Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador reiterated his opposition Wednesday to a suggestion from U.S. President Donald Trump that Mexico wage war against its drug cartels after suspected gang members massacred nine U.S. women and children in the northern part of that country.
Lopez Obrador said at his weekly news conference his administration was “moving forward” with his promise to address the underlying causes of violence in Mexico with social programs.
“The other option (military option against cartels) is irrational; war is irrational,” he said. That is not an option in our case."
Lopez Obrador also told reporters the United States could work with local Mexican authorities in the investigation.
"We will take charge of the investigation and for justice to be done. We don't have any limitations for informing you on how it is going. If they want to participate, then they can," Lopez Obrador added.
Lopez Obrador’s remarks came one day after Trump offered to help Mexico "wage war" against the cartels and declared they must be wiped off the face of the Earth.
The drug cartel members suspected of being responsible for the massacre may have mistaken the victims' SUVs for those of a rival drug gang, Mexican officials said.
Lopez Obrador initially rejected Trump’s suggestion of war on Tuesday, saying previous Mexican governments have tried a military solution and that "it didn't work."
"The worst thing you can have is war," he said.
Lopez Obrador spoke with Trump by telephone on Tuesday.
"I thanked him for his willingness to support us, and informed him that the institutions of the government of Mexico will act to ensure justice is done," the Mexican president tweeted.
The ambush took place Monday in Mexico's northern Sonora state.
Meanwhile, the Agency for Criminal Investigation in the state of Sonora said Tuesday that authorities detained one person in the Agua Prieta area who was holding two people gagged and tied up in a pickup truck along with multiple guns and ammunition. Investigators are working to determine if the person was involved in the killings.
The victims were members of the LeBaron family, U.S. citizens who formed a fundamentalist Mormon community decades ago in the border region.
The family was traveling in three separate vehicles and heading to visit relatives. One woman was driving to meet her husband at the airport in Phoenix, Arizona, across the U.S. border.
When the gunmen opened fire, some of the children fled. One woman jumped out of the car and waved her hands to plead with the gunmen that they are unarmed and innocent. She was shot down in cold blood.
Some of the bullets struck one of the cars, causing it to catch fire, incinerating a woman and four children, including 8-month-old twins.
Some children managed to escape and hide, despite gunshot wounds. Mexican authorities found them and brought them to nearby hospitals.
Although Mexican authorities say the family members were likely victims of mistaken identity, family members say the gunmen knew exactly who was being targeted.
The LeBaron family has been in conflict with drug gangs for years. Benjamin LeBaron, who had taken on the gangs, was murdered in 2009, and several other members of the Mormon community in Chihuahua have also been targeted by drug traffickers.
"Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from the Utah territory originally went into Mexico in the 1880s at the height of a federal government crackdown on polygamy," according to University of Utah’s Mormon Studies professor W. Paul Reeve.
In recent years, Mormons in the area were targets of kidnappings, and two members of the Chihuahua Mormon community, including a LeBaron family member, were killed in 2010 in an apparent revenge attack after security forces tracked down drug gang members.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobsen told MSNBC that innocent parties are commonly killed by cartel gunmen.
"The reaction from cartel members is frequently to shoot first and ask questions later about who is involved," Jacobsen said.