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Latam Brief: Operación Polanco accuses AMLO of cartel financing

 El Cartel de Sinaloa financió la campaña de AMLO en 2006 (RidTv)
El Cartel de Sinaloa financió la campaña de AMLO en 2006 (RidTv)

Latin America Daily Briefing

Several explosive reports published yesterday detail alleged links between Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s first presidential campaign, in 2006, and organized crime, based on a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigation.

ProPublica reports allegations that major cocaine traffickers funneled about $2 million into Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s 2006 campaign. Witnesses reportedly told the DEA that the “money was provided in return for a promise that a future López Obrador government would tolerate the cartel’s operations.”

InSight Crime’s Stephen Dudley reports that U.S. investigators believed AMLO’s campaign made a deal with the criminal Beltrán Leyva Organization “The BLO would give millions of dollars to AMLO’s presidential campaign; in return, AMLO’s team promised to give the BLO first right of refusal on who would be attorney general, which, for the investigators, amounted to a free pass to traffic drugs.”

A third report published on Deutsche Welle alleges the DEA investigation found the Sinaloa Cartel donated $2-4 million to AMLO’s campaign, funneled through Arturo Beltrán Leyva.

AMLO vehemently rejected the allegations that drug traffickers helped finance his 2006 presidential run. “It’s slander… there’s no evidence” of illegal financing, the Mexican president said at his regular morning news conference. (AFP)

The ProPublica report by Tim Golden said that it was unclear whether López Obrador sanctioned or was even aware of the funding. But the report argues that “Since taking office in December 2018, López Obrador has led a striking retreat in the drug fight. His approach, which he summarized in the campaign slogan “Hugs, not bullets,” has concentrated on social programs to attack the sources of criminality, rather than confrontation with the criminals.”

The case was eventually derailed by political concerns and other complications between the DEA and the Mexican government. “t was a bold criminal case and not one that agents typically tackle, given the challenges and potential political pitfalls of going after a would-be president. Investigations like this illustrate how organized crime seeks to get its hooks into politicians at the highest levels, but they are incredibly complicated,” according to Dudley. “Going after high-level political targets can undermine an agent’s career and upend diplomatic relations.”

The reports are based on former DEA agents’ testimony, and some commentators have questioned the timing. “Four months before the election in Mexico, in what seems like an act of reparation, the agents involved in that case decided to tell the origins and development of an investigation that failed to come to fruition. In other words: what is published is the story of DEA agents who try to gain in a news cycle what they could not prove before a prosecutor or before their superiors. It is an act of rage. A synchronized act of rage,” writes Carlos Pérez Ricart in Sin Embargo.

More Mexico

  • Social media is “crucial for providing timely information about flare-ups of violence,” in Mexico, where “journalists face major threats to their safety, which heavily circumscribes their ability to report from many crime-affected municipalities,” according to a new Crisis Group report. “These criminal groups are recruiting and spreading disinformation online, making them stronger and creating a glut of unverified information that puts civilians at greater risk. Platforms have struggled to respond appropriately.”

  • Mexico’s top court struck down provisions of AMLO’s electricity overhauls that sought to recover state control over the industry, reports the Wall Street Journal.

DEA covert operation in Venezuela — AP

A years-long covert operation by the U.S. DEA sent undercover operatives into Venezuela to record and build drug-trafficking cases against the country’s leadership, according to a secret memo obtained by The Associated Press. The U.S. acknowledged from the start that the plan was arguably a violation of international law.

“It is necessary to conduct this operation unilaterally and without notifying Venezuelan officials,” reads the 15-page 2018 memo expanding “Operation Money Badger,” an investigation that authorities say targeted dozens of people, including Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, reports the Associated Press.

The revelations will likely impact the already fraught relations between the U.S. and Venezuela, as the former has threatened to reinstate sanctions against the Maduro government in retaliation for its failure to comply with the Barbados Agreements on democratization.

The never-before-seen document was authored at the start of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s “ maximum pressure ” campaign to remove the Venezuelan president, according to the AP.

More Venezuela

  • “The reaffirmation of María Corina Machado’s electoral disqualification was not a surprise to anyone close to the Barbados agreements or Venezuela’s political process,” writes David Smilde in the Latin America Advisor, warning that the international community should avoid overly supporting her personally, and that the opposition should choose an alternative candidate over a repeat electoral boycott if “it is clear she can’t run.” (See yesterday’s post.)


  • Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry met with officials from various countries who are part of an international steering committee aimed at assisting the country’s overwhelmed police as they await the potential deployment of a multilateral armed force to help it fight gangs, reports the Associated Press.

  • Kenya’s president vowed to move forward with plans to lead the U.N.-approved security mission to Haiti, despite a court ruling blocking deployment last week, reports Reuters. (See last Friday’s post.)

  • “The Kenyan High Court ruling provides the international community an opportunity to replace its plans for a mission that has almost no chance of bringing sustainable security or democracy to Haiti with support for a Haitian-led transition to democracy,” argues Brian Concannon, executive director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in the Latin America Advisor.


  • Cuba’s government delayed a planned 500 percent surge in the fuel price after a “cybersecurity incident,” reports AFP.


  • If there is a silver lining to the severe challenges to rule-of-law in Brazil under former president Jair Bolsonaro, “it might be the fact that the democratic regime held together against a grave threat: attempts by a president to subvert the constitutional rules of the game,” writes Matthew Taylor in Current History.

  • Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s “live sessions on social media just can’t seem to match those of the overpowering, base-mobilizing digital phenomenon that is his predecessor,” according to AFP.


  • “Peru’s government on Wednesday backtracked on plans to outsource the sale of entry tickets to Machu Picchu to a private company, a week after protesters blocked access to the country’s most famous tourist attraction and rail service to the area was suspended,” reports the Associated Press.


  • The International Monetary Fund approved the most recent review of its $44 billion program with Argentina, allowing for the disbursement of $4.7 billion. “The new administration is taking bold actions to restore macroeconomic stability and begin to address long-standing impediments to growth,” said IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva in the statement. (AFP)

  • Argentine President Javier Milei announced on social media that he had spoken with dating app Tinder co-founder Sean Rad to set up a tech summit, part of a broader push to foment tech investments in the country, reports Reuters.

Critter Corner

  • Mexico City’s Plaza México had its first bullfight in two years on Sunday, though legal fights aimed at suspending the practise continue, reports the New York Times.

Jordana Timerman / Latin America Daily Briefing 02 01 2024

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