Family of slain American Mormons meets with López Obrador
Relatives of the 9 dead say they want to work with Mexico’s president
MEXICO CITY — Family members of the nine American Mormon women and children killed in northern Mexico last month emerged from a meeting with the country’s president Monday saying they wanted to work with the government, not against it.
“With this meeting, we showed that we are not enemies of the authorities,” Julian Lebaron, a family spokesman, told reporters after the session at the national palace here in the capital. “We want to help the authorities, but we will also be demanding of them.”
The meeting between the LEBaron clan, dual U.s.-mexican citizens who have lived in northern Mexico for generations, and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was a sign of the geopolitical import the killings of the three women and six children have taken on.
The killings outside the town of La Mora in the state of Sonora on Nov. 4 have drawn the attention of the White House to rising violence in Mexico. President Trump said last week his administration planned to designate drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations.
López Obrador and others here oppose that move, which could affect the country’s vital tourism industry, lead to sanctions on legitimate banks and businesses, and, some say, allow unilateral U.S. intervention in Mexico. Attorney General William P. Barr is expected to visit Mexico City this week to discuss Trump’s plan.
The breakaway Mormon community now finds itself at the center of the dispute, pushing for government action in the wake of the killings while also trying not to alienate López Obrador.
Family members led a mass protest in Mexico City on Sunday to demand more action from Mexico’s government to confront the problem of violence. It was the first anniversary of López Obrador’s inauguration. Later Sunday, authorities announced they had arrested several suspects in the shootings.
Mexico’s homicide rate hit a historic high in López Obrador’s first year. But the killings in Sonora elevated U.S. engagement on the issue as it generated enormous concern domestically. If nine American women and children could be massacred, many thought, it was a clear sign that no one was off limits.
Mexico’s foreign minister said the meeting between the family and the president was “very cordial.” Government officials updated the family on the status of the investigation, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said, and shared details of several related arrests. Another meeting was scheduled for next month.
“The president said that he is as horrified as anyone by what happened,” Ebrard said.
He said the Mexican government considers the victims to be Mexican citizens and therefore feels capable of pursuing the investigation. He said the government welcomed U.S. cooperation in the case but not intervention. The FBI has been assisting Mexico in trying to track down the killers.
Lebaron family members have been careful in how they articulate their desire for U.S. participation. Adrian Lebaron said the family was not asking for a U.S. intervention. Some Mexicans have criticized the family for even suggesting that there should be more U.S. involvement in reducing violence.
“Logistics, intelligence, in the end, that’s what it is about,” Adrian Lebaron told reporters after the meeting.
López Obrador says he’s addressing violence by attacking the root causes of organized crime with social programs, a strategy he has called “abrazos, no balazos” — hugs, not bullets. Some Mexican voters have come to hold him responsible for the worsening conditions, but his overall support remains very high. A recent poll by the Reforma newspaper showed his favorability rating at 68 percent. About 65 percent said security and crime remains the country’s biggest problem.
Julian Lebaron made that point Monday.
“The problem of violence is enormous, it is immensely large,” he told reporters. “There are thousands, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, but millions of hit men, and the only way to stop it is to put all the differences we have — political, cultural, religious and everything else — aside and to say, ‘Hey, we have to reach a level of minimal civilization where life is respected.’ ”
Mexican officials did not provide details of the arrests made in the Sonora killings. In the days after the massacre, López Obrador suggested that the victims’ vehicles were misidentified by one cartel that was attempting to target a rival criminal organization. The area is in the midst of a clash between affiliates of the Sinaloa and Juárez cartels. But the victims’ families have rejected that theory. They say the victims were targeted and their killings were deliberate.
Julian Lebaron told The Washington Post on Sunday that he wasn’t satisfied with the arrests made so far. He demanded the apprehension of “the people who were responsible for giving the order” to carry out the attack.
Since those killings, violence has continued unabated across the country. In the most recent spasm, at least 20 people were killed over the weekend in a clash between the Cartel of the Northeast and security forces in the town of Villa Union, about 40 miles southwest of Eagle Pass, Tex.
In October, Sinaloa Cartel gunmen took control of the city of Culiacán after authorities arrested the son of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán. Authorities soon released Ovidio Guzmán. Also that month, at least 14 police officers were killed in an ambush in Michoacan state.
In August, at least 27 people were killed in Veracruz state when assailants locked the doors and emergency exits of a popular bar and set the building on fire. Also that month, 19 bodies were found in the Michoacan town of Uruapan. Nine were hung from a bridge with signs with written threats.