After deadly Mexico ambush, stories of bravery and horror (copy)

Austin Cloes points to a photo of relatives Rhonita Miller and her family, who were killed in Mexico, on a computer screen Nov. 5, 2019, in Herriman, Utah. Drug cartel gunmen ambushed three SUVs along a dirt road, slaughtering at least six children and three women, all of them U.S. citizen.

The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

Abrazos, no balazos.” Hugs, not bullets. That has been a cornerstone of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s policy toward the country’s murderous drug cartels. Eradicate poverty, and eradication of the cartels follows, he has insisted.

It’s hard to imagine Obrador hewing to his nonconfrontational tack with the cartels after what happened Monday in northern Mexico. Nine members of a Mormon family with dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship were killed during a brutal ambush on their three sport utility vehicles. Six of the dead were children. Members of the LeBaron family say one child was gunned down while trying to flee. The attackers set one of the SUVs ablaze. Inside were twins less than a year old.

At this writing, motive remains murky. Authorities say they’re still trying to figure out whether the LeBaron family, which had lived in the scrublands of Mexico’s border region for decades, had been specifically targeted or whether the SUVs were mistaken as belonging to a rival gang. In the past, the family has spoken out about criminal gangs that operate in the border states of Chihuahua and Sonora, the New York Times reported. Ten years ago, two LeBaron family members were abducted and killed after confronting local drug gangs.

In extending an offer to help Mexico, President Donald Trump rashly tweeted the U.S. could join with Mexico to “wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth.” America doesn’t need this entanglement. Obrador quickly rejected the offer: “The worst thing you can have is war.”

But Obrador’s approach isn’t working either. In December, the longtime leftist rose to power on a slew of populist pledges, including a “Mexico first” approach toward governance, an end to corruption and an end to his country’s drug wars. The fulcrum of his anti-cartel policy was a raft of social programs to alleviate poverty and, in theory, eliminate root causes of cartel mayhem. “Evil needs to be fought with good by addressing the roots that generate violence,” he said after his election.

Since then, the cartels have displayed the blood-lust evil he’s up against. In October, hundreds of cartel gunmen besieged Culiacan after Mexican security forces arrested the son of convicted cartel drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera. The siege forced Obrador to release the son. Days earlier, cartel gunmen ambushed police in Michoacan, killing 14 officers.

And now, the massacre in northern Mexico. Obrador should make this a turning point — for the sake of drug war-weary Mexicans and Mexico’s neighbor to the north.

Reacting to the massacre, U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., warned Mexico is “dangerously close to being a failed state.” That should worry not just Obrador and the rest of Mexico, but Americans as well. It’s time for Obrador to overhaul his strategy against the cartels, for the sake of citizens on both sides of the border.

Mexico’s president may not want war. But that’s what the vicious cartels have handed him.

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