By Stefanie Eschenbacher and Miguel Gutierrez
MEXICOCITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday called the jail conditions of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman inhumane, while vowing to bring down violence stemming from drug violence by create a society less obsessed with material wealth.
Guzman will spend the rest of his days behind bars in the United States after a judge sentenced him on Wednesday to life in prison plus 30 years. A jury found him guilty in February after an 11-week trial.
Lopez Obrador said at his regular morning conference that sentences like the one for El Chapo – “a sentence for life in a hostile jail, hard, inhumane” – made a life no longer worth living.
As well as his concern for the infamous kingpin’s wellbeing, Lopez Obrador criticized the violence he wrought over his long career, and said society needed moral reforms.
“I also have many victims in mind,” he added. “It’s something very painful.”
Lopez Obrador has created a new militarised police force to bring down violence that has spiralled as cartels splinter and smaller groups fight for territory.
Last year, violence cost a record 33,000 lives. Those numbers continued surging in the first six months of Lopez Obrador’s term in office, which began in December.
When asked whether he expected violence to rise further over coming weeks following the sentencing of El Chapo, Lopez Obrador said: “No, on the contrary. We think that bit by bit the number of criminal incidents will decline.”
“We will continue to create a better society, supported by values, that is not based on accumulating material wealth, money or luxury,” Lopez Obrador said.
In an opinion poll conducted by Mexico’s Reforma newspaper, with support from the Washington Post, 52% of people surveyed said Lopez Obrador’s efforts to tackle crime were lacking while 55% said he was failing to bring down violence.
In a juxtaposition to Lopez Obrador’s call for austerity, earlier in the conference an official showcased luxury jewellery and diamond encrusted watches confiscated by the government that will be auctioned over the weekend.
Proceeds from the auction will go to impoverished Mexican villages.
In recent months, Mexico has also put up for auction 77 vehicles, including a Lamborghini and a Mustang convertible, as well as safe houses with tunnels and the apartment of a cartel leader who was killed there and disposed of by his brothers.
Forbes magazine once listed Guzman as one of the world’s richest men.
The former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Guzman, was extradited to the United States in 2018 following two breakouts from Mexican jails: one purportedly in a laundry cart, the other through a mile-long tunnel.
Lopez Obrador said Mexico would explore whether there would be legal ways for Mexico to claim Guzman’s assets, adding that Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard would be in charge of the matter.
“These resources, these assets legally belong to Mexico and the matter will be considered on a legal basis,” Lopez Obrador said. “I believe that the United States will agree.”
Santiago Nieto, head of the Mexican finance ministry’s financial intelligence unit, said on Wednesday that his unit had also filed complaints and frozen 27 bank accounts in relation to the rival Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion.
“At this moment we are working on a national risk assessment to identify where we can find these criminal groups in order to freeze the accounts and submit corresponding complaints to the attorney general,” Nieto said.
(Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher and Miguel Angel Gutierrez; editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)