Mexico mayoral candidate runs despite DEA alert, warrant

A candidate for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's Morena is running for mayor of a cartel-plagued city in southern Mexico _ despite the fact he apparently has an outstanding drug charge in the United States

Rogelio Portillo Jaramillo is running for mayor of Huetamo, in the western state of Michoacán. Huetamo is near a major seaport the cartels use to import chemicals to make synthetic drugs like fentanyl and meth.

The DEA web page lists a man of the same name and a photo strikingly similar to Portillo Jaramillo, and says he is wanted in a federal court in Texas on drug trafficking conspiracy charges. The page describes him as “armed and dangerous.”

Israel Patrón, the police chief of Michoacán, said the DEA wanted message coincides with the “birthplace, age and physical characteristics” of the candidate, but that can’t be used to stop him from running.

“Though it seems illogical, it is not a requirement for them (candidates) to bring evidence of a clean criminal record from other countries,” Patrón said. He said candidates must only show they have no pending criminal charges in Mexico, which Portillo Jaramillo apparently doesn't.

Portillo Jaramillo says he is a legitimate businessman who runs a water delivery service and a local musical group.

“They say the DEA is looking for me,” Portillo Jaramillo told a campaign rally this week. “I don't know how they haven't found me. My phone number is public record.”

He recorded a video at his family's cattle ranch — they also have interests in construction, farming and trucking in the area — saying “I have never hidden from anybody, here we are, and we are going to be here to answer any questions.”

Mike Vigil, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s former chief of international operations, said Portillo Jaramillo's family is linked to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which has been fighting a bloody offensive against local gangs to take control of Michoacán.

Vigil said that giving him control of Huetamo, which lies just north of the Pacific coast port of Lázaro Cardenas, would open an avenue for the Jalisco cartel to import even greater amounts of precursor chemicals.

“That would be like pouring gasoline onto a burning fire,” Vigil said.

In the early 2000s, Portillo Jaramillo's father reportedly allegedly ran a cocaine distribution operation in Texas, which is where the charges against the candidate originate.

Michoacán is a state with a high number of migrants, so it is not rare to find former migrants running for office.

But the issue does represent a potential embarrassment for López Obrador, who has publicly stated his administration is no longer interested in detaining drug lords, and who has instructed law enforcement to avoid confrontations, saying his policy is “hugs, not bullets.”

In 2019, López Obrador ordered the release of Ovidio Guzman, a son of imprisoned drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzman, to avoid bloodshed.

Neither López Obrador's office nor the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City immediately responded to requests for comment.