Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador opposed Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s classification of violence in his country.
While testifying before Congress on March 22, Blinken said it was “fair to say” parts of Mexico are controlled by drug cartels.
“There is no place in the country that does not have the presence of authorities,” said López Obrador at a press conference on March 24, calling Blinken’s statements “false.”
“In addition to being irresponsible, it is an offense to the people of Mexico,” he added.
López Obrador said increased American scrutiny of his government is politically motivated as the U.S. heads into the 2024 elections. During his presidential campaign, he pledged to end his country’s 12-year drug war, per Al Jazeera.
American lawmakers raised alarm bells about the spike in illegal immigration across the U.S.-Mexico Border documented during President Joe Biden’s time in office, as well as human exploitation and drug trafficking. In particular, Republican lawmakers pushed to stop fentanyl – the increasingly dominant illicit opioid that is trafficked across the border – from reaching Americans. Fentanyl has caused 70,000 overdose deaths each year.
On March 3, four American tourists were kidnapped by cartel gunmen shortly after crossing into Mexico just south of Brownsville, Texas. Two of the four Americans were subsequently found dead.
“Attacks on US citizens are unacceptable, no matter where or under what circumstances they occur,” said John Kirby, the Biden Administration’s Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council. “And we’re going to work closely with the Mexican government to ensure that justice is done in this case. Right now, our immediate concerns are the safe return of our citizens, the health and the well-being of those who survived his attack.”
The incident increased tension between the U.S. and Mexico, with South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham calling for Mexican drug cartels to be labeled foreign terrorist organizations.
Formally designating cartels as foreign terrorist organizations would permit the prosecution of anyone caught supplying materials that support the groups. The label would also permit the Treasury Department to prohibit financial transactions connected to cartels and freeze the asset of anyone affiliated with cartels.
“That is not the path — of threats, of submission, of invasion. Who do those interventionist, arrogant wimps think they are? Mexico is to be respected,” López Obrador responsed on March 11, per The Hill.
The Mexican president has previously suggested America should deal with its “social decay” that has led to an increase in fentanyl use.
“Here, we do not produce fentanyl, and we do not have consumption of fentanyl,” said López Obrador of Mexico, per NBC News.
López Obrador did acknowledge on March 24 that the nation’s drug regulatory agency, Cofepris, had been infiltrated by some cartels.
“Those who had infiltrated the company apparently did so to approve the importation of fentanyl-producing material from China,” per The Washington Examiner.
American and Mexican authorities are currently negotiating a deal to prevent the flow of fentanyl across the border.