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World: Mexican cartel shows its might as president visits its heartland

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By Julia Love

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador wearing a suit and tie: FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Obrador holds a news conference in Mexico City © Reuters/Henry Romero FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Obrador holds a news conference in Mexico City

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A video depicting a sprawling military-style convoy of one of Mexico's most powerful drug cartels circulated on social networks on Friday just as President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador visited the group's heartland.

In the two-minute clip, members of the fearsome Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) stand in fatigues alongside a seemingly endless procession of armored vehicles.

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"Only Mencho's people," members of the cartel shout, pumping their fists and flashing their long guns. The cry was a salute to their leader, Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera, one of the country's most-wanted drug lords.

The video's release coincided with Lopez Obrador's visit to the states of Guanajuato, Jalisco and Colima, some of the cartel's strongholds.

"They are sending a clear message... that they basically rule Mexico, not Lopez Obrador," said Mike Vigil, a former chief of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

A spokesman for Lopez Obrador's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It was unclear when the video had been filmed, but it appeared to be authentic, Vigil said.

CJNG is regarded as Mexico’s strongest gang, along with the Sinaloa Cartel formerly led by jailed kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. It is often credited with infiltrating poorly paid and trained police departments across the country to protect its wide-ranging criminal rackets.

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In late June, the cartel was quickly fingered as the probable culprit in a brazen attack on Mexico City security head Omar Garcia Harfuch that took place in broad daylight in a posh neighborhood in the capital.

Unlike his predecessors, Lopez Obrador has taken a less confrontational approach on security, preferring to attack what he describes as root causes like poverty and youth joblessness, via social spending.

But the strategy, branded by Lopez Obrador as one of "hugs, not bullets," has emboldened criminal groups, many security analysts say.

The president's approach "has only led these cartels to operate with more impunity," Vigil said.

(Reporting by Julia Love; Editing by William Mallard)

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Just one year ago, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the former most powerful and dangerous kingpin in the world, was sentenced to life in prison, plus 30 years. © Eduardo Verdugo/AP In this Feb. 22, 2014 file photo, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the head of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, is escorted to a helicopter in Mexico City following his capture in the beach resort town of Mazatlan, Mexico. A jury found the former head of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel guilty of 10 counts of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, drug trafficking, money laundering and conspiracy to commit murder.

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