MEXICO CITY—A former Mexican soccer star turned state governor is under fire after a local newspaper revealed a photo of him that appears to picture him standing arm-in-arm with three drug cartel bosses.
Cuauhtémoc Blanco—one of the most celebrated soccer players in Mexican history—became state governor of the central Mexican state of Morelos in 2018 with a mandate to quell violence and root out corruption. But the article and photo published by El Sol de México on Tuesday showed him with three regional crime bosses.
Blanco, 48, responded to the photo while surrounded by a scrum of journalists several hours after its publication, saying that he didn’t remember even taking it because his soccer fame makes taking photos with strangers a common occurrence. He mentioned a previous photo that surfaced of him with the son of imprisoned drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, whose identity he claimed he didn’t know at the time, “but because I’m such a good guy, I take photos with everyone.”
“(People) ask me for a lot of photos and I'm not going to ask them, ‘hey, what do you do for a living?’”
One journalist then pushed the governor by mentioning that the image looked like it may have been taken in his house, to which the governor responded with his own question: “Do you think I'm going to allow three narco-trafficking criminals into my house? If so, we would have captured them.”
The photo was allegedly discovered after the November arrest of another local crime boss named Esther Yadira Huitrón, aka La Jefa. El Sol de México claimed that the photo was found on her phone at the time of her arrest. Huitrón allegedly headed a criminal cell of the Guerreros Unidos cartel that operated in the south of the state.
El Sol de México stated that it had verified the photo’s authenticity with the photography team at Mexican Editorial Organization, its publisher. The newspaper also reported that the photo was discovered in the cell phone's camera roll among images taken in late January and early February of 2019. VICE World News could not verify these claims.
The three men alongside Blanco in the photo are alleged to be high-ranking members of different criminal groups in the region, according to El Sol de México.
On the far left, is Irving Eduardo Solano, alias El Profe, allegedly connected to both the Guerreros Unidos and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG for its Spanish acronym). Solano was arrested by the Mexican army in February 2021 and is currently incarcerated. On the far right of the photo is another alleged CJNG boss, Raymundo Isidro Castro, known as El Ray. Castro was arrested in the neighboring state of Puebla a little over three months after the photo was alleged to have been taken. Castro reportedly died during a prison riot in October of that same year.
Next to Blanco in the center of the image is Homero Figueroa, aka La Tripa. Figueroa is allegedly the boss of a little-known criminal group named Comando Tlahuica that operates primarily in Morelos. He remains at large.
The presumed date of the photo was around three weeks before the murder of Samir Flores, a prominent activist connected to several groups in Morelos involved in indigenous, land and environmental issues, including opposition to a federally planned thermoelectric plant in the state. Flores, 35, was murdered just days before a vote in the region to determine support for the project. His body was reportedly discovered along with a note signed by Comando Tlahuica taking credit for the murder.
The vote went on as planned, and the project was approved with nearly 60 percent support. Blanco has also publicly come out in support of the thermoelectric project.
The state government arrested one man in relation to Flores’s murder, but he has yet to go to trial. The arrest has been controversial because the accused was reportedly arrested in July 2020, but authorities did not announce it until October 2021. Relatives of Flores and members of the activist groups he participated in have expressed skepticism over the arrested man’s guilt.
Cuauhtémoc Blanco became state governor in October 2018. He'd previously served two years as the municipal president of the state capital of Cuernavaca.
Before entering politics, Blanco was one of the biggest soccer stars in Mexico's history. He represented the country's national team in international competition off-and-on for nearly 20 years and has scored the third most goals in Mexico's history. Blanco also starred for arguably Mexico's most renowned club—América—for 15 years before spending his final years jumping between local clubs, as well as a two-year stint for the Chicago Fire of the Major League Soccer (MLS) in the late 2000s.
Blanco became so well-known during his playing career that he appeared on the cover of the North American edition of the Fifa soccer video game in 2009. He returned to América for one final game in February 2016 to allow him to retire with his long-time club just as he was beginning his controversial jump into politics that same year.