Mexico’s president asks residents to reject gifts from drug gangs

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s president on Tuesday called on the country’s citizens not to accept holiday handouts and gifts from drug cartels after video posted online showed flashy pickup trucks handing out loads of gifts in what onlookers said was the driver. Member of the Scottish drug cartel.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has confirmed that some drug gangs are looking to revive such giveaways – which were common years ago – to gain support from the local population .

López Obrador told a morning news conference that local residents in some communities were trying to protect traffickers, stop drug seizures or oppose the creation of National Guard bases aimed at combating drug trafficking.

Authorities have yet to confirm the origin of the gifts, mostly toys, distributed on Dec. 21 in a low-income neighborhood in Jalisco state capital Guadalajara.

A convoy of trucks carrying inflatable Santa ornaments and Christmas lights drove by, blaring “narco corrido” songs in praise of the Jalisco Cartel and the gang’s local leader, alias “RR.”

A bystander is heard saying in one video clip, “It’s all RR people. Who said they don’t give you anything? Why doesn’t the government do that?”

Asked about the videos on Tuesday, López Obrador acknowledged that the practice was re-emerging; in the 2010s, such cartel Christmas gift wheels were common in the northern border state of Tamaulipas. López Obrador said it was part of a strategy by criminal gangs to win popular support.

“Since this administration took office, we’ve known, clearly, it’s the public record, that criminal gangs rely heavily on a social base, people in the community,” the president said. “They use people as (human) shields.”

“Recently, some groups are trying to revive this (gift-giving) method by getting people to support them,” López Obrador said. “When cocaine is seized, the community comes out to protect the traffickers and even tries to kidnap members of the military and (National) Guard to prevent the cocaine from being seized.”

Local residents in three states also held demonstrations against building barracks for the National Guard. López Obrador blamed what he described as “three or four” incidents of local opposition to cartel influence. However, in the case of the demonstrations in Mexico City, residents said they believed the barracks were unnecessary, damaging to the environment or could increase violence in the vicinity.

The largest local support for gangs in Mexico has been fuel thieves drilling into government pipelines to steal gasoline and diesel. Many communities have been raided by police and the military as fuel thieves let locals collect gas from illegal taps as well.

But López Obrador said his campaign against fuel theft has undercut such cooperation with criminals.

“With this type of support, all of this is going away because people know it’s illegal and they’re not supposed to protect criminals,” the president said. “What I tell people is they shouldn’t let themselves be manipulated, they shouldn’t protect these gangs.”

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