Capo’s Claims Threaten Case Against Mexican Generals

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Recent declarations from jailed Mexican capo “La Barbie” have weakened the case against a general accused of corruption, providing another example of the government’s inability to effectively prosecute corrupt officials.

As Proceso reported, Edgar Valdez Villarreal, aka “La Barbie,” accused officials from the organized crime unit (SEIDO) of Mexico’s Justice Department (PGR), of asking him to lie about his connections with retired General Tomas Angeles Dauahare. The general was arrested in May along with five other officers on suspicion of colluding with drug traffickers from the Beltran Leyva Organization.

According to La Barbie, former partners like Sergio Villarreal, alias “El Grande,” who was arrested shortly after him, told officials that the capo had links to the generals. Officials from the crime unit asked for his cooperation, despite La Barbie’s insistence that he knew nothing of the case.

They wanted me to testify against them to help SIEDO [as the agency was previously known]. I asked them how was it possible for me to help if I didn’t know [the generals]. They told me that I all I had to do was say that I knew them…

Before his arrest, Angeles was said to be close to presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto (now the president-elect) and was considered a candidate for defense secretary. The accusations eliminated any possibility of such a post, and tarnished the reputation of the incoming president. Given the timing, many saw Angeles’ arrest as a political maneuver against the incoming president.

Such suspicions have dogged many of the Calderon government’s highest-profile crime and corruption cases. The arrests of dozens of state and local officials in Michoacan in 2009, just ahead of midterm congressional elections and local contests around the country, was also seen as being politically motivated, a suspicion that was strengthened when all of those arrested were later released due to lack of evidence.

The 2012 arrest of Jorge Hank Rhon, former Tijuana mayor and the scion of a famous PRI family, was tainted by similar accusations. As with the Michoacan officials, the case fell apart when video evidence revealed that soldiers involved in his arrest (on weapons charges) had tampered with the evidence.

The accusations from La Barbie will do much to discredit the government’s case. Such incidents also erode confidence in the integrity of the authorities, a persistent problem in Mexico across all levels of government.

Furthermore, episodes like that of Hank Rhon or Angeles demonstrate the government’s inability to consistently uncover and punish acts of corruption among political heavyweights. Mexico has made enormous strides in attacking two key elements of the drug trade, the capos and the dirty cops, but this has not translated into success in confronting official corruption in the political or military class. As a result, an official faced with a choice of colluding with a groups of narcos knows that saying “yes” brings little risk of detection or arrest, while saying “no” carries a high risk of retribution. In this sense, the incentives are plainly skewed toward corruption.

This case also illustrates the difficult relationship between the PGR and other branches of the government. Under Attorney General Marisela Morales, who came to the post in early 2011, the PGR has had a bitter dispute with the army over the latter’s misconduct in the Hank Rhon case. (Many believed the whole event was set up to burn Morales). And earlier this month, reports emerged of a heated shouting match between Morales and Public Security Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna during a cabinet meeting, which forced Calderon to intervene.

Accusations that PGR officials were trying to build an artificial case against a decorated general will only feed that animus. What’s more, Pena Nieto has announced he will dissolve the Secretariat of Public Security (SSP), the institution run by Garcia Luna, which had spearheaded Calderon’s fight against crime. As Mexico heads into a new presidential administration, the rivalries between competing agencies appear less a case of healthy competition than a barrier to effective cooperation.

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