Bystanders walk by a newspaper rack in Mexico City’s Parque Mexico. Many of the headlines are dominated by talk of threats of U.S. military intervention to take on cartels and fentanyl labs.

Bystanders walk by a newspaper rack in Mexico City’s Parque Mexico. Many of the headlines are dominated by talk of threats of U.S. military intervention to take on cartels and fentanyl labs. (Alfredo Corchado/The Dallas Morning News/TNS)

MEXICO CITY (Tribune News Service) — Mexico's economy is facing economic and political challenges with a weakening U.S. dollar and drop in demand for goods. Protesters recently filled the streets here, repudiating what they called the leader's push to dismantle a pillar of democracy. And insecurity cuts deeper into the fabric of society, spotlighted by the kidnapping of four Americans in Matamoros.

Still, Mexico's perils have done little to put a dent in the popularity of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

He remains virtually unscathed. His approval numbers have increased, thanks in part to GOP leaders whose threats of U.S. intervention against cartels and fentanyl labs on Mexican soil has AMLO, as the president is known, whipping the country into a nationalistic frenzy.

This week, AMLO sent his foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, to Washington, D.C., to mobilize Mexico's 52 consulates, the most anywhere on U.S. soil. Ebrard began a nationwide information campaign "in defense of our country," he said, following "unacceptable attacks" by Republican legislators.

"We will not allow ourselves to be pushed around," Ebrard told the Mexican ambassador to the U.S. and 52 consuls in the U.S.


If any country knows about invasions, it's Mexico.

The country has been invaded at least three times by the U.S. – the last time in 1917 when Gen. John J. Pershing led an expedition of 1,000 troops into Mexico to hunt down Pancho Villa. Mexico lost more than half its territory to the U.S. These lessons are taught to children from a young age.

López Obrador, a history buff, has been using his daily press conferences, known as La Mañanera, to lash out against what he calls "Mexico's "enemies."

"AMLO has been trying, for a really long time, to pick a fight with the United States," said Carlos Bravo, a political analyst and columnist in Mexico City. "So this works perfectly. It serves not only as a distraction to Mexico's pressing problems, but as an alarm whistle, a sense of urgency and nationalistic cry."

On Saturday, López Obrador will lead a march to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the Petroleum Expropriation, when President Lázaro Cárdenas in 1938 nationalized the oil industry. Crowds are expected to be huge, largely because of the political climate in the country, Bravo said.

Congressional leaders

The timing also coincides with visits by delegations of U.S. congressional leaders. This week, members of the trade-focused House Ways and Means Committee met with López Obrador in Mexico City, hoping to dig into disputes surrounding the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that replaced NAFTA.

Mexico is the second-biggest trading partner of the U.S., and the countries are bound together by geography and culture — for better and for worse.

Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Texas, said in a statement their meeting was overshadowed by López Obrador's "irresponsible threats to intervene in American elections and his desire to ignore escalating violence being inflicted by Mexican drug cartels against the American people."

Van Duyne said the U.S. delegation delivered to López Obrador a "frank and serious message" that his failure to stop the cartels is endangering Americans.

"There were multiple instances where I felt compelled to interrupt propaganda that President Obrador was pushing, such as blaming American families for U.S. fentanyl deaths," Van Duyne said. "Obrador refused to recognize Mexican drug cartels are targeting fentanyl to our children by disguising it as candy or lacing it into everything from Adderall to Xanax."

Trading barbs

Van Duyne is among the Texas Republicans who have co-sponsored a proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force against the cartels, legislation introduced by Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas.

Crenshaw has traded barbs with López Obrador, including a tweet in flawless Spanish. He kept it up when he tweeted Wednesday: "Just one day before @lopezobrador_ claimed Mexico doesn't produce or consume fentanyl, Mexican soldiers found over 1 million fentanyl pills at a stash house in Tijuana. Guess he's not very good at lying."

U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials have said fentanyl is mass-produced by Mexican drug cartels, smuggled mostly by U.S. citizens through legal ports of entry and then distributed by American criminal networks throughout the U.S, including North Texas.

Roberto Velasco, a top diplomat and chief officer for the North America Unit at the Foreign Ministry, said fentanyl is not "produced" in Mexico but rather "finished." He praised cooperation with the U.S. – "but we're not going to do this based on the idea that we're not doing anything, and we're especially not going to do this under threats of our sovereignty."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has been one of the loudest voices calling for U.S. military intervention, saying the country has the legal and moral right to attack the cartels unilaterally if Mexico refuses to cooperate.

"Americans across the political spectrum feel like Mexico is a lousy partner when it comes to dealing with fentanyl, that Mexico is not safer than America," Graham said.

'Narco terrorists'

Graham said he would like the U.S. to have a working relationship with Mexico similar to Colombia, with the two sides joining forces to tackle "narco terrorists." But, he said, López Obrador seems dug into his position.

"At the end of the day, he's responsible for the safety of his people. And, you know, he has some bearing on our safety and I think the results are in for me – his policies are not working," Graham said.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is leading a bipartisan group of lawmakers this weekend to meet with López Obrador in Mexico. He said the group will push for more assistance on border security and the cartels.

Cornyn told reporters Thursday that López Obrador has not done enough on those fronts, but he also acknowledged the sensitivities in Mexico when it comes to U.S. military intervention. He said threatening unilateral action isn't going to be a constructive path to solutions.

"We'd like to lower the temperature a little bit in some of the rhetoric by having a candid, private conversation with him and his administration about what we can do together to enhance Mexico's security and their prosperity," Cornyn said.

In Mexico City, David and Belen Rocha, who were visiting from the Mexican state of Michoacan, say they're worried about what they call López Obrador's attacks on key institutions. That includes his efforts to cut funding for the country's National Electoral Institute, which runs the country's elections.

"My wife and I actually voted for him," said David Rocha, a commercial merchant. "But he's too impulsive and doesn't respect our democracy, which is young and fragile. He's a growing concern."

Still, as the couple perused the newspapers in Condesa's Parque Mexico, Belen Rocha added, "At this moment I think it's important to stand together with our president.

"Who do they think they are? Sending in the military? Militarize Mexico even more?" she said. "Why don't they take care of their own [narcotics] demand before they point fingers at us?"

Alfredo Corchado reported from Mexico City, and Joseph Morton reported from Washington, D.C.

©2023 The Dallas Morning News.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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