Last week’s mornings were dominated by the President’s attacks on Tim Golden, an American journalist (two-time Pulitzer winner, for reference), following his article Did drug traffickers give millions of dollars to Mexican President López Obrador’s first campaign? AMLO accused Golden of what are for him the worst infamies, from working at the service of the ‘conservative bloc’ to being close to Carlos Salinas de Gortari. He even challenged him to go debate in the morning.
Such virulence of the response is striking, especially because Golden’s report, although critical of the current government, does not prove much specifically against AMLO. He limits himself to weaving together some old testimonies, mainly derived from a failed DEA investigation, around the approaches that people in the service of Édgar Valdez Villarreal, the barbie, he had with certain figures from the Obradorismo. What if, in a meeting in January 2006 with Roberto López Nájera (an operator of the barbie), a couple of guys said that they had gone with the permission of the then presidential candidate (even if that meeting actually happened and they said that, they could have invented it to appear to have more importance and authority than they really had); What if the operator then gave two million dollars for the campaign, in exchange for the promise that, once in government, AMLO would not touch them (the amount is relatively negligible for a federal contest, and it is not entirely clear if the money was allocated to the presidential campaign, or rather to some events coordinated in Durango by a candidate for the Senate); What if Nicolás Mollinedo, NicoAMLO’s famous driver and logistics chief, was involved in all of the above.
It all comes from testimonies and recordings, rather vague and mostly obtained in an objectionable manner by the DEA, from people who had plenty of motivation to lie. The United States Department of Justice itself dismissed at the time the investigation into the contributions of the barbie to AMLO’s campaign in 2006. Even so, the President was hurt by the article. The testimonies and recordings are not enough to directly incriminate him, but they have enough elements to sow reasonable doubt, if not about him personally, then about characters who were part of his first circle.
The story that Tim Golden presents to us, although it is not conclusive, is of public interest, has journalistic value and, above all, the merit of opening two unavoidable discussions. The first: has AMLO been a ‘friendly president’ with criminal groups? At this point, I do not necessarily share the spin from Golden’s text, who points out that the current government ‘has led a notable retreat in the fight against drugs.’ It seems to me that there has rather been a stagnation. It also seems to me that some decisions that have been made, such as avoiding confrontations with criminal commandos with high firepower, seek to reduce the lethality of the Armed Forces, and do not respond to the contributions that any boss has made to the 2006 campaign, nor in subsequent elections. However, it is necessary to recognize that, when faced with this first question, the President does not help himself. With repeated attention to El Chapo and his family, to cite just one emblematic example, AMLO has contributed to forging the image of a friend of the Sinaloa Cartel.
The second question, the most urgent, has to do with the immediate future: what role will organized crime play in this year’s elections? What Golden’s report reflects is a reality that at this point we should already take for granted. Drug money is like water, it seeks its channel and drains everywhere. The offers of crime – which today has much more widespread and diverse interests than in 2006 – are going to reach the campaigns almost as a fatality. For these offers to be accepted, the explicit approval, or even knowledge, of the presidential candidates or party leaders is not necessary. If they do not give the instruction, there will always be some living collaborator, with the authority to make attractive promises, and with the willingness to accept the money. The very high cost of competition causes any scruples to disappear. You have to get all the money possible, no matter where it comes from. In this context, the only way to prevent meetings and agreements with drug traffickers would be a public and explicit commitment by the leaders of all political forces, accompanied by proactive measures to enforce it. Faced with this reality, AMLO, Caderón, Peña Nieto, and I also fear that the current candidates, have sinned by omission.