Mexican president under pressure over priest murders
NNN: The murders of two priests this week in Mexico have put President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on the defensive over his government’s failure to significantly reduce violent crime.
López Obrador responded to his critics on Thursday, days after Javier Campos, 79, and Joaquín Mora, 81, were shot trying to protect a man seeking refuge in a church in the northern state of Chihuahua.
“We are not going to change the strategy. Let them continue with their smear campaigns,” the leftist leader told reporters.
López Obrador has championed a “hugs, not bullets” strategy to tackle violent crime at its roots by fighting poverty and inequality with social programs, rather than the military.
The murder on Monday of the two Jesuit priests, as well as the man seeking refuge, the tour guide Pedro Palma, caused shock and dismay, including from the United Nations and Pope Francis.
There was also strong criticism from opponents of the government, including former right-wing president Felipe Calderón.
“Whoever commits a crime knows that a hug awaits them and not a punishment,” Calderón tweeted.
More than 340,000 people have died in a spiral of violence since 2006, when Calderón deployed the army to fight drug cartels with US military support.
Some 30 priests have been among the victims over the past decade, according to the Centro Católico Multimedial, a Catholic organization.
López Obrador criticized the policies of Calderón and previous administrations that he said had led to more deaths and human rights violations.
He also accused them of colluding with criminal organizations and ignoring vulnerable members of society, such as youth and poor families.
Mexico registered 2,833 murders in May, the highest monthly figure so far in 2022.
The government says there is a “downward trend” in homicides with a 7.8 percent decline from a high of 3,074 in July 2018, a few months before López Obrador took office.
“It’s a process that takes time, but we’re doing it right,” said the president, whose government attributes 75 percent of murders to gang violence.
On Wednesday night, a shooting left four police officers and eight suspected gang members dead in the western state of Jalisco.
The country of 126 million closed 2021 with a rate of 26 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
The government’s security policy “has not worked,” said Javier Oliva, an expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
There has been “improvisation” by the authorities in important areas supervised by officials without specialized knowledge, he told AFP.
‘Social decomposition’ Campos and Mora had been working for several decades with the indigenous people of the Sierra de Chihuahua.
The 30-year-old man accused of killing the two priests is well known in the area, where he had his own baseball team.
“The person who shot them was someone they knew, so they felt comfortable talking to him,” said Father Jorge Atilano González, a fellow Jesuit.
“But this person was under the influence of drugs and that explains his behavior,” Atilano told AFP.
The triple murder “is an example of the social decomposition of Mexico. We need to review and change the security policy,” he said.
Francisco Rivas, director of the National Citizen Observatory, a civil society group, sees the government’s policy as inadequate.
Contrary to what López Obrador says, the military continues to play a leading role in the fight against drugs, he added.
Rivas cited the “bad example” of the release of Ovidio Guzmán, son of notorious drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, in October 2019.
Guzmán was released after more than five hours of clashes between the Sinaloa drug cartel and security forces in the city of Culiacán in response to his arrest.
López Obrador has said that he ordered the release to prevent a massacre of innocent citizens.
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