01/26/21 (written by rramos) — On January 14, Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) announced in a press release that it would not prosecute General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, the country’s former defense minister who had been accused by authorities in the United States of collusion with drug trafficking organizations. In absolving the retired Army general of the allegations, the FGR affirmed that Cienfuegos never had any contact with members of the criminal organization that U.S. authorities had cited in court documents related to his October 2020 arrest, nor did he ever carry out any action aimed at protecting or helping said individuals. The FGR also stated that an analysis of Cienfuegos’s financial records did not reveal any discrepancies or indications of illegal income. This comes after U.S. prosecutors unexpectedly dropped all drug trafficking and money laundering charges against Cienfuegos and returned him to Mexican custody for further investigation in November 2020. The arrest of Cienfuegos by U.S. authorities a month prior was reported to have outraged Mexican officials, including President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, purportedly because the U.S. had never informed them about the investigation being conducted against the former general.
In reaction to the announcement that the Mexican government would not pursue prosecution, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said it was “deeply disappointed” and added that it “fully stands by its investigation and charges in this matter”. U.S. officials also sharply criticized a move by Mexico’s Foreign Ministry (Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, SRE) to publish 751 pages of evidence against Cienfuegos that U.S. authorities had collected and subsequently shared with Mexican counterparts. A spokesperson for DOJ stated that the SRE’s public release of investigative documents, apparently done on President López Obrador’s instructions, “violates the Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance between Mexico and the United States, and calls into question whether the United States can continue to share information to support Mexico’s own criminal investigations.”
President López Obrador seemed to shrug off the heated U.S. response at a January 18 press conference, in which he slammed the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigation into Cienfuegos’s alleged ties to organized crime. Asserting that the evidence against Cienfuegos was fraught with “contradictions” and “errors,” President López Obrador argued that documentation provided by DEA did not prove any of the U.S. accusations because it relied too heavily on “screenshots” and written messages with spelling errors that could not be attributed to the former defense minister. At another press conference days later, the president again alleged that the DEA had “fabricated” evidence against Cienfuegos, a claim he had reiterated several times since the FGR announced it would not move forward with criminal charges.
Military’s Continued Clout over Corruption Probes
The swiftness in clearing Cienfuegos of the allegations against him has raised fresh concerns about the enduring ability of Mexico’s military to influence the fight against corruption. Speaking to InSight Crime, Siria Gastelum of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime noted that the speed at which Mexican authorities were able to exonerate Cienfuegos would inevitably cast doubt on the government’s capability and willingness to properly investigate accusations of wrongdoing within the military. Indeed, at the time of the U.S. decision to drop charges against Cienfuegos in November 2020, observers in both Mexico and the United States expressed worries that the political weight of the Armed Forces would ultimately allow a high-ranking military official like Cienfuegos to escape persecution. Catalina Pérez Correa, a criminal law professor affiliated with the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, CIDE) think tank, predicted that the former defense minister would not face charges upon his return to Mexico, citing the military’s ever-increasing influence within the government and long record of impunity. Mike Vigil, a former chief of foreign operations for the DEA, agreed, telling the Los Angeles Times that Cienfuegos’s “chances of being prosecuted in Mexico [were] slim to none.”
It was widely reported that the López Obrador administration’s vigorous efforts to have Cienfuegos returned from U.S. custody and the subsequent decision to quickly clear him of all charges were the result of strong pressure from the military. This suggests that the Armed Forces will continue to be in a position to impede genuine investigations into other high-profile cases of alleged military corruption, such as the 2014 disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa and the killing of civilians in Tlatlaya that same year, both of which occurred during Cienfuegos’s tenure as defense minister.
Uncertain Future for U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation
The ongoing fallout from the Cienfuegos case may have wide-ranging implications for security cooperation between Mexico and the United States moving forward. Arguably the most important and immediate challenge to bilateral security ties is the recently passed reform to Mexico’s National Security Law that was largely the result of Mexican anger over the United States’ unilateral decision to arrest Cienfuegos. The reform severely restricts the ability of foreign law enforcement officers, including U.S. DEA agents deployed in Mexico, to operate within the country by imposing strict authorization requirements for meetings with contacts in Mexican law enforcement. In addition, it requires them to share “any and all security-related intelligence” with Mexican officials. Notably, the new law also eliminates diplomatic immunity for foreign agents, leaving them vulnerable to prosecution if they fail to abide by the new regulations.
When combined with these new operational restrictions, the Mexican Foreign Ministry’s aforementioned publication of investigative materials provided by the DEA regarding Cienfuegos’s alleged links to criminal groups may significantly lessen the willingness of the United States to continue exchanging intelligence with Mexico. This would represent a serious deterioration in bilateral security cooperation, in which information-sharing has long been a central pillar.
At the center of the uncertainty regarding the future of U.S.-Mexico security ties is a fundamental breakdown in mutual trust. The decision by the López Obrador administration to push for new restrictions on DEA agents in Mexico even after the U.S. had dropped charges against Cienfuegos was viewed by Washington as a duplicitous act. The subsequent hasty exoneration of Cienfuegos, the release of DEA documents, and persistent accusations of fabricating evidence have only compounded the strains in the bilateral relationship. Both countries can take concrete steps to begin to rebuild confidence and ease the tension that has arisen from the ongoing Cienfuegos saga. Such measures will be crucial to security on both sides of the border given the transnational nature of threats facing the two countries.
01/11/21 (written by tmcginnis) — The National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, MORENA), President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) ruling party, passed a new law that curbs the role of foreign law enforcement agents operating within the country. This legislation calls into question the durability of the U.S.-Mexico bilateral efforts to combat the presence of powerful organized crime groups (OCG) exercising significant control over the Mexican state.
Understanding the Legislation
As reported by InSight Crime, the law and subsequent reforms, approved on December 9 and 15 by the Senate and Congress respectively, strip diplomatic immunity from foreign officials, necessitate that foreign officials secure permits from the Defense Ministry (Secretaría de Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) to carry firearms, and require the aforementioned officials to share any and all security-related intelligence gathered while in Mexico with their proper Mexican counterparts. Concerning information exchanges, Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at Brookings’ Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology, further details that both Mexican officials and law enforcement officers, whether it be at the local, state, or federal level, must report all communication with foreign law enforcement, intelligence agents, etc. within three days of the initial occurrence. Furthermore, meetings with foreign agents must obtain prior approval from high-ranking federal officials and require the presence of a member of the Mexican Foreign Ministry (Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, SRE).
Possible Initial Impetus
Although the legislation does not overtly single out agents or officials from any particular country, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which has maintained a strong operating presence in Mexico since the 1970s, will likely constitute one of the most impacted actors. According to Proceso, President AMLO put forth an initial proposal to regulate foreign officials in early December. As El Universal notes, this opening push came seemingly as a result of the arrest of Mexico’s former defense minister, Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, which occurred in October of 2020. Cienfuegos was arrested by DEA agents on U.S. soil on October 15 for alleged connections with drug trafficking and organized crime. At the time, El Universal reported that Mexican officials were unaware of the United States’ plans to arrest Cienfuegos. In fact, InSight Crime reports that Mexican officials had no knowledge of the multi-year investigation or the indictment filed in August of 2019. Furthermore, seeing that Cienfuegos represents the first senior Mexican military official to face arrest in the United States in connection to organized crime groups and drug trafficking, these gaps in intelligence simply compounded the existing shockwaves.
In attempting to rectify what Rita Kukertz of Justice in Mexico deems the “breach of trust” caused by the discrepancy in intelligence, the United States, in a move clearly breaking with decades of international law enforcement procedures and practices, dropped the charges and allowed Cienfuegos to return to Mexico. However, according to Brookings, this unprecedented action was predicated on the “premise of a bargain” to not expel U.S. law enforcement officials and agents from Mexico — a move the Mexican government had threatened in the past. Thus, the new law may be seen as a “double-cross” from Mexico, in that its significance or “practical impact” remains similar to expulsion. “Essentially, the law paralyzes Mexico’s cooperation with international law enforcement counterparts and eviscerates any remaining trust and meaningful law enforcement cooperation between the United States and Mexico,” writes Vanda Felbab-Brown of Brookings.
U.S. agencies have long engaged in joint operations with their Mexican counterparts to combat organized crime groups. Unfortunately, these efforts, working in tandem with billions of dollars in U.S. assistance, have not always achieved the desired outcomes and have, at times, resulted in serious missteps by the United States, as in the case of Cienfuegos or the 2011 attack on Allende by the Zetas cartel. However, it remains of critical importance to highlight that U.S. intelligence-gathering operations have been instrumental in arresting, prosecuting, and convicting high-profile individuals, such as Joaquín Guzmán Loera (“El Chapo”), the former Sinaloa Cartel kingpin. Thus, the security reforms have raised concerns for several actors. For example, in a formal statement, former U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr expressed that the United States is “troubled by legislation currently before the Mexican Congress.” He continued, arguing that the “passage of this legislation can only benefit the violent transnational criminal organizations and other criminals that we are jointly fighting.”
In assessing the principal impacts, a substantial amount of information sharing and intelligence gathering occurs at lower levels through potential informants and cooperative witnesses. However, actors like the DEA, who are now restricted and vulnerable to prosecution in Mexico, will be less willing to put themselves in danger to acquire and relay mutually beneficial intelligence. As detailed by Cecilia Farfán-Méndez, the Head of Security Research Programs at the University of California, San Diego’s Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, with little incentive to engage in those conversations or coordinate exchanges, crucial information channels will begin to dwindle and wane, eventually drying up the evidentiary ammunition previously used to disrupt organized crime operations. Furthermore, as noted by Brookings, with the previously discussed condition necessitating the presence of a member of the Mexican Foreign Ministry during meetings with foreign agents, the ability to secure the attendance of a Foreign Relations official in an urgent time frame or complicated location (e.g. deep in Guerrero, Jalisco, etc.) could be rather unfeasible.
President López Obrador’s Motivations
Though a previous section discusses the arrest of Cienfuegos as a possible impetus for the law, one can also think of it more as a tipping point. President AMLO has several possible and more complicated motivations in pursuing such legislation. Firstly, and arguably most directly, AMLO faced pressure from the Mexican military to prevent further investigations and shockwaves, akin to what was witnessed regarding General Cienfuegos. AMLO has additionally privileged the presence of the Mexican military, SEDENA, in many traditionally civilian-run operations, such as the construction of airports, repairs of hospitals, etc. Analysts continue to raise concerns about the Mexican military’s ever-expanding power and influence.
Second, the president could be utilizing the legislation as a “bargaining chip.” AMLO still has to sign off on the law in order for it to reach formal implementation. However, if he delays signing, he could possibly generate leverage to hinder the U.S.’ incoming Biden Administration’s initiatives that will likely be controversial in the context of bilateral relations, such as energy reform and the mitigation of climate change.
Though the impact of this legislation on the U.S.-Mexico bilateral effort to combat organized crime is rather apparent, AMLO should remain wary of the possible unintended consequences as well. Brookings notes that by restricting the operations of U.S. law enforcement, this includes those U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials in Mexico who authorize the preclearance of cargo. Their limited presence will lead to a bottleneck of trucks waiting for inspection, creating issues in the supply chain and putting significant revenue, such as produce, at risk.
12/02/20 (written by vrice)— Florisel Ríos Delfín, Mayor of Veracruz’s Jamapa municipality, was kidnapped from her home late on November 10, 2020 by ten armed men. The mayor was found dead early the next morning in a rural area of Medellín de Bravo, a neighboring municipality. Police speculate that an organized criminal group was behind the attack. In Mexico, such violence against local mayors, former mayors, mayoral candidates, and alternate mayors has become increasingly frequent. Justice in Mexico’s (JIM) Laura Calderón argues that this violence threatens the democratic process and undermines rule of law.
A Disarmed Police Force and Accusations of Corruption
Ríos is the second female mayor murdered during the term of Cuitláhuac García Jiménez, current governor of Veracruz. Maricela Vallejo, the mayor of Veracruz’s Mixtla de Altamirano municipality, was murdered in April 2019 alongside her husband and driver. The Saturday before her murder, Mayor Ríos attended a meeting with all the other municipal presidents of Veracruz affiliated with the Revolutionary Democratic Party (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD). At the meeting, the mayor expressed feelings of being in danger and asked for help. In her last interview before the murder, she voiced similar sentiments of fearing for her life, which she attributed to the disarmament of local police and a municipal budget that was insufficient to pay for personal security. Veracruz Government Secretary Éric Cisneros Burgos had ordered for Jamapa police to be disarmed shortly before Ríos was killed because the majority of officers had been using firearms that were not registered and approved by the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA). Therefore, the officers had been using the weapons illegally. In the week before her murder, Ríos met with Secretary Cisneros to request that she and her family receive state protection. Cisneros denied the request.
Since she took office in 2018, Ríos’ term was marred by various scandals. Last July, the Captain of the Jamapa Municipal Police, Miguel de Jesús Castillo, accused the mayor of being involved in the disappearance of citizens. The Captain was later murdered and dismembered by what police suspect to be a criminal organization. Then, in January of this year, the Jamapa municipal palace was occupied for various months by protesters who demanded that dismissed workers be rehired. The occupiers also filed eight complaints with the Veracruz State Attorney General (Fiscalía General del Estado, FGE) against Ríos and other Jamapa government officials for mismanagement. Then, early this November, Ríos’ husband, Fernando Hernández Terán, now ex-president of Jamapa’s National System for Integral Family Development (Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, DIF), was accused of diverting public funds. After the Veracruz FGE ordered for his arrest, Hernández went into hiding, where he remained at the time of Mayor Ríos’ murder.
In his daily morning press conference on November 12, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) mourned Mayor Ríos’ death and said that his administration has been attentive to the ongoing investigation. Local Jamapa politicians and leaders of the PRD, the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN), and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) also lamented Ríos’death. Veracruz PAN Senator Indira Rosales requested that Governor García clarify the circumstances of the murder and sanction those responsible. Leaders like Citlali Medellín Careaga (PRI mayor of Tamihua) and Viridiana Bretón Feito (PAN mayor of Ixhuatlán del Café) denounced and demanded justice for Rios’ murder. Via Twitter, Jesús Zambrano Grijalva, National President of the PRD, used the anti-femicide #NiUnaMenos hashtag to condemn Ríos’ murder and criticize Governor García’s administration.
Additionally, Ángel Ávila, the PRD representative in the National Electoral Institute (Instituto Nacional Electoral, INE) took to social media to say that the Governor and Secretary Cisneros should stop threatening the PRD and instead “get to work.” Ávila also denounced Veracruz as a state that “doesn’t have a government.” For his part, the Governor released a video on Twitter sharing that his administration had requested for the FGE to accelerate investigation into Ríos’ death. The Veracruz Secreatariat of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP) shared via Twitterthat air and ground surveillance operations had been launched in Jamapa and the surrounding area to investigate and find those culpable for the mayor’s murder. From his unknown location, Ríos’ husband published a Facebook message mourning his wife’s death and attributing unsafe conditions in Mexico to rampant organized crime.
On November 16, Jamapa municipal employees along with dozens of citizens protested in the streets to demand justice for the mayor’s murder. Ríos’ children were also in attendance, including her daughter Yzayana Hernández Ríos, who has since taken over presidency of Jamapa’s DIF since her father’s removal. Yzayana said that she feared for the lives of herself and her siblings and reproached statements by Governor García, which she said blamed the Mayor for her own murder. Ríos’ daughter Yzayana also stated, “My mother was a very hardworking and honest woman, who day to day fought to improve this municipality” and accused Governor García of “re-victimizing” her mother.
The Assassination: An Exception or Endemic?
Thus far in 2020, four municipal public servants have been murdered. This violence is part of a larger pattern, exemplified in data from the National Association of Mayors (La Asociación Nacional de Alcaldes, ANAC), which found that 158 Mexican mayors were murdered from 2006-2019. Justice in Mexico’s research has documented the intentional homicide of at least 264 local politicians from 2002-2019, 98 of whom were murdered just from 2015-2019. While JIM’s analysis revealed a 26% decrease in the number of victims from 2018 to 2019, this past year of 2019 was the most violent for ex mayors, who accounted for 15 of the 25 total murders.
The killing of Mayor Ríos is consistent with other data Justice in Mexico has collected regarding violent conditions in Veracruz and the political affiliation of murdered mayors, former mayors, mayoral candidates, and alternate mayors. While significantly behind the PRI with 89 victims, those affiliated with the PRD—Mayor Ríos’ party—were murdered at the second highest rates of any party, with 40 victims from 2002-2019. Moreover, Justice in Mexico found that during this period, Veracruz reported the fourth highest murder rate of for the aformentioned local politicians. In 2019, Veracruz also recorded the second most murders of mayors, former mayors, mayoral candidates, and alternate mayors (3) nationwide, the highest number of femicides (157) and of officially reported kidnappings (298), and the fourth most cases of extortion (560).
Justice in Mexico’s research has revealed the unique vulnerability of local politicians in Mexico. In 2019, it was revealed that Mexican mayors were 13 times more likely to be assassinated than the general public. The murder rate for mayors was 3.25 per 1,000 mayors, versus 0.24 per every 1,000 citizens amongst the general public. In a working paper by JIM’s Calderón, “An Analysis of Mayoral Assassinations in Mexico, 2000-17”, three potential hypotheses to explain mayoral murders are explored: a mayor’s perceived level of corruptibility (which influences how much organized crime groups view them as a threat), rates of drug production/trafficking in a state (violence is more concentrated in states with of such higher rates), greater vulnerability in more rural territories with less population density. To combat this violence, Calderón emphasizes: the responsibility of the federal government to provide sufficient budgets and adequately enforce federal protections; the fundamentality of strengthening state institutions with transnational justice processes to allow for democratic consolidation; and the necessity of implementing policies and social incentives to dissuade public participation in organized criminal activities as a means of survival.
Violence Against Women in Mexican Politics
The phenomenon of “political violence and political harassment against women,” seen across Latin America and the world, can be characterized by “behaviors that specifically target women as women to leave politics by pressuring them to step down as candidates or resign a particular political office” (Krook and Restrepo Sanín 2015, 127). Such behaviors may include, but are not limited to, acts of physical, symbolic, psychological, economic, and sexual violence—from kidnapping, rape, and murder to the spreading of false rumors, release of private photographs, and refusal of parties to fund female candidates’ campaigns (ibid, 138).
For many years, Mexico’s General Law on Electoral Crimes failed to collect gender disaggregated data on acts of political violence. This meant that specific statistics for violence against female politicians, like Mayor Ríos, or against women trying to exercise their political rights were unavailable. The Mexican government has slowly taken strides to better protect women’s ability to participate in politics, but these have often not lived up to expectations. A 2008 reform aimed to increase female political participation by “requiring parties to earmark 2% of their public funding to activities supporting women’s leadership development” (ibid, 142). When parties’ accounts were reviewed in 2011, it was revealed that these funds had been used for alternative purposes, like “cleaning supplies, stationery, and fumigation services” (ibid). Even in 2013, when the INE introduced a set of guidelines on implementing the earmark, party leaders openly asked auditors how they could avoid adhering to the requirement (ibid). More recently, in October 2020, the INE unanimously endorsed guidelines for political parties to help combat gender-based political violence. Amongst other requirements, these stipulated that, beginning in 2021, no aspiring candidate can be convicted or accused of domestic violence, sexual misconduct, or have defaulted on alimony payments.
In Mexico, gender-based political violence occurs in a greater context where women’s fundamental rights to life and security are routinely transgressed. In 2019, Mexico recorded the second highest absolute number of femicides in all of Latin America and the Caribbean at 983, a rate of 1.5 per 100,000 women.
This data is reflective of the increasing prevalence of femicide in the country, which from 2015 to 2019 saw a 139% increase, per Mexico’s Secretary General of National Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP). These high rates are even more troubling given how in 2019 the impunity rate for femicide in Mexico was 51.4%. This impunity is not just restricted to cases of femicide, but rather is endemic in Mexico, seen by the country’s 89.6% impunity rate for intentional homicides. The Mexican government has played a significant role in allowing rampant violence against women to continue. Of the 3,522 Public Ministry (Ministerio Público, MP) agencies in the country, only 177—less than 5%—are focused on addressing crimes against women. These few agencies are expected to handle an immense caseload, as 482 women report cases of familial violence each day—equivalent to about 20 cases each hour. Moreover, only 3.3% of these agencies focus on sexual crimes, and are expected to manage the more than 40,281 cases of such crimes that were registered from January to September 2020. The lack of resources and government employees to handle cases of violence against women in these few MP agencies contribute to high rates of femicide and impunity for these crimes.
These dangerous conditions for Mexican women have only been exacerbated by the outbreak of COVID-19. El Sol Mexico estimated that two-thirds of women over 15 years of age in the country would be forced to quarantine with a violent partner. Moreover, during the eight months of lockdown thus far, the National Network of Shelters (Red Nacional de Refugios), which aids female victims of violence and their children, has provided services to over 34,716 women. These requests for help represent a 51% increase from the same period during 2019. The Network registered that 9% of male aggressors (about 3,123 individuals) from whom women sought assistance had military or political ties. This data is particularly troubling given the role of male politicians in perpetrating violence against women in politics. In 2004, a female candidate running for municipal president of San José Estancia Grande (in the state of Oaxaca), Guadalupe Ávila Salinas, was shot dead by the sitting municipal president at that time (Krook and Restrepo Sanín 2015, 140). Other female municipal candidates have been kidnapped by their political opponents, in some instances, by opponents in collaboration with the female candidate’s own party and/or spouse (ibid). All of these rampant forms of violence against women in Mexican politics renders near gender parity in Congress more symbolic than actually indicative of equal rights and respect for women. If it is not telling enough that political gender quotas took 15 years to be implemented, female politicians continue to be discriminated against, prevented from presenting proposals, and denied essential campaign funds. Moreover, men continue to serve as the heads of important legislative bodies including the “Executive Board, Political Coordination Board, and 15 out of 16 party caucuses”.
Failing to address attacks against women in politics allows this kind of violence to continuously be construed as the “cost of doing politics” for women (Krook and Restrepo Sanín 2015, 145). Such an understanding normalizes endemic mistreatment of women both inside and outside the political sphere. As a result, violent acts against women in politics threaten the level and quality of democracy in Mexico and question to what degree women have truly been incorporated as full political actors in Mexico (Krook 2017, 74).
11/10/20 (written by kheinle) — The López Obrador administration’s efforts to root out corruption continue, this time with two officials at the federal and state level facing charges.
Corruption at the Federal Level
Luis Videgaray, the former Secretary of Finance and Public Credit (Secretaría de Hacienda y Credito Público, SHCP) during the Peña Nieto administration (2012-2018), is being investigated for alleged acts of corruption, electoral crimes, and possibly even treason. He allegedly received millions of dollars through the Brazilian-based business Odebrecht, the high-profile case of corruption that the López Obrador administration is working to untangle. A judge initially blocked the warrant for Videgaray’s arrest. Prosecutors are now working to “perfect” the language and justification for the warrant before resubmitting the request.
Former CEO of PEMEX (Petróleo Mexicano), Emilio Lozoya, named Videgaray in the case. Lozoya, who is currently facing charges of corruption, tax fraud, bribery, and money laundering, is cooperating with officials as his case unfolds. Videgaray is one of a handful of high-profile persons that Lozoya has accused of corruption. This includes former Presidents Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) and Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994), and even President Enrique Peña Nieto under whom he served. In August 2020, according to Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero, Lozoya named Peña Nieto and Videgaray in the Odebrecht scandal, saying that he handled millions of dollars’ worth of bribes on both of their behalf, reported the Washington Post.
The targeting of former presidents in alleged criminal acts while in office compliments President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s strategy. The current president has pushed forward a referendum to address past cases of criminal conduct, specifically that of corruption and ties to organized crime. Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies approved the initiative on October 22 with a vote of 272 in favor and 116 against. Having now passed through Mexico’s Congress and with the backing of the Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional, SCJN), the Mexican people will vote on the plebiscite in June 2021.
Corruption in the Capital
In addition to federal level cases of corruption, the López Obrador administration is also targeting state- and local-level actors, like Raymundo Collins Flores who is accused of misdirecting public funds for personal gains and abuse of public office. As El Universaldescribes, Collins held a number of high-ranking positions in Mexico City. This included the former Under-secretary of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP) in 2002, the former director of the Housing Institute (Instituto de Vivienda, INVI) from 2012 to 2018, and the former Secretary of Public Security in 2018.
An order for Collins’ arrest was issued in December 2019, but subsequently blocked by a judge. A second order was released in September 2020. On October 30, Mexican officials raided Collins’ property in the State of Morelos where they found over 40 high-end classic cars and expensive works of art, among other items. The day after the raid, Mexican officials requested that the United States extradite Collins back to Mexico to stand trial. He had fled while the investigations against him were unfolding. Although he has been located in the United States at the time of this writing, it is not clear if U.S. officials have yet complied with the extradition request.
Corruption within the AMLO Administration
Despite President López Obrador’s efforts to address corruption, his administration is not immune. According to the Secretary of Public Administration (Secretaría de la Función Pública, SFP), more than 500 complaints of wrongdoing were filed against the Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) since the president took office in December 2018. They include allegations of corruption, bribery, embezzlement, illegal use of public office, and other internal irregularities.
Over 75% of the complaints (296 of 388) registered from December 2018 through June 2020 were against the Institute of Security and State Workers Social Services (Instituto de Seguridad y Servicios Sociales de los Trabajadores del Estado, ISSSTE). Another 125 complaints against all offices were registered from late June to the end of October 2020, showing a noticeable increase in pace from the previous 18 months. Of the more than 500 cases in total during President López Obrador’s time in office, the Secretary of Public Administration noted that not one has been brought before the federal courts.
It is encouraging to see the progress being made against former high-level officials like Videgaray and Collins involved in cases of corruption. Yet the results of the SFP’s investigation ought to be a reminder to the López Obrador administration to not lose sight of its own workers in the here and now.
11/10/20 (written by vrice) – Feminist activists mobilized on October 12th, blocking the entrance to the Mexico City headquarters of the National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, MORENA/Morena), the political party of current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). The women gathered to prevent candidate Porfirio Muñoz Ledo from declaring himself the winner of contested elections for the party presidency, due to numerous allegations of sexual assault against him.
Occupation of MORENA headquarters
On October 16, the National Electoral Institute (Instituto Nacional Electoral, INE) declared that elections for Morena’s next president had resulted in a technical tie between candidates Muñoz Ledo and Mario Delgado, requiring that a new poll be conducted. In response, Muñoz Ledo accused the INE’s Councilor President, Lorenzo Córdova, of refusing to acknowledge his victory, and demanded that Córdova rectify the decision or resign. Via virtual conference Muñoz Ledo also denounced the Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Electoral) as corrupt, and stated that he would not accept the results of the next poll as he had already won. Two days after these accusations, Muñoz Ledo then published a tweet calling on his supporters to accompany him to the headquarters the following afternoon to forcibly assume the presidency of Morena.
Given the numerous accusations of sexual assault against Muñoz Ledo in the preceding weeks, feminist activists mobilized in response to his statements in order to, “prevent an abuser from taking over Morena” (“para impedir que un acosador se apropie del partido”). At 8:00am on October 12, feminist activists gathered outside the gate of Morena’s headquarters in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City to pressure the party to take action against Muñoz Ledo. The protestors prevented any entry or exit by placing red tape that read “peligro” (danger) and numerous signs on the building’s entrance, with phrases like, “Aquí no entran violadores” (“rapists cannot enter here”) and “Morena será feminista” (“Morena will be feminist”). They also wrote “clausurado” (closed) with pink chalk on the sidewalk outside the gates.
A few hours after the demonstration began, primarily male Muñoz Ledo supporters gathered to challenge the feminist activists, demanding that the women file formal complaints if their accusations against Muñoz Ledo were truly legitimate. Also in attendance were federal representatives of Morena, Lorena Villavicencio and Irma Juan Carlos. Via megaphone the representatives echoed requests for the demonstrators to present formal accusations, and asked that Muñoz Ledo’s attempt to assume the presidency not be impeded. Despite the fact that shortly before 12:00pm Muñoz Ledo announced via twitter he would no longer visit the headquarters, groups of protestors remained outside the building until 1:00pm. Muñoz Ledo accused his opponent in the election, Mario Delgado, of organizing the feminist protest—which he described as a “violent assault.” Other Muñoz Ledo supporters, including Villavicencio, attributed the protest’s orchestration to Delgado.
Silence amidst assault allegations
While Muñoz Ledo has denied the numerous accusations of sexual assault that surfaced on social media in the last few weeks, Morena has yet to release a statement regarding the allegations. In a videoconference with Animal Político, Muñoz Ledo reiterated that the denunciations were “false” and questioned the credibility of his accusers, asking why many of the women who claimed to have suffered abuses years ago had still not filed formal complaints. Muñoz Ledo further defended himself, saying he was a “family man” who has always protected women, and thus the accusations were ill-founded and “stupid.” The aspiring Morena president also shared with Animal Político that individuals like Delgado are guilty of mismanaging Morena’s finances, and that he has already submitted a request to the Financial Intelligence Unit (Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera) to investigate Delgado for money laundering. Muñoz Ledo has also accused Delgado of aspiring to the Morena presidency to usurp AMLO’s power.
Morena’s interim president, Alfonso Ramírez Cuellar, took to Twitter the morning of the protest to encourage supporters and leaders to prioritize the party’s unity and institutionality above all else. In the Chamber of Deputies, female representatives affiliated with Delgado announced they would submit a formal complaint to the Comission of Honor and Justice (Comisión de Honor y Justicia) regarding the feminist occupation and allegations against Muñoz Ledo. Despite founding Morena and having used the headquarters as the home base for his 2018 presidential campaign, AMLO refused to release a statement on the demonstration or the conflict between Delgado and Muñoz Ledo. In a press conference on Monday, AMLO told the aspiring presidential candidates to come to an agreement, and justified his silence as abstention from partisan matters and due to other pressing obligations.