Thursday 21 January 2016

Moreira arrest: a long tradition of corrupt Mexican governors

When Humberto Moreira, former governor of the northern Mexican state of Coahuila, was arrested at Madrid’s Barajas Airport on January 15 for alleged financial crimes, it was big news.

(Update: Moreira was released by a Spanish judge  on January 22 for lack of evidence, though ordered to surrender his passport.)

In Mexico, there was much handwringing. Here was the former leader of Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), a former close adviser of the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, being detained in Spain on a request from the U.S. on suspicion of money laundering, embezzlement, bribery and criminal association.
Moreira: if Mexico won't, Spain and the US will

The anxiety, however, wasn’t that Moreira might be guilty of such crimes. It was that it was the Spanish in concert with the gringos who nailed the cabrón. In effect, these two external powers did what Mexico could not.

It was hardly news that Moreira’s behavior was suspect. After an investigation by two journalists, Moreira was accused in a U.S. court of money laundering and embezzlement. A state court in Texas heard how Moreira and other state officials took over $1.8 million from the Coahuila treasury and transferred them to a leader of the Los Zetas cartel to invest in radio stations.

The Mexicans, however, continued to sit on their hands, even with evidence of grotesque mismanagement – Moreira, who served as Coahuila's governor from 2005 until 2011, ballooned the state’s debt from $27 million to almost $3 billion during his six year term.

Spain's National Court ordered the arrest based on Moreira’s holding of at least three bank accounts in Spain, and the transfer of money and cash payments of more than €200,000. Moreira claimed that the transfers were from two legitimate companies under his control: Unipolares and Espectacular del Norte y Negocios. 

Initially, the Spaniards didn't buy that explanation, and for good reason: the tip-off with regard to the transfers came from a plea bargain from a former Moreira colleague who cut a deal with a Texas court. 

In Mexico, state governors rule with a degree of impunity that can be hard for outsiders to fathom. 

This is part of the post-revolutionary trade-off that kept the peace during the 20th century, and that, in the context of the ongoing drug war, has led to the rogue status of the political, judicial, and security entities within many states.

This is why, with the recent capture of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, state and even federal forces were held in such low regard that the Marine Corps felt that a love hotel by the side of a highway would be more secure than a government facility within the state of Sinaloa.

How bad is it?

We don’t have the time to run down Mexico’s many generations of outright theft and graft, which has now devolved into clientelism for organized crime. But here is a recent hit list.

·         The former governor of the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, Tomás Yarrington, has been accused of laundering money for Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, as well as plotting the assassination of a political opponent. There is a warrant out for his arrest, but the Mexican government can’t seem to find him.

·         In 2013, the former governor of the oil-rich southern state of Tabasco was arrested on charges of corruption and embezzlement of public funds. He’s now in jail in Mexico City, accused of tax fraud and money laundering to the tune of over $US 100 million. (You read that correctly, and that’s at today’s weaker exchange rate: we are talking over 1.9 trillion pesos).

·         The governor of Oaxaca, in 2009, said he owned no personal property. By 2015, he had a $7 million mansion in the City of Oaxaca, and properties in the beachside resort of Puerto Escondido, and in Mexico City.

·         In Sinaloa and Veracruz, the corruption flows smoothly from the highest levels of political power to the street level, where cartel members receive police protection, and journalists risk their lives. Veracruz governor Javier Duarte de Ochoa, for example, was arrested for flying with $2 million in cash – but was later released, with the money returned, with interest. Veracruz was once a tranquil place – now it is one of the most corrupt and dangerous in Mexico – particularly for journalists.

·         The former governor of Aguascalientes, Luis Armando Reynoso Femat (2004-2010), is facing embezzlement charges, with the money allegedly used to bribe federal legislators. His son, too, is accused of illicit enrichment – according to the government, during the last three years of his father’s administration, the son deposited US$4.5 million in several bank accounts, then invested the money in real estate in San Antonio, Texas.

And those are just some the governors that were recently caught. There are many others who have long been suspect of corrupt activities, and who are now enjoying their well-funded retirements. No one is chasing them down. Corruption, after all, infiltrates all aspects of life in Mexico. To keep the peace, the PRI in the 20th century used corruption as both a reward system and as an alternate, subordinate economy that it leveraged as social control.

Mexican society is now paying the price, because, once everyone is for sale, and you have a multi-billion dollar drug trade, there is no institutional back bone – none whatsoever – to reinforce the rule of law.

The police at all levels are corrupt. Government at all levels is corrupt, including prisons. Private sector organizations are corrupt. Most individuals participate, and everyone complains.

It doesn’t help when the president of the country is embroiled in a web of conflict of interest with construction conglomerate Grupo Higa, which built his luxury home and also landed part of the contract to build a high-speed rail link between Mexico City and Querétaro. To solve the problem, the president kills the contract, re-opens the bid, and hires a crony to investigate. Everyone is cleared, because if there is one thing that can be said about politicians in Mexico, it is that they are shameless.

Mexico has the 15th largest economy in the world. It has a young, hard-working population. It is rich in natural resources, and well situated geographically.

Now, if the pendejos would just stop stealing, the country might really go somewhere.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)
Twitter: @TimothyEWilson

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