The faces of impunity…by guest blogger N.J. Blake
Sin Embargo, a favorite site for in depth news about Mexico, recently ran an article called Las Nueve Cartas Pendientes de la PGR which loosely translates to Nine Cards the Attorney General has Yet to Play. The faces on those cards are the faces of impunity in Mexico – union bosses, former presidents, ex-governors, a cast of characters accused of everything from abuse of power to corruption, cover-ups and set-ups.
Each has a “rap sheet” a mile long, even arrest warrants, but at least during Enrique Peña Nieto’s sexenio, it doesn’t seem likely that any of them will be held accountable, return one peso of the stolen public money, much less set foot in prison. Judging from the lengthy list of comments made in response to the article, picking the worst examples of Mexican corruption is like playing at naming the best movie ever made or book ever written – there are just so many to choose from and everyone has a favorite to add to the list.
Topping the list is Carlos Romero Deschamps, union boss, long time priista and close ally of the current president. Deschamps was recently re-elected, unanimously and for the third time, by the 140,000 members of the petroleum workers union, (Sindicato de Trabajadores Petroleros de la Republica Mexicana or STPRM) a position he’s already held for 16 years.
Deschamps has been at the public trough for decades. Even though his salary is about $2,000 USD per month he has managed to acquire many properties, yachts, luxury cars, a castle in France, and a collection of Piguet watches, while his daughter Paulina spends her time and Mexico’s money jet-setting all over the world with her three bulldogs, who also fly first class. Paulina delights in posting on Facebook about her extravagant tastes and her disdain for those not clever enough to be born to a clever thief like her father. In another gesture of parental love, Deschamps recently gave his son, Jose, a two million dollar limited edition Ferrari, the kind only sold to those who have at least two other Ferraris in the garage. And not to leave out the extended clan, he has seen to it that other family members, even those twice, three or ten times removed also have contracts with Pemex. That doesn’t mean they work there, they just get paid. And they have employment security guaranteed through the December 31, 2999. But on January 1, 3000, those little Deschamps are going to have to get to work! But to be fair, his predecessor, Joaquín Hernández Galicia, “La Quina”, was accused of homicide, stockpiling weapons and threats against national security. Maybe Deschamps is a step up.
In the days following the arrest of fellow union boss Elba Ester Gordillo of the Teachers Union, Deschamps was the first name to hit the headlines. Would he be next, would he finally be held accountable for the staggering level of corruption and theft? There were rumors that he had already been replaced, that the explosions at the Pemex Tower in September of last year were a warning, buzz ran rampant and then nothing.
Deschamps has had scandal after scandal slide off his oily plumage, too many to count – there are even arrest warrants out for this guy. And yet, he is so far unscathed. How is this possible? Well, there’s a neat answer to that question. Under all of the idealistic, socially progressive fervor following the 1910 Revolution, a bit of practicality was snuck in, just in case. Article 111, added during the Maximato of President Plutarco Elías Calles, grants the president, state governors and legislators immunity from prosecution while in office and although congress can choose to vote away this protection (desafuero) it’s a slow, ponderous process that happens rarely. After all, the golden rule applies and it’s very good motivation to look the other way. Fortuitously, Mr. Deschamps also happens to be a senator. There’s a peculiar practice in Mexican politics called plurinominalidad and whatever its intent was, the result has been the ‘gifting’ of congressional seats and this is how Deschamps became a senator. He is also a member of a number of important government committees such as the committee on foreign relations, energy and social security, but he rarely puts in an appearance – four of the last 13 meetings – and his name only appears on a handful of bills. Ironically, two of those bills were attempts at increasing transparency and fighting corruption.
Deschamps may still roam free but at least Elba Esther Gordillo is sitting in prison, probably wondering why she didn’t think to buy herself a congressional seat. So far her arrest is the only nod toward the administration’s much touted “clean-up” and probably just payback for supporting Calderón, a panista, in 2006. Her offspring, although cited in the indictments, are still free to live the high life and enjoy those ill-gotten gains. And one daughter at least has gotten herself a Senate seat. La Maestra’s replacement as head of the teachers’ union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educacion, or SNTE) Juan Díaz de la Torre, was also implicated in the massive embezzlement but that investigation doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
Another union boss, Victor Flores Morales, who has been at the helm of the railroad workers union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Ferrocarrileros de la Republica Mexicana, or SNTFRM) since 1995 is also a member of the untouchables and shockingly, a lover of luxury – luxury cars, homes, Cartier jewelry for himself and anyone else who strikes his fancy. There have been over 14,000 complaints filed against Mr. Flores, but in 2012 his union publicly backed Peña Nieto and ensured the endurance of the blind eye.
Being a union boss is Mexico is on par with being a drug kingpin – even in exile. The head of the miners union, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, is enjoying life in Vancouver, British Columbia, and $55 million dollars missing from the union’s accounts is likely contributing to that enjoyment. Los Mineros (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Siderurgicos y Similares de la Republica Mexicana, or SNTMMSSRM) re–elected their leader, in absentia, so between fighting extradition and embezzling funds, “Napo” is a busy man. He did, however, have to abandon his numerous homes in Mexico, including his 54,000 square foot cottage in Tepoztlán – that’s not a typo…
Genaro García Luna, another card yet to be played, was appointed head of National Security (Secretario de Seguridad Pública) by former president Felipe Calderón. This supercop, and media whore, was often center stage during the Calderon “war on drugs”, wearing a long train of scandals: abuse of power, alleged ties to drug cartels, misuse of government funds and the cherry on top – staging the “capture” of Frenchwoman Florence Cassez for the cameras. García Luna might have to answer for that one, even the PRI is giving lip service to some kind of sanction. But don’t hold your breath.
García Luna’s right hand man, Luis Cárdenas Palomino, is also on the list. His name keeps coming up on narcomantas for favoring one cartel over another and it’s been whispered that the shootout between police agents at the Mexico City airport was his handiwork. When capo Edgar Valdez Villareal, “La Barbie” was captured in 2010 he swore up and down that he had paid off both García Luna and Cárdenas – both were shocked and appalled by the accusations. Cárdenas resigned his post last December in order to spend more time with his family – and his gun collection, which is rumored to be include at least 99 weapons.
The former governor of Chiapas, Juan José Sabines Guerrero, not only left the state bankrupt, he shredded the evidence. He (along with some 50 cohorts) has been charged with a whole smorgasbord of crimes but nobody seems to know where he is. Sabines is just one of a number of recent governors who have absconded with the public’s funds – Tomas Yarrington, ex-governor of Tamaulipas was arrested in Texas, but he was freed on bail and seems to be AWOL. Coahuila’s Humberto Moreira, another poster-boy for governmental corruption was also once head of the PRI. Andres Granier Melo, former PRI governor of Tabasco, is accused of the theft of over 900 millones de pesos – federal money earmarked for much needed social programs. The list of Mexican governors is starting to look like a list of Most Wanted.
Former President Felipe Calderón makes Sin Embargo’s list of untouchables despite the current administration’s promise to “investigate” the bloodbath unleashed during Calderon’s sexenio. A crimes against humanity complaint, signed by 23,000 Mexicans, has been filed with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, but Calderon is spending his days at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Business.
Another Mexican president, Ernesto Zedillo (1994 to 2000) is the final name on the list, this because of a massacre of 45 Tzotzile Indians in Acteal, Chiapas. The group of 100 or so armed men who perpetrated the attack are alleged to have been PRI operatives trained by the military. No one has had to answer for this atrocity but there have been attempts to prosecute Zedillo who is now a professor at Yale University. In 2012 the former president threw his support behind Enrique Peña Nieto.
This is a story with no end – citizens protest, journalists expose but those tasked with eliminating impunity are the very ones who benefit from it – and as we say in Mexico: “perro no come perro.”