MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador denied on Thursday discord among the upper echelons of the military, after a newspaper published the alleged speech of an army general sharply criticizing the government and a “politically polarized society.”
Lopez Obrador took office late last year pledging to pacify the country with a security policy that deemphasizes armed confrontation, following years of military-led conflict with powerful drug cartels.
Asked about a report published on Wednesday by newspaper La Jornada detailing a recent speech by an army general blaming Lopez Obrador for polarizing the country and offending the military’s leadership, Lopez Obrador denied any widespread discontent within the ranks.
“Regarding risks of division in the army, that doesn’t exist,” he said during his regular morning news conference.
Lopez Obrador’s government was rocked two weeks ago when cartel gunmen laid siege to the city of Culiacan, forcing outmatched soldiers to release a son of jailed drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman after he was briefly detained.
The incident marked the biggest challenge to the president’s security strategy to date and provoked wide-spread criticism of the military’s capitulation to Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel, which was ordered by Lopez Obrador’s security cabinet.
The decision to back down also attracted significant public support for avoiding a potentially bloodier confrontation, echoing the president’s reasoning.
“Today’s Mexico worries us,” said Gen. Carlos Gaytan, a veteran commander who has served in several high-profile posts, according to the transcript of his Oct. 22 speech published by La Jornada.
Gaytan gave the speech at defence ministry installations to an audience made up of his fellow generals.
“As Mexicans, we feel disrespected and as soldiers we’re offended,” he is quoted as saying.
Lopez Obrador dismissed Gaytan’s comments as just another opinion, and pointed to the general’s service under previous administrations that leaned more heavily on the military to battle organised crime.
“If he’s arguing that there’s disagreement within the army because of the application of a new policy, it’s understandable because for a long time a policy of extermination and repression was applied,” he said, stressing that such a strategy is no longer being applied.
Mexico’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Reporting by Noe Torres and David Alire Garcia