The collapse of a criminal case against the former mayor of Cancun adds another embarrassment to a string of failed attempts by Mexico's authorities to charge politicians allegedly linked to organized crime.

Gregorio Sanchez was released from government custody in Mexico City after officials determined that there was not enough evidence to link him to the Sinaloa Cartel, for whom he had been accused of laundering money. However, he was fitted with a monitoring bracelet and ordered to remain in the city while authorities investigated charges of human trafficking.

This was the second release in recent days for Sanchez; after more than a year in prison in Nayarit on charges that he protected the Zetas in Cancun, he was released last week after a judge found no evidence of wrongdoing. Upon his release, Sanchez was rearrested while investigators dug into the accusations of links with Sinaloa, the Zetas’ longtime enemies.

The former mayor of Cancun and member of the opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) was originally arrested in May 2010, while campaigning to be governor of Quintana Roo. Although he was more than 20 points down in most polls, many accused of Calderon’s government of using the fight against organized crime to tilt the political playing field. Such accusations have grown more frequent as administration officials have responded to his exoneration on one charge by seeking to implicate Sanchez on another.

Two of the other recent attempts to strike blows against political support for organized crime also failed miserably. The arrest of Jorge Hank Rhon, the former mayor of Tijuana and scion of one of the most prominent political families, fell apart within weeks after it was revealed that the army manipulated the evidence against Hank.

The Hank debacle followed the 2009 arrest of dozens of state and local officials in Calderon’s home state of Michoacan, in an episode dubbed the "michoacanazo."  Eventually, after languishing in prison awaiting trials for years in some cases, every one of the accused was released, and the charges dismissed.

Political adversaries of Calderon have pointed to the incidents as evidence that the government has politicized public security in Mexico -- Hank is a member of the opposition Institutional Party of the Revolution (PRI). However, while a majority of the Michoacan arrestees were also opposition politicians, some were also members of Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN).

If the arrest was an attempt at political point scoring, it backfired. Calderon’s government came out looking far worse after each episode, and in the case of Hank, whose links to organized crime have long been rumored, the failed prosecution seems to have given a boost to his political ambitions. Thriving on the extra attention, and the rare chance to play the victim, Hank has mused about the possibility of another run for the governor’s post in Baja California, which he almost won in 2007.

The inability to punish political sponsors of organized crime from every party has been a persistent shortcoming of Mexico’s anti-crime efforts. While dirty police are often arrested by the dozen, and even the capos have lost much of their erstwhile invincibility, the successful prosecution of a political patron is rare indeed.

Calderon has said that the main problem is corrupt judges, and has even claimed that he knows how much judges are paid to ignore the evidence against bent politicians. However, even if Calderon’s accusations have weight (they sparked vigorous denials from members of the judicial branch), at least some of the problem, as the Hank case shows, is due to Mexican police and prosecutor’s inability to build a proper case.

The inability to convict suspects is not limited to political cases. As InSight Crime noted in April, the Mexican Justice Department’s own figures show that just 28 percent of all federal arrests in 2010 resulted in a trial, to say nothing of a conviction. In the remainder, the cases were dismissed because of procedural errors or a lack of evidence.

Quintana Roo has a long history of links to organized crime. A relatively short flight across the Caribbean from Colombia, the state was the home to much of the Juarez Cartel’s organization in the 1990s, and in recent years has been controlled by the Zetas. The former governor of Quintana Roo, Mario Villanueva, served time in Mexico for protecting drug traffickers, and was later extradited to the U.S.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

The power of Colombia's elites is founded upon one of the most unequal divisions of land in the world. As of the early 21st century, one percent of landowners own more than half the country's agricultural land.1  Under Spanish rule, Colombia's agriculture was organized on the hacienda...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras is currently one of the most violent countries on the planet that is not at war. The violence is carried out by transnational criminal organizations, local drug trafficking groups, gangs and corrupt security forces, among other actors. Violence is the focal point for the international aid...

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Organized crime and the violence associated with it is the preeminent problem in Latin America and the Caribbean today. The region is currently home to six of the most violent countries in the world that are not at war. Four of those countries are in Central America...

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

In a new report based on extensive field research, InSight Crime and the Asociacion para una Sociedad mas Justa have traced how Honduras' two largest gangs, the MS13 and the Barrio 18, are evolving, and how their current modus operandi has resulted in staggering levels of violence...

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Transnational organized crime likes opportunities and little resistance. Bolivia currently provides both and finds itself at the heart of a new criminal dynamic that threatens national and citizen security in this landlocked Andean nation.

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

As Guatemala's Congress gears up to select new Supreme Court Justices and appellate court judges, InSight Crime is investigating how organized crime influences the selection process. This story details the interests of one particular political bloc vying for control over the courts and what's at stake: millions...

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

In August 2002, the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) greeted Colombia's new president with a mortar attack that killed 14 people during his inauguration. The attack was intended as a warning to the fiercely anti-FARC newcomer. But it became the opening salvo of...

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

The mad scramble for criminal power in the aftermath of the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) is over. The Urabeños, or as they prefer to call themselves, the "Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia," have won.

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Faced with the government's failure to rein in the criminals, communities across crime-besieged Mexico have been trying for years to organize effective civic resistance. Michoacan's vigilantes express the most extreme response by society to date, but other efforts have been less belligerent. In battle-torn cities along the...

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

If Uruguay's proposal to regulate the production, sale and distribution of marijuana is properly implemented and overcomes political and economic hurdles, it could be the most important drug regulation experiment in decades.