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In this Feb. 22, 2014, file photo, Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman is escorted to a helicopter in Mexico City following his capture.

The Associated Press

Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador closed out 2019 with a parting shot at his predecessors, saying imprisoned drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera had had the same power as the country’s president.

In a video message from the southern city of Palenque on Wednesday, Lopez Obrador recounted his administration’s successes in its first year and highlighted its challenges – foremost surging violence. He said he had already done away with the high-level corruption that was rampant in previous governments, but said it was crucial to draw a bright line between criminal elements and authorities so that the two sides do not mingle as they had in the past.

“There was a time when Guzman had the same power or had the influence that the then president had … because there had been a conspiracy and that made it difficult to punish those who committed crimes. That has already become history, gone to the garbage dump of history,” Lopez Obrador said.

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It appeared to be a reference to the indictment and arrest last month of Mexico’s former public safety secretary Genaro Garcia Luna. Garcia Luna was public safety secretary in President Felipe Calderon’s Cabinet from 2006 to 2012. Before joining Calderon’s government, Garcia Luna led Mexico’s equivalent of the FBI, the Federal Investigative Agency, under President Vicente Fox.

He was charged in federal court in New York with three counts of trafficking cocaine and one count of making false statements. He had been living in Florida and was arrested in Texas.

U.S. prosecutors allege he accepted millions of dollars in bribes from Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel and in exchange allowed it to operate without interference.

Guzman was convicted on drug conspiracy charges in New York. He was sentenced last year to life in prison.

Lopez Obrador’s public safety secretary Alfonso Durazo on Wednesday echoed the president’s comments about rooting out corruption in the security forces.

In a series of posts on Twitter, Durazo also said the government would recruit 21,170 people in 2020 to join the newly formed National Guard and continue to expand its presence in the country. Lopez Obrador has bet big that the new federal security force will be able to wrangle violence that generated a record-setting number of murders in 2019.

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