Mexico Federal Prosecutor Fails to Investigate 95% Drug Murders

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Official statistics suggest that the surge in drug violence in Mexico is overwhelming the nation’s institutions, with the justice system struggling to keep up with the ever-growing number of criminals, and victims.

One manifestation of this, as Contralinea reports, is the inability of the nation’s justice department, known as the PGR, to investigate the growing number of murders linked to the drug trade and organized crime. Out of roughly 40,000 such killings since the start of the Calderon administration in 2006, the PGR has opened investigations into just 1,778 — less than 5 percent.

The government defends itself by saying it has a legal obligation to investigate only those murders that fall within federal jurisdiction, which is limited to killings of journalists and government officials. However, critics say that the PGR should investigate all murders linked to organized crime, as this constitutes a federal offense.

The argument over responsibility masks a larger problem of capacity: even if the PGR accepted the obligation to investigate all murders linked to organized crime and the drug trade, it clearly could not increase the number of investigations by a factor of 20 and still conduct effective inquiries. For the PGR to increase its capacity to not only open perfunctory investigations but bring them to a satisfactory close, it needs far more funding and manpower than it has today, something no one is seriously proposing.

This is reflective of a broader dysfunction of the criminal justice system at all levels. Despite the fact that the federal authorities enjoy a better reputation than their state and local counterparts, the PGR says that just 28 percent of all arrests on federal crimes in 2010 resulted in trials, to say nothing of convictions, with the remainder dismissed because of a lack of evidence or procedural errors in the investigation.

The Contralinea report comes amid a turbulent opening to the tenure of Attorney General Marisela Morales (see photo above), who was named to head the PGR in March with the mandate to save a sinking ship. But she first endured embarrassment over a botched attempt to prosecute former Tijuana mayor Jorge Hank Rhon in June, the root of which was the army’s misconduct in carrying out the arrest. Earlier this week 21 of her subordinates running state PGR offices, out of a total of 31, were removed from their posts in murky circumstances. This follows a widespread purge of PGR employees since her arrival, with close to 1,000 either already fired, in the process of being terminated, or facing criminal charges.

The following is InSight Crime’s translation of extracts from the Contralinea report:

With the resignation of Arturo Chavez Chavez as attorney general, toward the end of last March, one of the grave oversights of the current adminstration with regard to the war on drugs was laid bare. In four and a half years, the nation’s legal representative has opened just 4.4 percent of the investigations required of it by the constitution in the more than 40,000 civilian murders. [Here, civilian is used to indicate that the victim was not a member of the military, and does not imply that they were uninvolved with organized crime.]

Four months since she was named attorney general, Marisela Morales Ibeñez still hasn’t corrected this situation, reveal reports given to Contralinea by the agency. That despite President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa having charged her with the task of correcting the defect as soon as possible.

[…]

Responding to a motion from the Chamber of Deputies — in which the PGR was urged to report on the circumstances of what were, at the time, 34,000 murders of civilians — the PGR argued that homicide is in the common jurisdiction and that it only takes up cases that, owing to their characteristics, represent a problem for the state PGRs in terms of carrying out the case, or at their request. The agency added that the exception is cases in which public servants or federal employees are involved…

[…]

The Federal Institute for Access to Information submitted a request to the PGR to provide information regarding the number of deaths and disappearances stemming from this “war” against crime. Carlos Alberto Perez Cuevas, Esthela Damian Peralta, and Mario di Costanzo (deputies from the National Action Party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution, and the Workers Party, respectively) agreed that the information should be scrutinized…

The researcher [Daniel] Marquez [of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico] comments that the Secretariat of Public Function (SFP) must open a case investigating the irregularities inside the PGR, specifically the lack of investigations. “It’s not an agenda item, its a legal obligation. Salvador Vega Casillas [te secretary of the SFP] has the designated responsibility assigned in the Federal Law of Administrative Responsibilities of Public Servants. If they don’t fulfill the law, then to whom can we report them? It’s not a political question.”

Contralinea sought an interview with the PGR and the SFP. Rocio Cabrera, the PGR spokeswoman, said that SIEDO [the PGR unit specializing in drug-related crimes], and therefore its boss Patricia Bugarin Gutierrez, was not offering comments. Moises Ciriaco Salvador, director of Analysis of Press and Publicity, said that the ability of the SFP is “very” limited and at the moment it is not an issue inside the agency.

[…]

The PGR hasn’t merely failed to investigate homicides supposedly linked to the “war” on drugs; they have also done so in the prosecution of acts related to organized crime, which are a part of the federal jurisdiction, reveal the reports turned over to this magazine by the agency.

According to [the report], there are only 6,196 preliminary investigations for crimes identified by the Federal Law against Organized Crime (primarily drug trafficking, organized crime, handling assets of illegal origin, kidnapping, and car theft). In December 2006, 44 investigations; in 2007, 1,217; in 2008, 1,165; in 2009, 1,505; in 2010, 1,950; January and February of 2011, 315.

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