Questions surround Peña Nieto’s appointment of new Attorney General

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Dr. Raúl Cervantes Andrade, head of the Attorney General’s Office. Photo: Gobierno de México.

11/29/16 (written by Kimberly Heinle) — Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto named the new head of the Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) in late October, an appointment that has been met with criticism and concern despite its overwhelming approval in Congress (83 votes in favor, 3 against, and 1 in abstentia). On October 26, Dr. Raúl Cervantes Andrade (53) of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) was sworn in as Attorney General following his years as a PRI Senator and legal counsel. Cervantes received his law degree from the Universidad Panamericana in Mexico City.

Cervantes becomes the third head of the Attorney General’s Office under Peña Nieto in four years, replacing outgoing Mtra. Arely Gómez González (March 2015 – October 2016), as she transitioned to her new role as Secretary of Public Service (Secretaría de la Función Pública, SFP). Prior to Gómez González, Jesús Murillo Karam served as PGR, though his tenure ended in controversy amidst the ongoing investigation and sharp criticism surrounding the PGR’s and Peña Nieto administration’s serious mishandling of the case involving the disappearance and alleged murder of 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, in September 2014. The rather quick PGR turnover rate under Peña Nieto parallels that under his predecessor, former President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012). Under Calderón, the role was filled by Eduardo Medina Mora (December 2006 – September 2009), Arturo Chávez (September 2009 – March 2011), and Marisela Morales (April 2011 – December 2012).

The criticism surrounding the recently appointed Cervantes has less to do with the change in position, however, and more so with what Cervantes could mean for the integrity of the PGR and the position’s impartiality. The Attorney General is, by nature, intended to be impartial and to hold all accountable in the face of justice, including the president and other elected officials. The challenge that critics are raising, however, is that Cervantes is the first cousin of Peña Nieto’s personal lawyer, a senior confidant, and a longtime PRI loyalist, writes The Wall Street Journal. Critics have questioned whether Cervantes, a personal friend of Peña Nieto, will dare to challenge the president on issues that other Attorney General’s may once have done.

Swearing in ceremony

Dr. Raúl Cervantes Andrade, center, was sworn in as Attorney General on October 26, 2016. Photo: Gobierno de México.

The situation is further muddied when one considers that the Mexican government is in the midst of transitioning the position of the Attorney General from a six-year appointment to a nine-year post that transcends multiple presidential terms. As Mexico Voices explains, “A constitutional amendment passed in 2013 replaces the Attorney General’s Office with a Prosecutor General’s Office, whose head will have a term of nine years, crossing more than one six-year presidential term, ostensibly to make the prosecutor independent of presidential influence. Secondary laws implementing this change still have to be passed.” Once passed, the law then states that the sitting attorney general (in this case Cervantes) will then complete a full nine-year term, thus inferring that Cervantes will be in the role of Attorney General and then Independent Prosecutor through 2026.

With that as the backdrop, The Wall Street Journal reports that critics see Cervantes’ appointment “as a ploy by Mr. Peña Nieto to protect himself and political allies from possible prosecution after they leave power in little more than two years.” Former president of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Democrático, PRD), Pablo Gómez Álvarez, was also quick to level criticism at Cervantes’ appointment and Congress’ approval of the nomination. In an article in Proceso, Gómez argues that Congress wants “to have control, now and after Peña Nieto’s term, over law enforcement; criminal investigations; the much-heralded, parceled-out, and dedicated fight against corruption; and the political use of the Public Ministry. [The choice of] Attorney General Raúl Cervantes tells us that the system will not change, even though the laws have been modified.”

Nevertheless, Cervantes took the opportunity during his swearing in ceremony to bolster his loyalty to serving the Mexican people through the Attorney General’s Office. “We must construct a professional, effective, efficient, transparent, trustworthy, and strong institution,” reassured Cervantes.

Sources:

Wilkinson, Tracy. “Mexico’s embattled attorney general stepping down.” Los Angeles Times. February 27, 2015.

Coe, Amanda. “Mexico Government: Raúl Cervantes, Loyal Party Member, Now Attorney General.” Mexico Voices. October 25, 2016.

“Perfil. Arely Gómez González.” El Universal. October 25, 2016.

Secretaría de la Función Pública. “Mtra. Arely Gómez González.” Gobierno de México. October 27, 2016.

Gómez, Pablo. “Raúl Cervantes, del PRI a la PGR.” Proceso. October 28, 2016. 

Montes, Juan and Dudley Althaus. “Ally of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto Is Set to Get Anticorruption Post.” The Wall Street Journal. November 1, 2016.

Procuraduría General de la República. “El Dr. Raúl Cervantes Andrade toma protesta como Procurador General de la República.” Gobierno de México. November 11, 2016.

Ayotzinapa Disappeared 43 Students Case Remains Unsolved

Family members of the 43 students display signs during the GIEI’s presentation of their findings on Sunday. Source: The New York Times.

Family members of the 43 disappeared students display signs during the GIEI’s presentation of their findings on Sunday.  Source: The New York Times.

05/2/16 (written by elefavour) –In 608 pages of discoveries, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes, “GIEI”) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reveals new details and evidence surrounding the case of the 43 students that went missing from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero in September 2014. The most recent report, Informe Ayotzinapa II, released April 24th, provides extensive investigative analysis of the events of September 26-27, 2014.

Rewinding to 2014, the 43 students were from the Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero traveling through Iguala to Mexico City. Approximately one hundred students planned to “steal” buses from the station in Iguala,and in neighboring areas to attend a march commemorating a student massacre that occurred in 1968 in Mexico City. The students planned to return the buses following the conclusion of the event. The local bus companies typically tolerated this, as it was an annual tradition for the college. At 9:15pm September 26, 2014, five buses with students left for Ayotzinapa, three buses taking the northward route, and two buses taking the southward route. Based on the findings from the Informe Ayotzinapa II and the New York Times, the three buses heading north immediately came into contact with federal police firing warning shots at the buses, and then the police actively shot at the buses and at the students inside. Aldo Gutiérrez, a student, was shot in the head, and two additional students were shot requiring an emergency dispatch at approximately 9:48pm. Finally, at approximately 10:50pm, the remaining students heading northward were taken in six to seven patrol vehicles based on eyewitness accounts.

Meanwhile, at approximately 9:40pm, around the same time as the three buses on the northern route were intercepted, police also stopped one of the buses traveling on the southern route toward Ayotzinapa, breaking the bus’s windows and using tear gas to force the passengers out of the bus. It is evident the police were pre-stationed to intercept the students because authorities also stopped other students, not affiliated with the students from Ayotzinapa. About seven miles outside Iguala, a gunmen fired on a suspect bus carrying the Los Avispones soccer team from nearby Chilpancingo killing a soccer player and the driver, and wounding seven other passengers.

Immediately following the night of September 26, the families demanded answers from the government about the whereabouts of their children as well as the cause of the violence. After four excruciating months, the Attorney General at the time, Jesús Murillo Karam, stated to the press: “after an “exhaustive, serious” investigation, “the evidence allows us to determine that the students were kidnapped, killed, burned and thrown into the river.” He included preliminary evidence such as photographs of charred remains, snippets of videotaped confessions and images of the crime scene.

President Peña Nieto, who built his campaign platform on ending violence in Mexico, offered the following statement to the people of Mexico in January, 2015—four months after the abduction of the 43 students:

“In this sorrowful, tragic and painful moment in the history of Mexico, we can’t be trapped. We can’t be stuck there,” he said. “We have to give it attention. There has to be justice. There has to be punishment for those who were responsible for these regrettable acts, but we have to take the course of continuing to assure that Mexico has a better future.”

For all practical purposes in the Peña Nieto administration, the case was closed.

GIEI Ayotzinapa Findings

However, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) formed a panel of five lawyers and human rights specialists from Latin America and Spain to further investigate the incident and flush out the inconsistencies. The panel first convened in March 2015. The panel worked together for a second time on April 24th, 2016, releasing their findings live at press conference in Mexico City and also through their twitter account. The most important findings include the following:

“First, it is now clear, there was central government control and monitoring, if not active involvement, from all levels of security: ministerial, municipal, state, federal and military in the incident. This also included involvement from the Huitzco, and the Iguala local police forces. These police officers were aware, participated, and directly influenced the capture of the students meaning the case was not only an issue at “the local level.”

Second, using United Nations guidelines for the documentation of torture, the panel determined that 17 (of approximately 170) of the government’s suspects had been tortured while in the custody of the Mexican government. All “forced” testimonies from these individuals would be inadmissible in a Mexican court of law.

Third, “there still remains zero evidence that a fire happened in the Cocula landfill the night of September 26-27 that was big enough to burn 43 bodies.” Additionally, videos taken by journalists revealed that one of the suspects was hauled to the crime scene with the office of the Attorney General (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) potentially to “plant” the bone fragment remains, and the official reason why he was taken there was completely omitted from the PGR’s report.

Fourth, The PGR’s version of the report said that the students’ phones had been destroyed in Cocula, but telephones continued to be active days after September 26 and this development has not been investigated despite the fact the last location of the phones contradicts the PGR report.

Finally, Julio César Mondragón, a student that initially went missing, was found with “facial skin and muscles torn away from his head, his skull was fractured in several places, and his internal organs were ruptured.” Due to bureaucratic delays, Mondragón’s body had to go through two autopsies and a three-month delay for government approval, thus re-victimizing the family.

President Peña Nieto stated he would not authorize a third investigation. On April 25th, President Obama stated, “We trust the Mexican authorities will carefully consider the report’s recommendations, evaluate suggested actions to address the issue of forced disappearances.” Moving forward, it is uncertain whether or not the truth behind the disappearance of the 43 students will ever be solved. However, the international community remains committed to providing justice to the families of the victims. Alejandro Valencia, a Colombian lawyer and member of the GIEI panel succinctly explains their position: “the Ayotzinapa case has put the country at a crossroads, from which it has yet to emerge, and for that it needs a strengthening of the rule of law and of the defense, the guarantee and respect for human rights.”

Sources:

“GIEI Ayotzinapa.” Twitter. April 28, 2016.

Gallagher, Erin. “Mexico: GIEI Final Report on the Ayotzinapa Case.” Revolution News. April 24, 2016.

Semple, Kirk. “Missing Mexican Students Suffered a Night of ‘Terror,’ Investigators Say.” The New York Times. April 24, 2016.

Informe Ayotzinapa II: Avances y nuevas conclusions sobre la investigación, búsqueda y atención a las víctimas. Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes. April 24, 2016.

Semple, Kirk and Elisabeth Malkin. “El gobierno mexicano no colaboró con nuestra investigación sobre lo que sucedió en Ayotzinapa: GIEI.” The New York Times. April 25, 2016.

Archibold, Randal C. “Mexico Officially Declares Missing Students Dead.” The New York Times. January 27, 2015.

Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera Recaptured by Mexican Marines

1/8/16 (written by rkuckertz and lcalderon) – According to a late-morning announcement from President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Twitter feed, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, the Sinaloa cartel druglord recently made infamous for his subterranean escape in July from the Altiplano federal prison, has been captured. President Peña Nieto’s tweet read: “Mission accomplished: we have him.” Soon after the President’s online announcement, law enforcement sources confirmed this news to various media outlets, such as leading Mexican newspaper El Universal. The Mexican Navy subsequently made a statement regarding the recapture of Guzmán, saying that marines were acting on an anonymous tip from a concerned citizen regarding armed men in a nearby home in Los Mochis, a coastal town in Guzmán’s home state of Sinaloa.
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According to the Navy’s statement, the mission began after 5:00am Friday morning when authorities entered the Los Mochis home. Upon entering, they were fired at from inside the building and as a result, five suspects were killed and six were arrested. Orso Ivan Gastelum Cruz, a prominent regional drug trafficker, managed to escape. Marines confiscated two armored vehicles, eight long guns, one handgun and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. In a second tweet, President Peña Nieto called Guzmán’s recapture an “important achievement in favor of the Rule of Law of Mexico.”

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It is still uncertain if Guzmán Leora will be extradited to the United States following this recapture. After Guzmán Leora was captured for the second time in 2014, President Enrique Peña Nieto declined a U.S. request for the extradition of the Sinaloa cartel druglord. In an interview with Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam in January 2015, Murillo Karam told The Associated Press, “I could accept extradition but at the time that I choose. El Chapo must stay here to complete his sentence and then I will extradite him,” he continues, “So about 300 or 400 years later — it will be a while.”

However, the United States proceeded with another request for extradition in late June of 2015, which the Mexican Attorney General granted three weeks after Guzmán Leora’s July escape. Shortly after, Guzmán Loera’s lawyer filed a request for injunction against the Attorney General’s order, resulting in the suspension of the order. As a result of the suspension, Guzmán Loera may not be directly handed over to U.S. authorities; instead, he must first receive a trial in Mexico to determine whether or not he will be extradited to the United States to face further charges. Guzmán Loera faces charges in seven U.S. jurisdictions including Brooklyn, Texas, Illinois, Chicago, New Mexico, Texas, Miami, and San Diego.

In order to place Guzmán Loera’s recent recapture into a broader context, we have provided below a general timeline of his activities prior to his leadership of the Sinaloa cartel through his most recent escape from the Altiplano federal prison.

Guzmán’s involvement in the drug trafficking world began in the 1980’s when he worked for the major drug kingpin in Mexico at that time: Miguel Angel Félix Gallardo, founder of the Guadalajara cartel. Guzmán Loera was in charge of the logistics and operations of the cartel at a time where Mexican drug traffickers were middlemen for Colombian drug cartels to get to the U.S. market. In 1985, Félix Gallardo sent his men, including Guzmán, to kidnap, torture, and kill DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena for his undercover work as an informant in the cartel for the U.S. government.

Félix Gallardo was then arrested in 1989 and the territories that once belonged to the Guadalajara cartel had to be divided, leaving Guzmán Loera as one of the founders of the Sinaloa Cartel, along with Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada and “El Guero” Palma. At this time, two other major cartels were formed: the Tijuana Cartel under the Arellano Félix brothers and the Juárez Cartel under Amado Carrillo Fuentes.

Under his leadership, the Sinaloa cartel developed creative smuggling techniques and strategies, including building air-conditioned tunnels under the Mexico-U.S. border, hiding drugs in chili pepper cans and fire extinguishers, and catapulting drugs over the border. He diversified the cartel’s production to include various kinds of illicit drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine.

On June 9, 1993, Guzmán Loera was arrested for the first time by the Guatemalan Army at a hotel close to the border with Mexico. He was then extradited to Mexico to be kept at the Federal Social Readaptation Center #1, a “maximum-security” prison often called “Altiplano.” In 1995 he was transferred to the maximum-security prison in Puente Grande, Jalisco. Even while in prison, “El Chapo” remained as one of the most powerful drug kingpins in Mexico, and sources declare he was referred to as “El Jefe” (The Boss) or “Don Joaquin” (Mr. Joaquin) and enjoyed many privileges such as having a personal cellphone.

In 2001 he escaped using a laundry cart with the help of Javier Camberos, a prison guard. Official reports suggest that there were at least 70 people involved in this escape.

On September 2001, the U.S. started asking for Guzmán’s capture and extradition to face charges of money laundering and conspiracy in a court in California. The U.S. government started to see Guzmán Loera as a priority target in its war on drugs. In 2004 it announced a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest. In 2012 the U.S. Department of the Treasury called for the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act to freeze the U.S. assets of members of his family.

On February 22nd 2014, “El Chapo” was finally apprehended again by the Mexican Navy in Mazatlán, Sinaloa with the aid of the DEA and Marshall Services. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto declined the American request to extradite Guzmán Loera, assuring the U.S. government he wouldn’t escape again.

Sources:

Ahmed, Azam. “El Chapo, Escaped Drug Lord, Has Been Recaptured, Mexican President Says.” The New York Times. 8 January 2016.

Agren, David and Doug Stanglin. “Fugitive Mexican drug kingpin ‘El Chapo’ captured.” USA Today. 8 January 2015.

Schuppe, Jon and Mark Potter. NBC News. “El Chapo: Notorious Mexican Drug Kingpin Captured by Authorities.” 8 January 2016.

“México recaptura al narcotraficante Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.” El Universal. 8 January 2016.

“Ni se fuga ni lo extradito, dijo Murillo Karam; “El Chapo” se amparó ese día; luego se fugó.” Sin Embargo. 14 July 2015.

Flores Martínez, Raúl. “Defensa de ‘El Chapo’ pide amparo contra extradición.” Excelsior. 31 July 2015.

Tuckman, Jo. “El Chapo’s escape was spurred by concern over extradition, lawyer says.” The Guardian. 25 August 2015.

“Looking back at Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzman’s escape from prison.” Justice in Mexico. 28 August 2015.

“Un juez mexicano abre vía a la extradición de El Chapo si lo atrapan.” El País. 31 July 2015.

Aldrich, Ian. “Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán Loera Biography.” The biography. N/A

Munro, André. “Joaquín Guzmán Loera Mexican Criminal.” Britannica. 8 January 2016.

Six Arrested for the Escape of Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán

Arely Gómez, the Attorney General of Mexico. Source:  El Universal

Arely Gómez, the Attorney General of Mexico.                       Source: El Universal

11/07/15 (written by alagorio) – Recently, Mexican authorities have arrested six people who are suspected of being involved in the escape of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán from the Altiplano prison. This is the second time Guzmán has escaped from a prison in Mexico.

According to El Universal, the six people who were detained include Guzmán’s brother-in-law, his lawyer, a member of his legal team, a property owner, and two pilots. Attorney General Arely Gómez González explained that the alleged mastermind is a member of El Chapo’s legal team who had access to the prison. According to The Guardian, his lawyer was able to relay instructions and plan the escape from inside the prison. Also, Guzmán’s brother-in-law is suspected of supervising the construction of the one-mile tunnel that led out of the prison. After Guzmán exited the tunnel, he traveled to the city of Queretaro where the two pilots arranged a plane that is suspected of flying to Sinaloa.

The second escape of Guzmán is an embarrassment for the Peña Nieto administration. He is the largest drug lord in Mexico, as the head of the Sinaloa Cartel. About twenty-three prison employees have been arrested for helping with the escape. Many countries like the United States believe that high profile criminals like Guzmán cannot be properly detained in Mexico due to the vast amount of corruption of prison officials.

Overall, the detainment of the six people is a step in discovering the whereabouts of Guzmán and how this plan was successfully executed. Nevertheless, the amount of prison officials involved in the escape poses a greater challenge of how to stop corruption in Mexico. The escape of high prolife criminals like El Chapo not only compromises the legal system of Mexico but also hurts the Peña Nieto’s credibility on an international scale.

Sources:

“Detenidos cómplices de la fuga del capo mexicano “el Chapo” Guzmán.” El Universal. October 21, 2015.

“Seis personas que ayudaron a “El Chapo” están detenidas.” La Prensa. October 21, 2015.

“Six people arrested in Mexico over escape of Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman.” The Guardian. October 21, 2015.

‘La Barbie’ extradited to the US

Mexican federal police escort Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez in Mexico City on August 31, 2010. Source: Reuters. "Mexico Extradites Alleged Drug Lord 'La Barbie' to U.S, Newsweek. September 30, 2015.

Mexican federal police escort Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez in Mexico City on August 31, 2010.
Source: Reuters. “Mexico Extradites Alleged Drug Lord ‘La Barbie’ to U.S, Newsweek. September 30, 2015.

10/01/15 (written by alagorio) – On September 30, 2015 thirteen defendants were extradited to the United States. Among the thirteen were two top drug lords, Edgar Valdez Villarreal, known as “La Barbie”, and Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez, known as “El Coss”. The extradition demonstrates the increased collaboration between the U.S. government and the Peña Nieto administration. Originally in Mexico there were numerous objections to extraditing criminals to the United States. Nevertheless, the current extradition signals that there is the hope for a more open security policy between Mexico and the United States in the future.

After the extradition was announced, U.S. Attorney General Lorreta Lynch expressed that, “Today’s extraditions would not have been possible without the close collaboration and productive relationship the Department of Justice enjoys with officials at the highest levels of law enforcement in Mexico”. The collaboration has helped foster further dialogue between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement to seek justice for crimes such as, drug trafficking and murder that have occurred in the U.S. Nevertheless, there are still some open-ended questions to answer that explain the future for the shift in the extradition process. For example, BBC Mundo cites that there are some detainees who were extradited that did not have any criminal charges against them.

Valdez of the Beltrán Leyva cartel is a U.S. citizen who was born in Texas. Author Azam Ahmed of The New York Times explains that the most serious charges against Valdez are murdering an American Consulate worker and an immigration and customs agent. Also, Valdez is responsible for contributing to some of the most gruesome violence in Mexico, which includes, beheading rival gang members and videotaping executions. He is wanted in Louisiana and Georgia for drug related crimes but remained incarcerated in Mexico since 2010. His extradition will allow the United States to carry out the charges against him, especially for the cases of murdered U.S. workers.

The extraditions expose a powerful pivot in the original platform of the Peña Nieto administration’s denial of extraditing criminals to the United States. As reported by The New York Times, since 2012 Peña Nieto has been a strong opponent of letting the U.S. government be too involved in security matters. Nevertheless, the Mexican government felt an extreme pressure to work with the U.S. after the prison escape of “El Chapo” Guzman three months ago. Guzman’s escape caused a greater call for the U.S. to be allowed to try and imprison some of the most dangerous drug lords in Mexico. Also, the prison break showed that the Mexican prison system can be easily corrupted and that it is not able to maintain high-level prisoners.

The Mexican governments extradition of the thirteen detainees demonstrate that a new chapter in the relationship between the U.S. in Mexico has begun. After the escape of “El Chapo” Guzman the Mexican government has experienced international pressure to extradite criminals that the prison system cannot house effectively. In light of this, the United States government is helping Mexico secure the most wanted criminals in both countries.

Ahmed, Azam. “Mexico, Signaling Shift, Extradites Drug Kingpins to United States.” The New York Times. September 30, 2015.

Paullier Juan. “México extradita a “La Barbie” y a “El Coss” a EE.UU.” BBC Mundo.” September 30, 2015.

Bruton, Brinley F. “Mexico Extradites Alleged Drug Lord ‘La Barbie,’ 12 Others to U.S.” NBC News. October 1, 2015.