Fam­ily of slain Amer­i­can Mor­mons meets with López Obrador

Rel­a­tives of the 9 dead say they want to work with Mex­ico’s pres­i­dent

The Washington Post - - THE WORLD - BY KEVIN SI­EFF kevin.si­[email protected]­post.com Gabriela Martínez con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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.

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