Mexico’s top security official has said authorities are investigating a video which showed dozens of uniformed troops with military-grade weapons and armoured pickup trucks apparently connected to a major drug cartel.
The video, which circulated on social media on Friday, appeared to be a show of power by members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) – one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal groups.
Alfonso Durazo, secretary of security and civilian protection, said the “propaganda video” was being analysed to confirm its authenticity.
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He added that “there is no criminal group with the capacity to successfully challenge the federal security forces”.
Many of the vehicles parked on a dirt road in the video have improvised gun turrets or plate-steel armour welded onto them.
Several dozen masked men, wearing bulletproof vests and wielding assault rifles, are also heard shouting they are “people of Mencho” – a nickname used by Jalisco New Generation Cartel head Nemesio Oseguera.
The release of the video coincided with a visit by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico’s president, to the group’s heartland.
Mr Lopez Obrador has favoured a less confrontational approach to security than his predecessors and supported measures to address social issues, such as poverty and unemployment, which he has argued contribute to crime.
The so-called “hugs, not bullets” strategy has been controversial and some security analysts have warned it has emboldened criminal groups.
“They are sending a clear message… that they basically rule Mexico, not Lopez Obrador,” Mike Vigil, a former chief of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, told Reuters.
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Mr Vigil warned the president’s approach had “only led these cartels to operate with more impunity”.
Falko Ernst, a senior analyst on Mexico for the International Crisis Group, said the video sent a clear warning over potential retaliation against the government by the cartel.
“This , taken yesterday in the Jalisco Sierra as I’m told, is more than clear in its message toward the fed gov: You come after us, and we will strike back,” Mr Ernst wrote on Twitter.
He added: “Rather than a declaration of war, from my perspective it’s primarily geared at guarding the status quo, at a crucial time where the fed gov has to define its future posture regarding the CJNG.”
CJNG is regarded as Mexico’s strongest gang, along with the Sinaloa Cartel formerly led by jailed drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
In late June, the cartel was quickly identified as the probable culprit in an attack on Omar Garcia Harfuch, Mexico City’s security head, which took place in broad daylight in a wealthy neighbourhood in the capital.
Additional reporting by agencies