The flaw in successive Mexican governments’ strategies against organized crime has been a political inability to attack high-level corruption and the legitimate business networks that sustain such groups. Much like the Sicilian Mafia of old, the Sinaloa Cartel appears to enjoy multiple layers of protection from the local to the national level, and is deeply immersed in the country’s private sector.
The U.S. Treasury Department has accused senior members of the alliance of holding investments across the Mexican economy in construction, real estate, agriculture, and even the fashion industry. According to an investigation by the Mexican daily El Universal, several of these firms have received public contracts in recent years.
Under the circumstances, there is also a suspicion that such companies contribute to political campaigns.
“A serious lack of political will,”
“When you see the extraordinary sums spent on elections in different parts of the country, you have to question the origin of those funds,” says Edgardo Buscaglia, a lawyer and expert on international organized crime. “Unfortunately, no Mexican authority is currently investigating the phenomenon.”
“Nobody is saying that the entire establishment is involved, of course not,” Buscaglia added. “But there is a serious lack of political will to tackle the issue.”
Tellingly, the Mexican government currently possesses no comparable list of such firms. An attempt by the Felipe Calderón administration to pass a civil asset forfeiture law based on best international practices in 2009 resulted in incredibly weak legislation that has barely been utilized by prosecutors.
Political corruption remains the elephant in the room. In 2014, the governor of Michoacán, Fausto Vallejo Figueroa, resigned after both his son and his former campaign manager were linked to the Knights Templar. An ex-governor of Tamaulipas was recently indicted by the U.S. Justice Department for money laundering while a group of officials from the state of Coahuila are currently under investigation by the FBI for both money laundering and the distribution of public contracts to firms linked to organized crime.
A sweeping judicial reform passed by the Mexican congress in 2008 was intended not only to boost transparency, but also strengthen the investigative capacity of police and craft laws to unravel criminal networks. Yet for the most part the new legislation has hung in limbo, a phenomenon that one security expert attributes to a lack of leadership.
“So many elements are impossible to implement politically,” says Alejandro Hope, an independent analyst based in Mexico City. “To reform the police, for example, you are looking for mayors and governors to relinquish control of such agencies. This is bad politics for the president because so many local authorities belong to his party.
“There is a deep absence of consensus over who should be in charge of each institution and to what extent oversight mechanisms are applied,” he adds. “Mistrust, complicity, incompetence, and a lack of coordination have all played a part.”
“El Chapo” Guzmán’s daredevil prison break has naturally drawn spectacular headlines, yet the glaring flaws in Mexico’s anticrime strategy warrant much closer scrutiny. The Peña Nieto administration has shown itself to be as weak as its predecessors in implementing constructive measures against organized crime, and the country’s dire security situation will likely continue as a result.