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?


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.


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.


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.

Mexico’s Fugitive Former Governor Javier Duarte Taken into Custody

Javier Duarte, under custody of Guatemalan authorities, is awaiting formal extradition to Mexico. Source: Prensa Libre

Javier Duarte, under custody of Guatemalan authorities, is awaiting formal extradition to Mexico. Source: Prensa Libre

05/8/17 (written by Lucy Clement La Rosa) – The Guatemalan National Civil Police (Policía Nacional Civil, PNC) detained former governor of Mexico’s Veracruz state, Javier Duarte de Ochoa, on the evening of April 15 in Panajachel, Sololá, Guatemala. Duarte has been a fugitive of Mexico since October 2016, evading allegations of money laundering by the federal Attorney General’s Office of Mexico (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR).

According to Manuel Noriega, deputy director of Interpol in Guatemala, Duarte was found at a hotel in Panajachel. Mexican officials informed Duarte that he had been found and requested that he give himself up to the Guatemalan authorities. Duarte did so voluntarily. Observing diplomatic relations with the PGR, the detention was conducted as a joint operation between the PNC and Guatemala’s Interpol office.

Duarte was taken to the military prison, Matamoros, in Guatemala City. He will remain there until Mexico presents a formal request for extradition to the federal Attorney General’s office of Guatemala. Mexico will have 60 days to request Duarte’s extradition. The PGR released information on the day of Duarte’s arrest confirming that they intend to pursue extradition. Furthermore, the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) expressed their public support of the Guatemalan authorities and their role in detaining Duarte.

Duarte is not the only PRI-affiliated politician that has been charged with allegations of corruption in recent weeks. Former Mexican state governor of Tamaulipas, Tomás Yarrington, was captured in early April by Italian authorities on charges of corruption in response to a U.S. extradition request, which was an embarrassment to Mexican authorities. César Duarte, who was also wanted for similar charges of corruption was captured just a week later by Mexican authorities.

Institutional Corruption in Mexico

Since disappearing six months ago, Duarte became a regional symbol of institutional corruption in Mexico. A former public official of the PRI, Duarte was accused of corruption and misappropriating state funds through his position in public office. The PGR began investigating these accusations in July of 2016.

Javier Duarte, some months before he fled Mexico, standing outside of PRG headquarters in Mexico City. Source: The New York Times

Javier Duarte, some months before he fled Mexico, standing outside of PGR headquarters in Mexico City.
Source: The New York Times

By September, Mexican authorities believed that Duarte used false identities and phantom companies to relocate public funds for personal benefit, which included acquiring over a dozen vacation homes. One month later, local congressional authorities reported that financial irregularities tied to Duarte’s dealings in 2015 accounted for more than $16,000 million Mexican pesos (about $850 million USD).

Duarte, who served as governor of Veracruz for nearly six years, resigned on October 12, 2016. One week later, a federal judge issued a warrant for his arrest. Although he publicly denied all charges, Duarte fled Mexico before he could be detained.

Duarte was expelled from the PRI on October 25, 2016 and soon after; the PGR offered $15 million pesos for information leading to his whereabouts. Additionally, President Enrique Peña Nieto condemned Duarte’s actions before Mexico’s Supreme Court of the Nation (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación).

Although Javier Duarte has not denied the allegations pursuant to his imminent extradition, he has refused immediate and voluntary repatriation, requesting that Mexico formally pursue his extradition. According to César García, the Guatemalan judge presiding over Duarte’s extradition, this process may take anywhere from four to six months.


Malkin, Elisabeth and Paulina Villegas. “Warrant for Mexican Ex-Official, Now on the Run, Is Seen as a Step in Graft Fight. The New York Times. October 20, 2016.

“Javier Duarte, exgobernador prófugo de Veracruz, fue detenido en Guatemala.” Univisión. April 15, 2017.

“Fugitive Mexican Ex-Gov. Javier Duarte Detained in Guatemala.” The New York Times. April 15,2017.

“Javier Duarte, exgobernador de Veracruz, capturado en Guatemala, fue recluido en Matamoros. “Prensa Libre. April 16, 2017.

“Javier Duarte, recluido en cárcel militar Matamoros, Guatemala.” Diario de Xalapa. April 16, 2017.

Ramos, Jerson and Mynor Toc. “Javier Duarte rechaza ser extraditado a México.” Prensa Libre. April 19, 2017.

“La detención de Javier Duarte, lo más viral de la semana.” El Universal. April 22, 2017.




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.


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.