Drug lord 'El Chapo' once held as much power as Mexican president -Lopez Obrador

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks during a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico December 27, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Romero/File Photo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador declared an end to the days of collusion between crime and government, saying in a holiday address there was a time when drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was as powerful as the country’s president.

Lopez Obrador, who took office in December 2018, rose to power with pledges to root out corruption in Mexico. He hailed his progress toward that goal in a speech on New Year’s Eve at the Palenque ruins in southern Mexico.

“There was a time when Guzman Loera was as powerful, or had the influence, that the president had at that time,” said Lopez Obrador. “That made it hard to punish those who had committed crimes. That is now history.”

Last month, Genaro Garcia Luna, a former Mexican government official responsible for public security, was charged in the United States with accepting millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa drug cartel once run by Guzman.

Lopez Obrador has said Mexico will not investigate former President Felipe Calderon, who led the country at the time. But he added the Mexican government would cooperate with U.S. authorities in the probe of Garcia Luna, who moved to the United States in 2012.

Guzman was sentenced last year to life in prison without parole and moved to a high-security facility in Colorado after being convicted in a U.S. court of smuggling tons of drugs to the United States over a colorful, decades-long career..

He had become almost legendary for escaping from Mexican high-security jails twice and avoiding massive manhunts, while cultivating a Robin Hood image among the poor in Sinaloa.

Lopez Obrador acknowledged in his speech on Tuesday that his government had work to do, particularly in curbing rampant violence, but described his anti-corruption drive as a point of pride.

“We are purifying public life so there is moral authority,” Lopez Obrador said.

Reporting by Julia Love; Editing by Peter Cooney