Catholic newspaper takes Mexican president to task for joking about murders

Obrador Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. | Credit: Ministry of Culture of Mexico City (CC BY 2.0)

Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega of of Guadalajara, Mexico, and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador are having a war of words after the national leader responded with a joke to questions about a brutal multiple murder that has galvanized a country already reeling from thousands of killings associated with out-of-control drug cartels.

An opinion column published in El Seminario — the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Guadalajara — criticized López Obrador, who has been called into question over his government’s apparent inability to address widespread murder and terrorism at the hands of drug cartels.

“Far from addressing matters seriously that the country is facing (crime, health, education),” the newspaper charged, López Obrador responds “with contempt, indifference, and mockery, without attending” to the victims.

The Aug. 26 op-ed came after López Obrador told a joke at one of his daily press conferences when the media asked about the August disappearance and presumed murder of a group of young men in central Mexico. Rather than addressing the issue, he claimed to have not heard the question and instead told a joke. He then walked away from the podium.

The archdiocesan newspaper was unstinting in its reflection on López Obrador: “He is not afraid of being ridiculous, which has become a form of governance. With the response he gave, which we all know, to the matter of the five young people who disappeared in Lagos de Moreno, he not only shows a lack of sensitivity but also perversion.”

Five childhood friends, ranging in age from 19 to 22, got together for the annual fair at Lagos de Moreno, a colonial city in the state of Jalisco. They were last seen playing soccer some three miles outside of the city. While their bodies have not been identified, images abound on the internet of the young men bound, gagged, and looking fearfully at the camera. Investigators later identified the place of their probable murder. Human remains have been found not far from the killing field. Media reports suggest that they were brutally murdered by cartel thugs when they refused to join the criminal organization.

Mexicans have responded by lighting thousands of candles in their memory in churches throughout the country.

“Mockery, not taking things seriously, laughing at others’ misfortune (children with cancer, for example) has become one of his means (calling them a strategy is going too far) to ‘answer’ when he does not want to, cannot, or does not know how to do so,” the paper contended.

It quoted Cardinal Robles, who said: “What we are seeing is a great deal of indifference on the part of authorities, who should be more concerned about caring for young people and making firmer decisions.”

“We are living in a climate of crime where no level of society is blameless,” Robles went on to say. “This is not about passing on responsibility but of confronting what is happening with the full authority of the law. Otherwise, this cannot be fixed.” This is because, he said, “in everything that is happening there is complicity, impunity, protection.”

At his Aug. 28 press conference, when asked for a response to what his interlocutor called the “interference on the part of clergy,” López Obrador said: “I respect them very much, and they have a right to express themselves; there is freedom. You already know that I am guided by what Pope Francis thinks and I am sympathetic to the pope’s way of thinking and being, because he is always in favor of justice, in favor of the humble, in favor of the humiliated. He is not in favor of the oligarchy, he is not in favor of the powerful. He is a true Christian pastor and I respect him.”

“If he were to opine something against Mexico’s policy, then we would have to see what is happening, but what can Pope Francis oppose, if in Mexico we are caring for the poor like never before?” the Mexican leader went on to say. “Here it is being demonstrated that poverty and inequality have been reduced in Mexico, as is not the case in other countries of the world. So, that’s why there is nothing to fear; we are fine.”

According to Mexico’s National Statistics Institute, there were 32,223 murders in 2022, a slight drop from 2021. In 2023, there were 15,122 murders during the first half of the year, compared with 15,381 during the same period in 2022. Mexico’s homicide rate reached 25 per 100,000 inhabitants, while in the U.S. it was 7.8 per 100,000 in 2021.

López Obrador has dealt with spiraling homicide, cartel violence, and extra-judicial killing by police and armed forces ever since he took office in 2018. It is largely attributed to turf wars between cartels engaging in human trafficking, narcotics production and smuggling, kidnapping, extortion, and other rackets. He once promised “hugs not bullets” as a policy to address narcoterrorism in Mexico. At the announcement of the crime statistics last month, he claimed: “The strategy of addressing the root causes of violence is beginning to show results.”

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