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Updated Jan 31, 2024, 1:06pm EST
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Semafor Signals

Mexican President AMLO denies allegations that drug cartels funded his first campaign

Insights from Jorge Ramos, LatinUS, Semafor, and World Politics Review

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Mexico Presidency/Handout via REUTERS
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Mexican President Andés Manuel López Obrador is under fire after a ProPublica investigation alleged that his first presidential campaign received millions of dollars from the Sinaloa Cartel in 2006, U.S. officials told the publication.

According to the report, in exchange for campaign donations, aides promised to select law enforcement officials helpful to the traffickers if AMLO won the presidency. It is unclear if he knew the extent of the cartel’s contributions, ProPublica noted.

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AMLO denied the report on Wednesday, describing the allegations as “completely false” and “slander” and slamming the U.S. government for “allowing these immoral practices,” in reference to a Department of Justice investigation that probed his campaigns.

The revelation has fueled criticism against AMLO’s lenient “hugs, not bullets” approach to drug cartels during his term. But experts said the new accusations, along with other recent corruption allegations against him and his family members, will do little to hurt AMLO’s reputation.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

AMLO’s ‘hugs did not work’ when it came to confronting drug gangs

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Sources:  
Semafor, ProPublica, Journalist Jorge Ramos

Homicides in Mexico have fallen since the pandemic, but the average number of killings have remained the highest in the country’s history since AMLO took office in 2018, Semafor previously reported. Security experts have blamed AMLO’s “hugs, not bullets” approach to taking on drug cartel members as one of the reasons Mexico has seen increasing violence in the last six years. One U.S. official who spoke to ProPublica said the Justice Department feared that if AMLO became president he would “back away on the drug fight” and shut investigations down. “The hugs did not work” wrote Univsión journalist Jorge Ramos on his personal blog, blasting the administration for giving daily, misleading updates on “a failed strategy” that only “confuses people.”

Corruption allegations have long followed ‘El Clan’ — AMLO, his sons, and their associates

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Sources:  
LatinUS, El Universal

One of AMLO’s sons is alleged to have been involved in a network of contractors who reportedly overpriced materials for constructing the president’s rail infrastructure project, investigative journalist Carlos Loret de Mola reported for LatinUS. This follows years of corruption allegations against AMLO’s children, including one son who lived in a multi-million dollar Houston mansion owned by a contractor of Mexico’s state oil company, and another son who received significant financial benefits from a government program meant to support small farmers. Loret — who has dubbed his investigation into AMLO, his children, and their close associates as “El Clan” — wrote in El Universal that it was highly unlikely that the president would be unaware of the extent of his family’s alleged corruption. Loret argued that if not for the Mexican attorney general being an AMLO ally, there would “already be an investigation file and frozen accounts.” “Instead,” Loret wrote, “Corruption, influence peddling and impunity win.”

AMLO protects his reputation by controlling the media narrative

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Sources:  
World Politics Review, Reuters Institute, Political Scientist Mariana Miguelez Gomez

AMLO’s rise to power was rooted in an anti-corruption campaign that appealed to voters who were fed up with former President Enrique Peña Nieto’s corrupt and violent term. And while the numerous corruption allegations threaten to “tarnish” his legacy, AMLO has an infamous “hold over the country’s media narrative” by using his presidency to attack journalists who have exposed corruption allegations, World Politics Review wrote. This month, he reportedly threatened to expose Carlos Loret de Mola’s income and assets. AMLO is “that good of a politician,” WPR wrote, whose combined charisma and populist rhetoric against democratic institutions has managed to keep his approval rating above 50% while eroding trust in Mexican journalism down to 36%, according to a 2023 Reuters Institute report.

AMLO’s MORENA party also remains popular across the country, and his supporters will likely back his protégé Claudia Sheinbaum in this year’s presidential elections “no matter what is out there,” Hamilton College researcher Mariana Miguélez Gomez told Semafor. However, the new corruption allegations give opposition candidate Xóchitl Gálvez a “great opportunity” to question Sheinbaum’s stance on organized crime, Gomez said.

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