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President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said such handouts have occurred “in several places,” but added it is something that “cannot be avoided.”
“I don’t want to hear them saying, ‘We are handing out aid packages,'” López Obrador told reporters at a Monday press conference. “No, better that they lay off, and think of their families, and themselves, those that are involved in these activities and who are listening to me now or watching me.”
Videos posted on social media have shown one of the daughters of imprisoned drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman handing out boxes of rice, pasta, cooking oil and toilet paper with Guzman’s image printed on them.
In northern Mexico, the Gulf cartel and the Northeast cartel have also been handing out aid.
Drug cartels previously have tried to gain favor of local populations by giving handouts. According to López Obrador, fuel-theft gangs drilled taps into pipelines, then left small amounts of gasoline and diesel for local farmers to gain their support.
The 66-year-old leader has sought to avoid open confrontation with drug cartels, opting instead for long-term solutions like job creation, scholarships and job training to reduce the number of recruits available to the cartels.
On Monday, he adopted a similar tone.
“I don’t rule out that there are people in the gangs who are becoming conscious, because I don’t think you can spend your life always watching your back, worrying about another gang, going from one place to another, because you could get eliminated, that is no life at all,” said López Obrador.
Mexico has recorded more than 34,500 homicides in López Obrador’s first full year as president. The COVID-19 pandemic has made matters worse by slowing down Mexico’s economy.
As of Monday, Mexico has 8,261 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with 686 deaths, according to the latest figures from the Johns Hopkins University.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.