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You won’t believe how much this Mexican politician is accused of stealing

The case against Duarte, 43, who was detained in Guatemala over Easter weekend following a six-month international manhunt, has become a symbol of Mexico’s long struggle with political corruption. “A politician who is poor is a poor politician” and “Not living off the public purse is to live in sin” are common refrains here.

Duarte, who awaits extradition to Mexico, also represents the growing power of governors, who once served at the pleasure of the president, but gained more autonomy and ever bigger budgets as the country cast aside one-party rule in 2000. Political analysts liken them to corrupt warlords operating without oversight from state legislatures, auditors and courts.

“These people have bankrupted their states, it appears, for personal gain. That’s hard to do,” said Jeffrey Weldon, a political science professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM).

A study by the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, a think tank, found 41 governors accused of corruption between 2000 and 2013; 16 were investigated and only four were punished. All nine U.S. governors accused of corruption during the same period were detained and prosecuted, according to the study.

Duarte became notorious for poor security during his tenure, as his state experienced widespread violence. Mass graves were unearthed, including one containing more than 250 skulls. At least 17 journalists were murdered while he was governor from 2010 to 2016, prompting press freedom groups to call Veracruz “the most dangerous place in the hemisphere” to practice journalism. Duarte resigned in October and fled in a government helicopter.

He isn’t the only ex-governor in recent trouble. Tomás Yarrington, former governor of the violence-ridden state of Tampaulipas on the Texas border, was arrested in Italy on April 9.

Yarrington, governor from 1999 to 2005, is accused in Mexico and the United States of racketeering and money laundering, allegedly taking bribes from two criminal syndicates: the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas. His successor, Eugenio Hernández, was indicted in Texas in 2015 on federal money laundering charges.

Both Yarrington and Hernández had state government bodyguards while on the lam, raising questions about the Mexican government’s commitment to capturing fugitive governors

“I’m all for the Americans arresting Mexican governors,” said Esteban Illades, editor of the Mexican magazine Nexos. “At least one law enforcement agency is still doing its job.”

President Enrique Peña Nieto lauded the capture of Duarte and Yarrington — both elected as members of his political party — as “a firm and convincing message from the Mexican state against impunity.”

Still, critics question the political class’s commitment to stamping out corruption. Mexico recently enacted the National Anti-Corruption System, but Congress missed the deadline for appointing an anti-corruption prosecutor and proposed stripping some of the prosecutor’s independence.

“They want this to be a simulation,” said Viridiana Ríos, a scholar at the Wilson Center, a Washington, D.C., think tank. The anti-corruption system “looks good on paper, but in the small print, it’s business as usual.”

“What Duarte did was very much in public view,” said Fernanda Gómez Abán, a researcher with Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity.

As the country moved from a one-party monopoly to competitive elections, political parties needed to put more money into maintaining their patronage groups and to ply poor voters with cash and goodies.

“Governors use public resources and public sector personnel to rig election outcomes against their enemies,” said Federico Estévez, a political science professor at ITAM.

As power was decentralized from the federal government in Mexico City, “state capitals became destinations” for ambitious politicians, Estévez said. “Half the federal budget flows through their (governors’) hands.”

Watchdogs say politicians at all levels used to justify the theft of government money, saying they shared it with poor communities and provided proper public services, but now they often just sink the money into their own pockets.

“Politicians in positions of power care about the perks of the palace, not in governing from there,” columnist René Delgado wrote April 15 in the newspaper Reforma. “They’re robbing without governing.”

news source – usatoday

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