Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Michoacán Mayors

There is a great New Yorker-style story to be written about the arrests of the mayors in Michoacán last year (most of whom have since been released without charges being filed). I propose Gatopardo as the publication to commission and run the piece. Anyway, William Booth scratches the surface with a recent piece in the Post:

The episode illustrates a central challenge faced by Mexico, where law enforcement authorities remain hard pressed to win major conspiracy cases, either because they arrest the wrong people or because prosecutors remain hobbled by incompetence.

It also suggests that despite Calderón's pledges of sweeping reform, Mexico has a long way to go in rebuilding its corrupt and hapless police and judiciary.


"The cartels never pressured me to cooperate. They never called me," said Antonio González, a Xerox dealer and mayor of Uruapan, a bustling city in the heart of Michoacan's avocado country.

During his eight months in jail, González said, investigators told him that they had been listening in on his phone calls for six months. "I kept waiting to see some evidence of my crime," said González, who spent the days jumping an imaginary rope and working on his memoirs.

He said the accusations against him came from anonymous tips. "My lawyers told me: 'This is a joke. Any lawyer can see that they don't have any evidence against you. There's no way you'll even spend the 40 days here. You should be out in a couple of days,' " said González, who belongs to Calderón's party.

He says he was interrogated by a prosecutor who badgered him to confess that he once had lunch with a cartel member named "Mr. Gómez," whom González says he does not remember.

"This was all based in rumors. Rumors and lies. They were looking for a scapegoat and people talk, perhaps for political reasons," González said. "It was a horrible experience, just horrible."


Leonel Godoy Rangel, governor of Michoacan, complained that the federal government treated the mayors like criminals but acted with little evidence; he said the mayors deserve an apology.

Interior Secretary Fernando Gómez-Mont said no apology will be forthcoming. The mayors were released because judges found insufficient evidence, he said, not because "their innocence has been proven."

It remains unclear to what degree was this cooked up for political reasons, why some or most or all of these mayors were believed to be protecting organized crime, and whether or not they were actually doing so. The police and judiciary are referred to as "hapless and corrupt", but without the answers to the above questions, it's impossible to say whether this fiasco stems from haplessness, garden-variety prosecutorial overreach, political considerations, a little bit of each, or something else altogether.

That last line from Gómez Mont is key, and needs to be pulled apart a lot more. It's a plausible reason for their release, but we shouldn't accept it on its face. Booth didn't get any access to federal officials nor is there any detail about the evidence that triggered their arrest, so that vital part of the story remains untold.

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