Sunday, October 24, 2010

More on Michoacán

Milenio's Sunday magazine had a longer look at the failure of the michoacanazo a couple of weeks ago. Víctor Ronquillo, who has a lot of experience writing about crime in Mexico, says that the basis of the arrests was three protected witnesses:
In the testimony given, which today is just barely becoming publicly known, anecdotes swirl. Paco alleged that Citlali Fernández, today liberated for lack of proof as have been the majority of the accused, was the "liaison" between the mafia La Familia and Michoacán's political elite. Emilio remembered the presence of the state's ex-secretary of public security and the ex-advisor to governor Leonel Godoy in a party celebrated among narcos, and declared that the official, key to the strategies and labors of public security in the state before her capture in May 2009, was the "romantic partner" of another of the leaders of the criminal organization La Familia, Dionisio Loya Plancarte, alias El Tío.

Soon the declarations of the protected witnesses were brought down. The backbone of the investigation carried out to send the implicated officials to prison turned out to be a house of cards and the latest five were released in last September 28. Efraín Cázares, chief judge of the First District Court of Michoacán, declared: "This court determined [that the five released officials] are not criminally guilty of acts of organized crime and crimes of drug trafficking in the sense of collaborating to facilitate the commission of these crimes".
Ronquillo also tells us that the number of protected witnesses employed by the PGR has jumped from 99 in 2002 to more than 400 today. They make anywhere from $2,000-$4,000 a month for their services, which is a significant paycheck in Mexico (for comparison's sake, a mid-level engineer with, say, five years of experience at a factory would probably make $1,000-$2,000). The piece comes across as anti-protected witness, in much the same way as Snitch did: they are unreliable shysters who exist only to manipulate the government. I'm not quite convinced by that argument. Relying too heavily protected witnesses leads to embarrassments or miscarriages of justice or both, but they also help make cases and put high-ranking criminals in prison. The key distinction, one that depends very much on the judgment of law enforcement, is between use and abuse. But to be honest, 411 protected witnesses in a nation where between 500,000 and 1 million people work in the drug trade seems like a paltry sum.

Another interesting element: Calderón has referred somewhat evasively to recordings being played before the judges supporting the witnesses' claims. Perhaps tellingly, he said, "It is my understanding...", not, "The judges heard tapes that showed..." But whether or not there was additional evidence beyond the witnesses does seem to be a significant piece of the puzzle, and Ronquillo doesn't dig into it at all.

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