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Biggest ever auction of cartel property as Mexican president under fire for 'hugs not bullets' strategy

The possessions of recaptured drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guz go on sale Sunday 10 November.
The possessions of recaptured drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guz go on sale Sunday 10 November. Credit: Henry Romero /Reuters

For fans of the Netflix show Narcos, it is the sale of the century. On Sunday 45 lots of items confiscated from Mexican drug traffickers will be sold – cars, homes, boats and watches, some of them  belonging to Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman – with the proceeds going to help impoverished children in the country.

For ordinary Mexicans, however, it is yet another sign of the hollow pledges made by their president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

He took office a year ago, elected on a platform of “hugs, not bullets”, and a plan to address the societal causes of the drug violence that has killed an estimated 200,000 people since the government declared war on the cartels in 2006.

Yet this week’s massacre of nine Mormon women and children with dual US-Mexican citizenship – ambushed on the road and gunned down, the youngest victim only eight months old – has put that promise, and his policies, in an uncomfortable spotlight.

The auction, for all its feel-good intentions, is an uncomfortable reminder of the harsh reality confronting many citizens. Mexico’s murder rate refuses to decline: this year it is on track to be one of the most violent in the country’s recent history.

The burnt-out wreckage of one of the victims' cars after the massacre in Bavispe. Credit: Herika Martinez/AFP

Mr Lopez Obrador’s promise to address the systemic issues – the poverty driving young people to work for the cartels; the culture of impunity and violence – has not been fulfilled.

And the situation seems to be getting worse.

There were 2,966 homicides in Mexico in August, the most ever recorded for that month. The national guard created by Mr Lopez Obrador as an alternative to corrupt police forces now has 70,000 members, but many have been dispatched to Mexico’s southern and northern borders to deter migration to the United States, part of a bilateral plan with the Trump administration.

Last month the country was convulsed by a wave of violence shocking even for Mexico, and starting in the southern state of Michoacán: 14 municipal policemen were killed in an ambush in the town of Aguililla on October 14.

The day later, another 14 people were killed in a gunfight between alleged criminals and the military in the town of Tepochica, Guerrero – a state in which 43 teaching students were kidnapped and presumably killed five years ago.  

Two days later, on October 17, police arrested Guzman’s son Ovidio – a senior operative with the feared Sinaloa Cartel – only to release him hours later, after the heavily-armed Cartel launched a brazen daylight assault on the police, easily outgunning them.

Mr Lopez Obrador defended releasing Ovidio, saying that capturing the kingpin was not worth the life of one innocent bystander.

His decision sparked a rare rebuke from high-ranking military officials.

Soldiers assigned to the National Guard keep watch while escorting a caravan of vehicles with relatives and friends of the Mexican-American Mormon families. Credit: Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters

General Carlos Gaytan, a retired military commander, attacked the president for bowing to the gangs.

“We are worried about today’s Mexico,” he said, in a speech on behalf of retired officers at the Defence Ministry.

“We feel aggrieved as Mexicans and offended as soldiers.”

The transcript was leaked last week to the newspaper La Jornada — an unusual development, given the armed forces’ traditional secrecy.

The murder of the Mormons by cartel members has only served to emphasise the scale of the problem. No suspects have been arrested, and few believe there will ever be true justice.

Yet the one sign of movement is in Sunday's highly-publicised auction, held in public at the former presidential palace of Los Pinos, in Mexico City.

Six homes belonging to Guzman will come under the hammer: ordinary Mexicans, should they so choose, can live in the Culiacan compound (SUBS – LOT 20) where he fled naked from the marines in the middle of the night in early February 2014, bolting with his mistress into a tunnel, accessed by pressing a button and lifting the bath tub. The property is on offer for 2.44 million Mexican pesos (£100,000) including furniture: you can even sleep on the same mattress.

For 11 million pesos (£460,000) you can be the proud owner of the house he bought for his ex-wife Griselda, mother of Ovidio.

A Ulysse Nardin watch he auction catalogue, starting at $124,704. Credit: SAE catalogue

And if “Narco Bling” is more your thing, the 45 lots include diamond-encrusted watches confiscated from the traffickers – the most expensive valued at 343,000 pesos (£14,000).

Also for sale are cars – a red Corvette for 26,800 pesos (£1,100); a red Mustang for 15,450 pesos (£630); a red Mercedes Benz for 61,000 pesos (£2,500). Even a battered old Volkswagen Beetle is on offer, valued at 2,800 pesos (£120).

This sale – the fifth such auction – features oil tankers for 277,000 pesos (£11,350) and even, for the first time, boats. A rusting 1972 fishing vessel, the Caribbean Clipper, is available for 1.4 million pesos (£57,400).

Proceeds will be donated to disadvantaged children in the state of Oaxaca.