Wife of “El Chapo” Pleads Guilty to Drug and Money Laundering Charges

06/14/2021 (written by rramos) – The U.S. Department of Justice announced on June 10 that Emma Coronel Aispuro, wife of jailed Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, pleaded guilty to several criminal charges related to drug trafficking and money laundering. The charges included conspiracy to distribute cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana in the United States; conspiracy to launder drug proceeds; and violating the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act by engaging in financial transactions and dealings with property belonging to Guzmán, who remains sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 

According to Anthony Nardozzi, the federal prosecutor handling the case, Coronel’s role in the Sinaloa Cartel also included delivering messages from her imprisoned husband to cartel operatives after Guzmán’s 2016 arrest, allowing him to remain involved in the group’s operations from behind bars. Additionally, Nardozzi stated that Coronel had collaborated with El Chapo’s sons to “plan and coordinate” attempts to help Guzmán escape from prison, including his successful 2015 breakout from Altiplano federal prison in Mexico. 

Coronel’s defense attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, told the Associated Press that his client did not plead guilty as part of a deal to cooperate with federal investigators, but instead was aiming to receive a shorter prison term when she is sentenced in September. Nevertheless, Mike Vigil, a former head of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) speculated that Coronel may ultimately decide to work with authorities in exchange for getting her 9-year-old twin daughters (fathered by Guzmán) and herself into some sort of witness-protection program in the United States. 

Source: Dana Verkouteren, Associated Press

U.S. Investigators Targeting Families of Sinaloa Cartel Leaders

Emma Coronel’s guilty plea comes as U.S. authorities continue to target close relatives of the Sinaloa Cartel’s leading figures. Within the family of “El Chapo” Guzmán, U.S. law enforcement agencies have steadily increased their attention on his sons, often referred to collectively as “Los Chapitos.” Two sons from his first wife, Jesús Alfredo and Iván Archivaldo Guzmán Salazar, are regarded as particularly important actors within the Sinaloa network. Jesús Alfredo has appeared on DEA’s most wanted list since 2018, while Iván Archivaldo remains sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department under the Kingpin Act for being identified as a “key Sinaloa Cartel operative.” Another two sons, Ovidio and Joaquín Guzmán López, both from El Chapo’s second marriage, were accused by U.S. prosecutors of participating in the cartel’s drug trafficking activities in an indictment unsealed in February 2019. U.S. investigators’ interest in Ovidio was illustrated by the failed operation to arrest him in Culiacán, Sinaloa in October 2019, an operation that reportedly originated from the aforementioned U.S. indictment against him earlier that year. 

Another Sinaloa Cartel kingpin whose family continues to be pursued by U.S. authorities is Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada García, who had been among El Chapo’s closest associates for many years. In April 2021, Ismael Zambada Imperial, known also by the criminal alias “Mayito Gordo,” pled guilty to drug trafficking charges in a federal court in San Diego. Along with Zambada Imperial, three other sons of El Mayo have also been in the crosshairs of U.S. investigators. Vicente “El Vicentillo” Zambada Niebla, who was a key witness in El Chapo’s criminal trial, and Serafin Zambada Ortiz have both been convicted of criminal charges in the United States, while Ismael Zambada Sicairos, known as “Mayito Flaco,” remains at large after being indicted in 2014. The U.S. Treasury Department has also reportedly sanctioned multiple companies established by El Mayo’s wife, Rosario Niebla Cardoza, and several of his daughters that U.S. authorities allege are used for laundering ill-gotten proceeds from cartel operations.  

Internal Disputes Continue to Rage On in Mexico

As the U.S. Government continues to go after the inner circles of the Sinaloa Cartel’s most prominent members, the organization itself remains engulfed in an internal conflict in which El Mayo and Los Chapitos are apparently competing for influence within the group. The dispute is playing out in a series of violent confrontations in some of the Sinaloa Cartel’s traditional strongholds in northwestern Mexico, such as Sonora, Sinaloa, and Durango. Intra-Sinaloa Cartel violence has been particularly acute in the strategically important border state of Baja California. The state’s capital city of Mexicali, which saw a marked increase in homicides throughout the early months of 2021, suffered additional clashes linked to infighting between El Mayo and Los Chapitos as recently as May 2021.

Although some observers have argued that Emma Coronel’s recent guilty plea paves the way for her to provide U.S. authorities with critical information regarding the inner workings of the Sinaloa Cartel, it is unclear if these insights (even if shared with investigators) will be able to help prevent further divisions within the organization once headed by her husband. 

Sources

“Jesús Alfredo Guzmán: Estados Unidos incluye al hijo de “El Chapo” en la lista de los 10 fugitivos más buscados.” BBC. September 14, 2018.  

Romo, Vanessa. “Sons Of ‘El Chapo’ Indicted On Drug Conspiracy Charge.” National Public Radio. February 21, 2019. 

McGinnis, Teagan. “The Capture and Release of Ovidio Guzmán in Culiacán, Sinaloa.” Justice in Mexico. November 5, 2019. 

“Forman 6 mujeres escudo financiero del ‘Mayo’” El Universal. June 24, 2020. 

“Los Chapitos.” InSight Crime. July 2, 2020. 

Gutiérrez González, Rodrigo. “Cuál es el verdadero papel de Ovidio Guzmán en el Cártel de Sinaloa?” La Silla Rota. October 15, 2020. 

Vela, David Saúl. “DEA busca a 9 líderes del narcotráfico en México, Caro Quintero es el número 1 de la lista.” El Financiero. November 23, 2020. 

“Las esposas que tuvo Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán.” El Tiempo. February 2, 2021. 

Castillo García, Gustavo. “Al alza, la disputa en estados del norte por trasiego de fentanilo.” La Jornada. March 14, 2021. 

Domínguez, Francisco. “De enero a marzo, Mexicali registra el mayor número de homicidios en 16 años.” Monitor Económico de Baja California. April 14, 2021. 

“Authorities Arrest ‘El Durango’, High-Ranking Sinaloa Cartel Member in Sonora.” Borderland Beat. April 21, 2021.

“Violento enfrentamiento entre sicarios y policías en la tierra del Mayo enciende las alarmas.” InfoBae. April 22, 2021. 

Davis, Kristina. “Son of Sinaloa Cartel kingpin pleads guilty in San Diego.” San Diego Union-Tribune. April 30, 2021. 

Thornton, Kelly. “Sinaloa Cartel Leader Convicted.” U.S. Department of Justice. April 30, 2021. 

“‘Los Mayos’ atacan Mexicali.” Zeta Tijuana. May 3, 2021. 

Cohn, Scott. “El Chapo’s wife, Emma Coronel, could hold the keys to dismantling the world’s most dangerous drug cartel.” CNBC. June 4, 2021. 

“Sanctions Pursuant To The Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.” U.S. Department of the Treasury. June 8, 2021. 16. 

“Emma Coronel Aispuro, wife of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, pleads guilty to helping run his criminal empire.” Chicago Tribune. June 10, 2021.

“Wife of “El Chapo” Pleads Guilty to Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering.” U.S. Department of Justice. June 10, 2021. 

Balsamo, Michael. “Wife of drug kingpin ‘El Chapo’ pleads guilty to US charges.” Associated Press. June 10, 2021. 

Hsu, Spencer S. “Wife of ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán pleads guilty to aiding husband’s drug-trafficking empire.” Washington Post. June 10, 2021. 

Tau, Byron & de Córdoba, José. “El Chapo’s Wife Emma Coronel Pleads Guilty to Helping Run Global Drug Cartel.” Wall Street Journal. June 10, 2021. 

Federal Authorities Arrest Military Officials for Past Violence

04/29/21 (written by scortez) – In two separate cases, military personnel have been arrested for their alleged involvement in past abductions and murders. On April 9, the Mexican Navy reported that they had turned over 30 marines to federal prosecutors for their alleged involvement in the 2018 string of forced disappearances in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. In another investigation, seven soldiers of the Mexican Army (Secretaría de Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) were arrested on April 1 for their involvement in the 2014 Tlatlaya massacre.

Marines patrolling the streets of Nuevo Laredo. Photo by: Dylan Clark.

In the 2018 case, it is alleged that the marines are responsible for the forced disappearances of 36 individuals, including at least five minors. The marines were part of an anti-crime operation in which they rounded up individuals suspected of being involved in organized crime. Ericka Janeth Castro, a witness to the case, recounted that the marines raided a party with gunfire and forcefully abducted several men, including her husband who was never seen again. This is just one of the 47 disappearances that had been carried out in 2018 by this group of marines. At the time, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, denounced the crimes as “horrific” and urged the federal government to investigate. It has been difficult for witnesses and family members to come forward because of their fear of retaliation from the military. According to Amnesty International, witnesses and family members of the disappeared have received threats, harassment, assaults, and abductions after filing complaints with the authorities. 

Not often seen, the Attorney General of Mexico (Fascalia General de la República, FGR) and Secretary of the Navy (Secretaría de Marina, SEMAR) collaborated to execute the arrest and detention of the 30 soldiers involved. The soldiers of the elite armed forces group known as the Center for Analysis, Intelligence, and Studies of Tamaulipas (Centro de Análisis, Inteligencia y Estudios de Tamaulipas, CAIET) were arrested on charges of carrying out acts that were contrary to their duties. This event is not an isolated incident in the group’s history. Since then, other marines of the same elite armed forces group have been arrested for violent crimes. In January 2021, 12 marines were arrested for the massacre of 19 migrants in Camargo, Tamaulipas. The CAIET marines have had a frequent capacity to act above the law in the state of Tamaulipas. 

Rearresting the Suspects behind the 2014 Tlatlaya Massacre

Just over a week before the 30 soldiers were detained in Nuevo Laredo, seven soldiers of the army were arrested on April 1 for their involvement in the 2014 massacre of 22 suspected kidnappers in Tlatlaya, State of Mexico (Estado de México, Edomex). The altercation began as a shootout between the suspects and soldiers that ended with the killing of the 22 suspects. Despite the fact that the suspects had already surrendered, the military executed the remaining eight individuals. In addition to the extrajudicial killings, the soldiers also tampered with the scene to conceal their involvement. 

Initially, the Mexican Army publicly denied the allegations that the soldiers executed the suspects and insisted that the victims were killed in the shoot out. After receiving public outcry, however, the army implemented the recommendations made by the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) in response to the human rights violations that had occurred. For example, in 2015, the involved officers were arrested, but were then quickly released after a federal judge ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to connect them to the crime. Rarely are armed forces held accountable in Mexico, a country with a notoriously high rate of impunity. Like prior presidents, the Peña Nieto Administration (2012-2018) was not known for holding the military responsible for crimes committed against civilians, as was the case with the Tlatlaya massacre. 

Nevertheless, in 2019, a court ordered that the soldiers be arrested again. It has taken the Mexican Army 16 months to turn them over to federal authorities. The Center for Human Rights Miguel Agustín Pro Juarez (Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez), which represents a woman whose daughter was killed in the massacre, confirmed that the soldiers had been arrested and the case against them remains open. In 2019, the human rights group said, “This ruling confirms what survivors and rights organizations have been saying for five years, that there were illegal executions…” The re-arrests are a step in the right direction towards imparting justice in the Tlatlaya massacre.

Learning from his Predecessors, AMLO Seeks Accountability

These arrests are part of continued efforts by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, to hold military personnel accountable for past crimes. These arrests are the most high-profile since January 2021 when members of the Mexican Army were arrested for their involvement in the 2014 Ayotzinapa disappearances. 

Since President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) launched the crackdown on the drug cartels in 2006, the army and the navy have played instrumental roles in carrying out the government’s security strategy. Yet this has not been without significant consequence to the protection of civilians’ human rights, as exemplified in the Nuevo Laredo and Tlatlaya cases. What more, the public security strategy across the presidential sexenios has failed to control the country’s notoriously high levels of crime and violence. Between 2006 and April 2021, 85,000 people disappeared in Mexico and in 2020 alone, there were over 34,000 victims of intentional homicide. 

In an effort to break with his predecessors, AMLO is working to slowly phase out the Mexican Army’s and Navy’s involvement in public security since he took office in December 2018. Under his leadership, the newly-formed National Guard (Guardia Nacional) is now charged with countering the cartels. The creation of the National Guard, however, was arguably just a rebranding strategy that put the military and police under a different name. It has been over three years since the 2018 Nuevo Laredo disappearances, and over seven years since the Tlatlaya massacre occurred. The AMLO administration’s arrests and re-arrests of suspected military officials in the two cases are an important step forward. 

Sources

“Mexico: Authorities’ claims of progress on disappearances in Nuevo Laredo ring hollow.” Amnesty International. July 31, 2018.

Stevenson, Mark. “Mexican court orders soldiers re-arrested in army massacre.” Associated Press. October 17, 2019.

Ferri, Pablo. “El Ejército mexicano detiene de nuevo a los militares implicados en el ‘caso Tlatlaya’.” El País. April 2, 2021.

“Búsqueda e Identificación de Personas Desaparecidas.” Subsecretaría de Derechos Humanos, Población y Migración. April 8, 2021.

“Mexico’s navy turns over 30 marines in disappearances cases.” Washington Post. April 12, 2021.

“Mexico arrests 30 marines over disappearances in Tamaulipas.” BBC News. April 13, 2021.

Pradilla, Alberto. “Víctimas esperaron tres años por la detención de 30 marinos señalados por desapariciones.” Animal Político. April 13, 2021.

“Mexico charges 30 marines over forced disappearances in border city.” Reuters. April 15, 2021.

Mosso, Rubén. “FGR califica de ejemplar la colaboración de Ojeda Durán para detener a 30 de Marina.” Milenio. April 15, 2021.

Senate approves new Organic Law of the National Prosecutor’s Office

04/22/21 (written by tmcginnis) – According to Reforma, in a nearly unanimous vote, the Mexican Senate approved a new Organic Law (Ley Orgánica) for the National Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) on March 17. Now under discussion in the Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados), experts from primer think tanks, like México Evalúa, argue that there are presently no evidence-based arguments regarding the issuance of the new law, especially because the National Prosecutor, Alejandro Gertz Manero, has not complied with the current regulatory framework.

While the current law broadly sought to create an autonomous prosecutor’s office and guarantee the guarding of essential human rights, the new regulations favor the investigation of individual crimes and not broader criminal trends, the limitation of victims’ rights, as well as the centralization of investigative control in the hands of the Prosecutor. Essentially, the new Organic Law perpetuates the organizational model of the former Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR), an agency that was characterized by inefficiency and ineffectiveness. During a México Evalúa online forum entitled “¿Necesita la FGR una nueva Ley Orgánica?” (author’s translation: “Does the FGR need a new Organic Law?”), the panelists discussed the fact that the principal aspects of the current regulatory framework, such as an a Citizen Advisory Council, transition units, career training, and professional service centers were never installed. Furthermore, the Criminal Prosecution Plan (Plan de Persecución Penal), which outlines the types of cases the FGR will prioritize during investigations, prosecutions, litigation stages, etc., and recognizes the FGR’s various temporal goals, was never presented. As noted by a México Evalúa analysis, the current situation reflects a dangerous exercise of Gatopardismo — a strategy that purports to introduce radical reform, while in practice making only superficial changes. In essence, it is a paradox that encompasses the idea of changing everything so that, in effect, nothing changes.

Whether or not Gertz’s performance has hampered the development of an effective and autonomous FGR, it remains critically important to evaluate what can be learned from the current situation and what requires adjustment. According to México Evalúa, while the 2014 constitutional reforms to create a new FGR provided an important opportunity to reinvent federal criminal investigations and prosecutions, good intentions and model legislation were evidently not sufficient to achieve better outcomes. An analysis from México Evalúa pointed out that true bureaucratic transformation of an agency like the PGR requires a strong commitment to redesigning institutions, as well as a clear implementation strategy to define short, medium, and long-term courses of action and resource allocation. This, in turn, requires strong political will and specific measures to ensure that the implementation plan cannot be easily disrupted.

Furthermore, while most attention on prosecutorial reform has focused on the federal level, the transition processes of the 32 state prosecutors’ offices have been often ignored. According to analysts at México Evalúa, this is a critical error because these entities are presently responsible for handling the vast majority of crimes of that occur throughout the country. Thus, in order to truly understand the scope and results of any regulatory framework of the aforementioned nature, states require punctual follow-ups.

Transition to Autonomous State Prosecutors’ Offices. Source: México Evalúa.

Forecasting possible next steps in this process, given that sitting President Andres Manuel López Obrador and his (Movimiento de Renovación Nacional, MORENA) party have a strong legislative majority, it seems likely that the Chamber of Deputies will pass the law without substantive changes. However, according to El Economista, bodies like the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (La Oficina del Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos, ONU-DH) have encouraged the Chamber of Deputies to carry out a process of discussion in open parliament. Over Twitter, the international organization highlighted that the reforms of the FGR remain of great importance to many diverse sectors of Mexican society, and that the victims of crime should be heard before proceeding with any decision.

Sources

El Universal. “FGR no necesita una nueva ley; no ha cumplido con la que ahora tiene, critican.” El Universal. March 23, 2021.

Herrera, Rolando. “Ven regresiva nueva Ley Orgánica de la FGR.” Reforma. March 23, 2021.

López, Mayolo. “Aprueba Senado nueva Ley Orgánica de FGR.” Reforma. March 17, 2021.

México Evalúa. “¿Necesita la FGR una Ley Orgánica?” YouTube. March 23, 2021.

Pérez, Maritza. “Llaman a abrir debate por ley de la FGR.” El Economista. April 5, 2021.

Rosales, Crístel. “La nueva FGR se apunta al gatopardismo radical.” México Evalúa. March 18, 2021.

RT. “El Senado de México aprueba una nueva ley de la Fiscalía General: ¿cuáles son los cambios más importantes?” RT. March 18, 2021.

Conversations between Mexico and the United States Signal Changes on Cooperation

Photos: Cuartoscuro and AFP

03/18/21 (written by scortez) – On March 1, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, nicknamed AMLO, met virtually with U.S. President Joe Biden to discuss cooperation on several key issues. Among them was immigration, which along with drug trafficking, AMLO had also discussed the day prior to with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. These conversations highlight a greater move by both administrations to cooperate on such pressing issues. 

A Gradual Shift Away From Trump-Era Policies

The bilateral meeting represents a shift in cooperation between the two countries around the issue of immigration. The Biden Administration has already made several key changes in the United States’ approach to immigration since taking office in January 2021. For example, after the meeting between AMLO and President Biden, the United States committed $4 billion in aid to development projects in Central America to quell the overwhelming migration flow that is impacting both countries. In February, the Biden Administration also ended the Trump-era policy of “Remain in Mexico” and restored the asylum system process that had existed for decades. At the U.S. border asylum seekers are now beginning to be processed and admitted into the country after waiting in Mexico. Previously, human rights groups had criticized the “Remain in Mexico” as subjecting asylum seekers to further brutality as they waited for entrance into the United States. The Biden Administration is also supporting a bill that will grant temporary legal status to 11 million undocumented immigrants already living in the United States. The proposal would provide a pathway to citizenship to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) as well as other temporary programs. As well as, restoring and expanding programs for refugee and asylum seekers that the Trump Administration effectively tried to prevent from entering. 

On the other hand, as reported by the New York Times, the Biden Administration has kept other Trump policies that empower the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents to rapidly expel new arrivals at the borders. Additionally, the U.S. Congress weighed in when it drafted a letter urging the Biden Administration to take on a bilateral agenda that focused on the protection of migrants, citizen security, and human rights. The letter reintroduces the conditions that asylum seekers hope to escape abhorrent conditions only to face new difficulties awaiting the status of their application. Recently, Human Rights Watch released a report chronicling the experience of asylum seekers left abandoned in Mexico who have become victims of extortion and kidnappings by Mexican authorities and criminal groups. The HRW report states that under the Remain in Mexico policy, there have been 1,100 reported cases of murder, rape, kidnapping, torture, and assault of asylum seekers while waiting at the border. Elected officials and advocacy groups like Human Rights Watch continue to put pressure on the Biden Administration to improve the conditions for migrants along the Southern Border.

Officials Reexamine Cooperation on Narcotrafficking

Most recently, officials from both countries discussed key aspects of their cooperation on narcotrafficking. Mexico has already enacted changes to the cooperation with the United States on counternarcotics by revoking the diplomatic immunity of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents after it was discovered that they were using shared intelligence to arrest Ex-Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos without alerting Mexican officials. This event was seen by both sides as hampering their cooperation efforts on the ever urgent issue. 

As Bloomberg reports, the senior director of the Western Hemisphere on the National Security Council, Juan González, commented in early March on a call between officials regarding the tactics used to combat organized crime groups. González noted that in recent years, the tactics employed have not produced the results that both sides were seeking. He urged for new tactics to be adopted González did not specify which tactics in question, but he did add that aspects of the bilateral Merida Initiative do not adequately address other issues, like money laundering, cracking down on the production and distribution of precursor chemicals, and China’s role in fentanyl through Mexico. What more, Mexican officials have been pushing to include tactics to quell arms trafficking from the United States, which has played an important role in fueling the unprecedented levels of violence in Mexico. 

In 2020, the United Nations released a report that showed the unprecedented number of arms being trafficked from the United States to Mexico. According to the report, at the U.S.-Mexico border, traffickers pushed through small arms in fewer quantities, which account for 60 to 70 percent of all arms seized in 2016-17. This is in contrast to the worldwide flow of arms trafficking which was at a higher number of quantities in that same year. It is suspected that this form of “ant-trafficking” is a method to avoid seizures at the border. Under the current initiative, there is no coordination to counter this method of trafficking across the border into Mexico. To read more on the U.N.’s report, click here

These conversations mark a shift in direction from previous years for bilateral cooperation on the most urgent issues facing the two countries. AMLO and Biden have both agreed that the overwhelming number of migrants at the border needs to be controlled. While the conversations have yet to materialize into tangible bilateral agreements, they foreshadow a different direction the two countries will take on mitigating migration and narcotrafficking. 

Sources

“Global Study on Firearms Trafficking in 2020.” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 2020. 

“Like I’m Drowning.” Human Rights Watch. January 6,2021. 

Shear, Michael D. “Biden to Announce Broad Plan to Reverse Trump Immigration Plan.” New York Times. February 18, 2021. 

Spagat, Elliot. “US unwinds Trump policy making asylum-seekers wait in Mexico.” Associated Press. February 19, 2021. 

Stevenson, Mark. “Biden tries to reset relationship with Mexican president.”Washington Post. March 1, 2021. 

Haldenwang, Max De. “U.S. Tells Mexico Drug War’s Failure Requires New Strategy.” Bloomberg. March 3, 2021. 

“Congresistas de EU piden a Blinken trabajar con México atención a migrantes.” Animal Político. March 4, 2021. 

Kanno-Youngs, Zolan. “Biden Seeks Help on Border From Mexican President.” New York Times. March 4, 2021. 

“Migrantes solicitantes de asilo en EU son abandonados en México y sufren violaciones de sus derechos.” Animal Político. March 5, 2021. 

Prosecutorial Reform in Mexico: Assessing the Progress of the National Prosecutor’s Office

Source: Gobierno de México

03/16/21 (written by tmcginnis) – Two years after the creation of the National Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR), what is the status of prosecutorial reform in Mexico?

Context

In 2014, Mexico passed constitutional reforms to create a new and improved National Prosecutor’s Office (FGR), emphasizing autonomy from the executive branch. The reforms highlighted the need to replace the Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) with a new body to combat issues of inefficiency and ineffectiveness. Formalized on January 18, 2019, in what a Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) report described as “an accelerated process without civil society participation or a true assessment of the candidates,” Mexican Congress, specifically the Senate, chose Alejandro Gertz Manero to assume the role of the first national prosecutor, a position he will hold for nine years. Therefore, given that this new institution is still in its infancy, it remains critically important to evaluate the progress that has been made over the last two years.

Source: México Evalúa, ENVIPE.

Broader demand for an autonomous National Prosecutor’s Office (FGR) can be understood through some rather notable figures. For example, according to INEGI (The National Institute of Statistics and Geography) data cited in a 2019 report by México Evalúa, one of Mexico’s premier think tanks, 93.2% of crimes went unreported or uninvestigated (cifra negra) in 2017 —  that is to say, just over nine out of ten crimes that occurred in the country were not investigated by law enforcement institutions (see figure on the right). The creation of the FGR constitutes one of the most difficult challenges for the transformation of Mexico’s criminal justice system since the 2008 constitutional law reforms on security and justice. The recent prosecutorial reforms attempt to ensure[1]  that the first national prosecutor, working in tandem with special prosecutors for investigating electoral crimes, human rights violations, corruption cases, etc., function independently of the president and his inner circle, and possess the necessary experiences and capabilities to thoroughly investigate the aforementioned offenses. Correspondingly, given these aims, there have been points of both progress and concern.

Analysis

Initial Perceived Progress

Though recent consensus indicates that the FGR has not achieved its full potential, the “implementing law” of the FGR encouraged a sense of hope and initial perceived progress among Mexican citizens longing for robust accountability mechanisms and oversight, particularly civil oversight. The requirements included the presentation of a Criminal Prosecution Plan (Plan de Persecución Penal). This document outlines the types of cases the FGR will prioritize during investigations, prosecutions, litigation stages, etc., and recognizes the FGR’s various temporal goals. According to a 2020 WOLA report, the plan should essentially “allow observers to analyze whether or not the FGR’s investigative priorities are based on objective data and criminal analysis.”

The implementing law also discusses the creation of a Citizen Council for the FGR. The Citizen Council is a civilian-oriented body charged with offering insights and recommendations regarding the FGR’s performance. Though these judgments are non-binding, the national prosecutor must at least respond to them in some capacity, emphasizing the role of civil society and generating a mechanism of accountability for the national prosecutor. According to the implementing law, members of the Council must be identified within 30 business days after the appointment of the national prosecutor. As stated before, Gertz was appointed on January 18, marking a deadline of March 1, 2019. However, as of August 2020, the Senate still has not indicated its preferences for the five members who will comprise this important body.

Other structural and functional changes that initially sparked hope for progress include specialized prosecutors’ offices, which are meant to increase efficiency. The law additionally states that the nomination process for special prosecutors should be transparent, merit-based, and inclusive of civilian participation. Other requirements include a new investigative framework based on criminal patterns and trends instead of isolated cases; “mixed units” as an acknowledgment of the complexity of various crimes; and the authority of the FGR to assert jurisdiction over certain state-level investigations if ineffectiveness is observed.

Current Concerns

Source: El País

Gertz’s Performance

Though a principal goal of the transition to the FGR remains grounded in generating a sense of autonomy from the executive branch, the choice of Alejandro Gertz Manero as the country’s first national prosecutor appears somewhat contradictory, as noted by Americas Quarterly. Gertz served as President Andres Manuel López Obrador’s security advisor throughout his presidential campaign, setting a dangerous precedent for the young institution’s future. Furthermore, over the past 18 months, National Prosecutor Gertz has struggled to realize the most essential components of his mandate. He has illegally appointed special prosecutors, limited opportunities for citizen participation, and announced certain reform efforts that some view as “inherently incompatible” with the spirit of Mexico’s oral adversarial criminal justice system. According to El Economista, Gertz appears distant, failing to meet with civil society organizations and selectively privileging high-profile cases. Furthermore, as detailed by Animal Político, NGOs, such as the Foundation for Justice and the Democratic State of Mexico (FJEDD), which participates in the #FiscalíaQueSirve (author’s translation: “Prosecutor’s Office that Serves”) collective, warn that Gertz’s Criminal Prosecution Plan fails to comply with legal procedures.

WOLA reports that Gertz’s Criminal Prosecution Plan presents many concerns and violations with respect to the implementing law. Firstly, proposals have not been supported by objective data and ignore the new investigative model based on greater criminal phenomena and trends, privileging the old and inefficient method of investigating based exclusively on the type of crime. In looking at the factors that influence institutional performance, many important elements remain excluded, such as analyzing the factors that hinder victims’ abilities to participate in the investigation of their respective cases. Additionally, crimes that have some of the most detrimental consequences for Mexican society, such as femicide, remain absent from the FGR’s priorities. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, in identifying the FGR’s strengths and weaknesses, the plan describes the implementing law as a weakness. Paradoxically, it is described as “incompatible with the FGR’s fiscal and investigative functions,” even though the implementing law is, itself, the document that legally mandates the institution’s fiscal and investigative responsibilities.

Source: México Evalúa, ENVIPE.

General Concerns

Outside of Gertz’s performance, several other elements generate concern about the FGR’s ability to transform into an effective institution and set important precedents early on. One of the most prominent elements centers around budgetary concerns. According to a México Evalúa analysis, data from 2019 elucidate that fewer resources were allocated for the transition to the FGR than for the maintenance of the operational structures of the PGR. This finding is also mirrored by a more comprehensive 2019 México Evalúa report. As noted by the Mexican think tank, in 2019, the FGR’s budget remained smaller than any other budget the PGR had been presented with since 2008. Furthermore, as stated by WOLA, “while the FGR was allocated a 14.5 percent budget increase in 2020,” adding up to a little over $13 billion pesos, which is still one the lowest budgets since 2011 (see figure on the right). Furthermore, only 0.11% of the budget has been allotted to the transitional body charged with outlining the PGR-FGR transformation in a manner that is in accordance with the implementing law.

Moving forward, it will remain critically important to continue to evaluate the National Prosecutor’s Office’s performance. Its infancy marks a critical juncture in which important precedents can and will be set. Thus, in order to achieve the independent, rights-respecting institution the public hoped for, emphasis should be placed on initiatives, such as increasing civil society participation in the final stages of the Criminal Prosecution Plan, especially considering the absence of the Citizen Council.

Sources

Angel, Arturo. “Senado revisa plan anticrimen del fiscal Gertz; ONG advierten que es ilegal.” Animal Político. February 10, 2020.

Indacochea, Úrsula, Maureen Meyer. “The Implementing Law of Mexico`s National Prosecutor’s Office: Progress and Pending Issues.” Washington Office on Latin America and Due Process of Law Foundation. March 2019.

Jaime, Edna, María Novoa, Carlos De la Rosa Xochitiotzi, Chrístel Rosales Vargas, Monserrat López Pérez, Janet Kuri, et al. De PGR a FGR: Lineamientos hacia la Transición. México Evalúa. 2019.

Jaime, Edna, María Novoa, Carlos De la Rosa Xochitiotzi, Crístel Rosales Vargas, Monserrrat López Pérez, Miguel Emilio La Rota Uprimny, Pablo García, et al. “De PGR a FGR: Observatorio de la transición 2019.” México Evalúa. 2019.

Rosales, Chrístel. “La Fiscalía busca un refugio para su ineficiencia.” México Evalúa. March 12, 2020.

Sánchez Mercado, Andrea. “El rumbo de la Fiscalía General está escrito en el Presupuesto.” México Evalúa. December 30, 2020.

Velázquez, Marisol. “ONGs piden a la FGR participar en Plan de Persecución Penal.” El Economista. November 4, 2019.

Washington Office on Latin America. “Where Does Mexico Stand in Its Fight Against Impunity? New Autonomous National Prosecutor’s Office Has Yet to Realize its Potential.” Washington Office on Latin America and Due Process of Law Foundation. August 2020.

Witte, Eric A. “Why AMLO’s Security Plan Is Just More of the Same.” Americas Quarterly. February 7, 2019.