitude towards the drug cartels, allowing them to act with impunity, as he considers that it is an impossible confrontation to win“, said Chris Landau, former Ambassador of the United States in Mexico.
According to the former diplomat who left office last January, López Obrador considers that focusing on fighting drug cartels is a distraction similar to what the Vietnam War was for former US President Lyndon Johnson in the decade of 1960s.
“AMLO has basically adopted a ‘laissez fair‘ attitude towards the cartels, which is obviously problematic for the US government. It is a big problem for Mexico,” Landau said at a round table with former diplomats last week.
“He sees the cartels as his Vietnam. Just as it was for his predecessors,” Landau said at the event organized by the Council of American Ambassadors (CAA), which brings together former non-career US ambassadors.
“AMLO is very insistent in trying to avoid this type of conflict (with the cartels),” said Landau, who assured that the calculations are that the cartels control between 35 and 40% of the Mexican territory.
“I think there is no doubt that they play a broad role in the governance of Mexico.”
About Ovidio and Harfuch
A 57-year-old lawyer who arrived in the country in August 2019, Landau was unusually frank in addressing such sensitive issues as the failed operation to capture Ovidio Guzmán in 2019 and the attack against the chief of the Mexico City Police Omar García Harfuch, in 2020.
“The López Obrador government let go Ovidio Guzmán (El Chapo’s son) because they did not want to have more generalized bloodshed in Culiacán. It was simply a terrible moment. The truth is that the Mexican Army was overcome in arms, ” said the former diplomat.
“There has never been an attack as blatant as (the attack on García Harfuch) in the heart of uptown Mexico City. And, to my surprise, the central Mexican government basically did nothing! It did not say: ‘Enough is enough! We will not tolerate such a thing happening! ” Landau added.
Regrets the Cienfuegos case
In his intervention published on the CAA website, Landau also described as disastrous the capture by the United States in 2020 of the former Secretary of Defense of Mexico, Salvador Cienfuegos, under drug trafficking charges and his eventual release a month later after an agreement with Mexico.
“In hindsight, I wish I had fought and gone to (US Attorney General Bill Barr) … to stop it,” Landau said referring to the episode when upon arriving at his post in Mexico City in August 2019 he was informed of the investigation opened by US federal prosecutors.
“The broader interests of our cooperation in the application of the Law are greater than this character,” added Landau and assured that the US government itself must rethink its anti-drug combat strategy that includes more inter-agency articulation.
With more than 35,500 homicides in 2019, Landau assured that the issue of violence and drug trafficking cartels is a real threat to both countries and recalled the episode in 2019 when former US President Donald Trump offered to send US troops to Mexico.
On the AMLO-Trump relationship
At the event with the CAA, Landau addressed issues as different as former President Donald Trump’s relationship with AMLO and revealed for the first time that Washington avoided pressuring the Mexican president on other issues because of his help to control irregular migration.
“(AMLO) knew that the issue of migration was important to President Trump. And outside of that matter, we did not bother him with another million issues,” confessed Landau in his talk, who claimed to have been very careful about not particularly meddling in energy matters.
“There were many things that AMLO wanted to do on the internal agenda on issues such as the energy sector. I wanted to protect US companies … but I didn’t want to get involved in internal Mexican issues either,” Landau revealed.
AMLO capitalized on the failure of the PAN
Asked about the origin of López Obrador’s popularity, Landau assured that the current Mexican President capitalized in the 2018 election on the weariness of the corruption of the PAN and PRI governments but specifically the inability of the PAN to not make a real change in the year 2000.
“I think in some way (AMLO) is capitalizing on the fact that the PAN – which replaced the PRI in the year 2000 – failed to pick up a broom and clean the house in Mexico,” Landau said. , insisting that López Obrador is a product of Mexican domestic politics.
Reveals visit to Slim about 5G
Without having previously disclosed, Landau confessed to having visited the owner of América Móvil, Carlos Slim, to request on behalf of the US Government not to buy telecommunications equipment for the new 5G network in view of what they considered a strategic danger.
“One of the worst experiences I had was … telling Carlos Slim that he should not do the 5G (network business) with Huawei because he felt that there was nothing else at the prepared points that he had … And he asked me: ‘And then who do you want me to do it with?’ Landau revealed.
So far, the investments for the construction of a 5G network in Mexico have not been defined and it is not known that Slim’s telecommunications company has made purchases from Huawei to obtain equipment, even though the Chinese giant has a strong presence in the Mexican market.
A graduate of Harvard University and former secretary of two important conservative judges in the US Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, Landau maintains an active presence on Twitter where he frequently addresses Mexican issues.
After Landau’s departure, the US Embassy in Mexico City was headed by Charge d’Affaires, John S. Creamer, waiting for the administration of President Joe Biden to announce the nomination of the new ambassador, which still must be ratified. by the US Senate.