The Powerful and the Gory
Mexican Governors on the Lam
You knew there was massive cartel-fueled corruption south of the border. You had no idea it was like this.
MEXICO CITY — Whether draining funds from public coffers, racketeering and laundering cash from drug cartels, ordering killings, allegedly having sex with children, or fleeing from international and national authorities, Mexico’s renegade governors do manage to keep themselves busy.
They are often some of the country’s biggest embarrassments, a scourge on Mexican civil life, and one of the country largest barriers in its pursuit of progress.
Corrupt governors manage to keep journalists talking, and authorities fumbling for excuses: a half-dozen recent and standing governors are being investigated by Mexico’s attorney general, the Procurador General de la República, or PGR right now. But official corruption at this level is nothing new.
They are the feudal overlords of a pillaged Mexico who have rarely, if ever, faced justice. Herewith, a rogues’ gallery:
Former governor of Sonora, Guillermo Padres Elias, voluntarily turned himself in to authorities in Mexico City in mid-November on charges of tax fraud, money laundering, and participation in organized crime, after about $8.8 million was discovered in foreign accounts attributed to him and family members. The money allegedly was pilfered from his state’s coffers or otherwise illicitly received. Interpol put out a red notice for him in early October, and after spending more than a month on the lam, Padres and his son were arrested.
Padres claimed he is the victim of “political persecution.” But authorities accuse him of granting a company to which he had links more than $12 million in contracts, ostensibly to supply school uniforms, but instead lining his pockets.
He is among the only governors in this long list who have been subject to actual jail time, as the rest have been allowed to escape into the abyss of a large and largely lawless country. Curiously, he may, in fact, be the most honest of the bunch. From here it just gets worse.
Tomas Yarrington, former governor of Tamaulipas, has been on the run since 2012, following his indictment in the U.S., primarily, for violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), and participation in various extortion and bribery schemes.
Yarrington spent three years as mayor of Matamoros—across the border from Brownsville, Texas—before serving as governor and eventually launching an unsuccessful 2005 presidential bid. But according to the FBI, Yarrington, during his term as governor between 1999 and 2004, profited off the Gulf Cartel’s cocaine trafficking network to the United States through the port of Veracruz.
The indictment details $7 million in money sent to front companies and individuals in the U.S., much of which came in deposits of less than $10,000 to avoid international scrutiny. He bought himself an airplane in 2005 with some of his dirty earnings. But some of this cash was also used for the acquisition of U.S. property, allegedly including a luxury condominium on South Padre Island off Corpus Christi that was seized in 2012.
The DEA alleges that the former governor spent years laundering money he received from drug trafficking organizations like the Gulf Cartel who financed his political campaign for the promise they would be allowed to continue with their drug trafficking routes through the state unimpeded.
The U.S. government, which would seek his extradition if the Mexican authorities manage to nab him, re-issued his pending arrest warrant on November 21 this year, and the following day the Mexican government set up a 15 million peso—about three-quarters of a million dollars—reward for information on him.
Tamaulipas has been, to say the least, a trouble state. Yarrington’s predecessor as governor, Eugenio Hernández also was indicted in the United States. But the Mexican government has yet to announce a reward for Hernández.
According to some of the testimony linking Yarrington to organized crime, former governor Hernández also received on at least two separate occasions, $25 million dollars from Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano a founding member of the Zetas cartel.
Hernandez’s sister, Susana Hernández Flores, who is also a politician, says he is innocent despite the fact U.S. authorities still consider him a fugitive. Indeed, last week she said her brother was cleared of all charges by the PGR and given a letter in 2013, which guarantees that there will be no penal action taken against him — and which explains, she said, why no reward is being offered for his apprehension.
In Veracruz, the state through which much of the cartels’ cocaine was shipped under official protection, former Governor Javier Duarte is also on the lam, accused of operating a vast embezzlement scheme which allegedly resulted in as much as $1.7 billion in personal enrichment siphoned from public funds and stuffed into a vast network of shell companies that were later dissolved.
Duarte’s alleged money-laundering scheme was first revealed by the magazine Animal Politico in May, but at the time seemed to involve only slightly more than $31 million unaccounted for between 2012 and 2013. Of that, the government claims to have recuperated about $20 million that Duarte funneled into these companies. They made an initial deposit of $11 million made this week, and are supposed to return the remaining amount to the Veracruz treasury in monthly installments.
But that now appears to have just been scratching the surface, and federal auditors have filed about 60 complaints against Duarte and co-conspiring officials. Since Mexico’s national auditing agency was created in 2000, the Duarte-Veracruz case has proven itself to be the most obscene graft case ever exposed in a federal audit in Mexico—ever.
The still-evolving estimate of missing federally allocated funds has reached close to $3 billion dollars, according to Animal Politico, just in Veracruz alone, Mexico’s third largest state.
In September, the PGR announced it would begin investigating Duarte for illicit enrichment.
“Veracruz doesn’t need a part-time governor,” Duarte said in mid-October, announcing he would take a leave of absence to “face the false accusations” and to “clean” his name and that of his family. But then he made a run for it, and has since been fugitive.
The ruling PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party, expelled Duarte, calling the move “an historic decision.”
Then the interim governor who stepped in, Flavino Rios Alvarado, also of the PRI, did little to help his party wash its hands of the disgraced former governor. Rios Alvarado denies he helped Duarte flee the state, but admitted last month that he knew the fugitive governor “asked for a helicopter in Coatzacoalcos,” a city in southern Veracruz. “As governor, I asked them [at the airport] to give him the same attention that they would give any governor,” Flavino said in an interview with the popular reporter Adela Micha. But he still denied that he helped Duarte leave. “I didn’t know whether or not there was an arrest warrant out for him at the time,” Flavino said.
It is, unbelievably, still unknown where the former governor went after leaving Coatzacoalcos. But a few weeks ago, the Mexican government began offering a reward of 15 million pesos for information leading to Duarte’s arrest—about three-quarters of a million dollars at the current exchange rate.
They have yet to address, however, one of the most devastating tallies, in addition to the missing billions, left as a hallmark of corruption in the wake of Duarte’s term. At least 15 journalists were murdered during his six-year reign, making Veracruz the most dangerous state for reporters in Mexico—itself the most dangerous country outside of a war zone for practicing journalism.
Of note is photojournalist Ruben Espinosa who was murdered last year along with four women, including human rights activist Nadia Vera, after fleeing the state while facing death threats. Espinosa infuriated then-Governor Duarte by taking an unflattering photograph of him, which made the cover of investigative magazine Proceso, along with the headline “Veracruz: Lawless State.”
Vera, for her part, said that if “anything happens” to her or her colleagues they would “blame Governor Javier Duarte Ochoa and his cabinet.”
“They are the ones who are directly responsible for sending those who are repressing us,” Nadia Vera said in the months before she and her colleagues were murdered in Mexico City. The Mexican government, but the Mexican government did not pursue that angle.
Those arrested in the case include a Mexico City police officer, and they are facing a combined 300 years in prison, but more questions than answers remain. The women were tortured and sexually mutilated, and two of the five had said openly they fled from the now-fugitive governor and his state, yet authorities allege that the motive for the gruesome multi-homicide was plain robbery—with the victims being the only people targeted on the fourth floor of an unimpressive Mexico City apartment building.
The Veracruz governor who came before Duarte, Fidel Herrera Beltrán, was hardly any better. An accountant for the Gulf Cartel testified in a U.S. court that $12 million was given to support the governor’s campaign in 2003. And Herrera, was named in Forbes Magazine’s 10 Most Corrupt Mexicans of 2013 list for his complicity with the Zetas cartel, the former armed wing of the Gulf Cartel.
The new governor of Veracruz, Miguel Angel Yunes, a member of the PAN party who lost to Duarte in 2010 but won the latest election earlier this year, took office this Thursday.
He called the power shift an “historic day for Veracruz,” a state which has been managed by the ruling PRI for the past 86 years, reminding the rest of the country of life during the more than seven decades of continual power PRI presidents celebrated in Mexico until the 2000 election of former President Vicente Fox, who ushered in the promise of a new era for a new millennium in Mexico.
Fox caused ripples then, but now provokes giggles, and is best known for his online feuding with President-elect Donald Trump, telling him Mexico is “not going to pay for that fucking wall.”
Though it’s true that the PAN provided a seemingly light-hearted shift from the PRI, best known for its Voldemortian imposition of power, the PAN has been a close runner-up and hardly fared better in recent years.
Yunes, while campaigning under the PAN umbrella, promised a “radical change” in Veracruz, and to reveal “information [about Duarte] that would make the country shake.”
Instead, as Yunes embarks on his first week as governor of Veracruz, long-standing allegations persist against him in connection with a ring that prostituted pre-pubescent girls and boys.
“Yunes is a pedophile,” one victim alleged. “The man is untouchable and always has been, and it’s impossible to fight against him and demand justice from the authorities, when he is the one who’s in charge of the same authorities.”
Journalist Lydia Cacho, who penned the book The Demons of Eden, was arrested in 2005 in this case on charges of libel and slander for her role in exposing the allegedly vast network. She was “legally abducted” in Cancun by Puebla authorities, who subjected her to “20 hours of torture,” she said. Only one of her kidnappers has since been arrested for his role, and only after the United Nations condemned the government’s inaction in late 2014.
Naturally Yunes denies these allegations, but even so in Veracruz the man who has just replaced the man who is known as Mexico’s most criminal governor, is accused of being no better, and—although many had hoped it impossible—perhaps, even worse than fugitive former governor Javier Duarte.
Como se dice “disappointed, but not surprised” en español?
The corruption allegations go on and on against present and former governor after another, from Quintana Roo’s real estate scams and related money laundering in Yucatán . In Baja California the governor, whose official salary is about $63,000 a year, reportedly is building a home across the border in Tijuana valued at close to $4 million, while owning dozens of other valuable propoerties.
In Nuevo Leon, the popular independent cowboy-turned-governor Jaime Rodríguez, known as “el Bronco,” campaigned with the promise to “lock up” his predecessor Rodrigo Medina, and met with enthusiastic cheers from his numerous followers. But, since his election last year, the PGR has announced that it has not received complaints against the former governor. El Bronco and his administration have since said they will pursue local charges of abuse of power instead of subjecting him to a national process over illicit enrichment, due to lack of evidence.
Major corruption scandals have hit Durango, Chihuahua, and Coahuila, whose former Governor Humberto Moreira was arrested by Spanish authorities in January on allegations of money laundering for the sanguinary Zetas cartel.
The Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that the “diplomatic machinery” kicked quickly into action, explaining his release just a week after his arrest in Spain. The Mexican Secretary of Interior, and the Spanish government, denied there had been any special treatment.
U.S. authorities nevertheless seized a half-million-dollar property registered to Humberto Moreira’s mother-in-law in Texas, last year, “as part of an investigation into millions of dollars that were reportedly stolen from the coffers of the border state of Coahuila.” Further details of the case were then officially sealed.
But the former governor’s crimes will likely remain uninvestigated, as his brother Rubén Moreira Valdez is now the governor of that state.
Are Mexico’s governors more corrupt than ever? This is politics as usual in Mexico.
And as is customary in Mexico, power changes hands and parties every six years. What follows is a witch hunt as new warlocks come in to look at the past brews of public funds, sprinkled with cartel cash, have fermented in a warm cauldron of official protection for a half-decade—dosed, not infrequently, with the blood of journalists who attempt to expose the rancid brew. But, then, another politician comes along as usual, with an even longer straw with which to siphon or a bigger spoon with which to stir things up.
According to impoverished Mexicans in an oil-rich country, suffering poverty and the ravages of a drug war with no end in sight, there is not much hope of change and fatalism runs deep.
“They are all corrupt; every last one of them,” as a young Mexican in Baja put it on Friday night.
“If they weren’t corrupt, they’d be dead,” his friend chimed in.