MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – A military convoy in the Mexican state of Michoacan did not confront the members of a drug cartel who chased them out of town in broad daylight “to avoid deaths,” the country’s president said Thursday.
“Some used (the incident) to say what kind of country we live in (…) that there was no authority, how could the Army have been humiliated this way,” said President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in a regular morning news conference.
Widespread violence has wracked Mexico under Lopez Obrador, who took office in late 2018 pledging to pacify the country with a less confrontational approach to dealing with organized crime.
“We have to recognize the Army’s responsible attitude. Before it was different,” the president said, adding the event, which took place in the Nueva Italia community, an area known for its heavy cartel presence, was a “persecution.”
In now-viral videos, three vehicles carrying soldiers are seen fleeing at high speed down a road, while the pursuers in off-road trucks with gunmen on board can be heard yelling “shoot them!”
“We take care of members of the Armed Forces; we also take care of the gang members, they are human beings,” said Lopez Obrador.
The president said the incident took place Wednesday and that following the chase, the military returned with reinforcements and found several drug labs.
Lopez Obrador inherited a nation already reeling from a high murder rate. Since he took office, average annual homicide totals are on track to be the highest under any Mexican administration since modern records began.
His security policy, which he termed “hugs not bullets,” has faced criticism for being soft on crime.
(Reporting by Raul Cortes; Writing by Kylie Madry; Editing by Anthony Esposito and Andrea Ricci)