Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador demanded a public apology from the United States government over leaks from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that led to a journalist’s report, without evidence, about an alleged contribution from a drug trafficking organization to his 2006 campaign. The president denounced that the plot to supply information to a hireling involved not only the DEA but also the Department of State, something his counterpart Joe Biden should have known. He questioned how high-level talks on migration, combating drug trafficking, and fentanyl smuggling could proceed if an element of that government is spreading slander that damages not the president, but the office of the presidency.

In less than 24 hours after publication, writer Tim Golden, the author of the article, confessed that his story provided no evidence confirming the question posed in his headline (Did Drug Traffickers Funnel Millions of Dollars to Mexican President López Obrador’s First Campaign?). Although he also refused to apologize for suggesting something very serious without supporting evidence. Likewise, he revealed himself as either naive or hypocritical by dismissing the notion that timing of the story, to coincide with Mexico’s electoral period, was a factor in the decisions behind investigation, its editorial focus, and time of publication. 

For its part, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) reported that the investigation was concluded and formally closed 13 years ago because neither the agents nor prosecutors could provide evidence to support the accusations. The DOJ backed its current collaboration with Mexican authorities in the fight against organized crime and had to distance itself from the DEA by reiterating its respect for Mexico’s domestic policies. Even former DEA director Mike Vigil (who has been critical of the current Mexican government) stated that the report is a personal attack against the President and that there is no evidence that López Obrador has or had any ties to organized crime. He also regretted the irresponsible decision to publish a baseless story that will inevitably harm binational cooperation in combating drug trafficking and further weaken the agency’s position.

This clash between the DEA and the DOJ reflects the prevailing disorder in the current Democratic administration and in US institutions in general, which is being negatively affected by the centrifugal forces that undermine its capabilities, with sectors of the State pushing their own agendas at the expense of the White House and the superpower’s own interests.

The plummeting credibility of the story in question has not served to restrain the impulses of unethical Mexican media and of the president’s opponents who take shelter behind their microphones. Right-wing politicians and media figures have become an echo chamber, repeating the lies, omitting that the piece is mere speculation and instead presenting it to their audience as absolute truth. This smear campaign, which follows the same pattern as previous ones that have been leveled against the president for over two decades, was launched to coincide with the visit by opposition’s presidential candidate, Xóchitl Gálvez, to Washington to offer off Mexico’s energy sector to anyone who would listen. The candidate should clarify to the public whether it was a conspiracy or mere clumsiness, but her trip leaves the indelible impression of a coordination of interests between US government offices, rapacious companies from that country, and Mexican opposition politicians.

Under these circumstances, transparency is essential for the nation’s sake; to face insidiousness with truth, prioritizing the sovereignty and dignity of the country. In this sense, President López Obrador’s response must be acknowledged, he urged Washington to present the evidence if it indeed exists and to openly state where this unacceptable intervention in Mexico’s political landscape came from.

Those who organized this smear operation only four months away ahead of elections would do well to see the risks of the path they have taken and the inappropriateness of mixing the electoral processes taking place both north and south of the Rio Grande: they should realize that one never knows how these maneuvers could end, but they never end well for anyone. Finally, a call to the communicators who have embarked on this adventure (whether due to ideology, mercenary interests, or simply to cater to their audiences), they would be wise to practice moderation, common sense, a professional decorum, and journalistic rigor, virtues that were forgotten in the handling such a delicate matter such as the one at hand.

This editorial first appeared in the Friday, February 2nd, 2024 issue of La Jornada newspaper and was translated by the Mexico Solidarity Project.