The barbaric killings Monday of the nine members of the extended LeBaron family — dual U.S.-Mexican citizens — has raised pressure on López Obrador’s leftist government, which has pledged to use social programs to address the root causes of violence.
“It’s unfortunate, sad, because children died. This is painful,” López Obrador said during his regular morning news conference Wednesday. “But trying to resolve this problem by declaring a war? In our country, it’s been shown that this doesn’t work. This was a disaster.”
He was referring to the U.S.-backed offensive against drug groups launched in 2006, with the deployment of the Mexican army to battle organized-crime groups. Around 200,000 people have died in violence related to the conflict.
Mexico continues to work closely with the U.S. government in pursuing drug kingpins. President Trump, however, suggested a more aggressive approach on Tuesday, tweeting that “this is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president!”
Other American politicians have also expressed alarm at the violence surging south of the border.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said Tuesday “the Mexican government can’t handle this.”
The Mexican leader’s strategy “may work in a children’s fairy tale,” Cotton told Fox News. “But in the real world … the only thing that can counteract bullets is more and bigger bullets.”
López Obrador responded that Cotton’s comments reflected “his vision.”
“We respect it, but we don’t share it,” the president said.
Mexican authorities noted pointedly on Wednesday that the bullets used in the attack were .223 caliber, produced by Remington, a U.S. firm. Those bullets are typically used in M-16 and AR-15 assault rifles.
Mexico’s public security secretary said 70 percent of all the weapons tied to a crime in Mexico were smuggled from the United States. “That’s why the cooperation of the U.S. government will be fundamental to get good results,” Secretary Alfonso Durazo said.
Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said Wednesday that all results of the investigation would be shared with U.S. authorities because the case involves American citizens. He said Mexico was open to accepting assistance from the FBI. “The extent of the participation by the FBI or other U.S. institutions will depend on what the attorney general’s office determines,” he said.
Ebrard said he did not expect the massacre would raise tensions between the United States and Mexico. The LeBaron clan “is a binational community,” he said, “and we will act together.” He pledged “immediate actions to clarify what happened.”
The government has said that Monday’s attack might have been a case of mistaken identity, in which organized criminals believed the families’ SUVs belonged to a rival. Some relatives of the victims have rejected that idea, saying that the attackers could see that the victims were women and children.
Different armed groups are fighting for control of the rural area, a channel for shipping drugs to the United States. They include groups connected to the Sinaloa cartel, the Juarez cartel and the Jalisco New Generation cartel.
López Obrador has created a 70,000-member National Guard, but it has been unable to halt violence from widespread organized crime. Mexico is likely to set a record for homicides this year.
Critics say the government hasn’t used the new force strategically to contain violence — troops have instead been spread around the country to handle a variety of tasks, including detaining unauthorized migrants heading for the U.S. border.
Alejandro Hope, a security analyst, noted that the National Guard had 3,799 troops in Mexico City as of Oct. 14. It had just 4,126 troops in Sonora and Chihuahua, which represent 21 percent of the national territory. The LeBaron family members were killed at three locations near the border of the two states.
“If this force serves any purpose, it should be for territorial control, to ensure a presence of the state where it’s almost impossible to add police, to patrol local streets and unattended areas, to fight gunmen and thieves in remote areas of the country,” Hope wrote in El Universal.
Sonora state authorities said Tuesday they were investigating a man who was detained that day with multiple weapons and two hostages to determine whether he was connected to the massacre.
Durazo said Wednesday that it appeared the detainee “is not connected to the aggression against the LeBaron family.”