It is understandable that a not insignificant segment of Mexican society celebrated the arrest of Genaro García Luna on December 10, 2019, and it is also understandable that he expected a harsh trial and an exemplary sentence. The Mexican police chief is the face of the failure of the war against drugs of the 2006-2012 six-year term (which Enrique Peña Nieto and Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong replicated from 2012 to 2018) and also represents, in his person, the only possibility that Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, the true designer of the strategy that brought thousands of deaths to this day, will pay one of the many impunity bills.
Having García Luna in the dock, for many, has been like having Calderón himself. Even if it’s a hologram. But if the US court gives the former Mexican official a life sentence, will that be justice enough? Is the damage compensated? These and other questions that we Mexicans ask ourselves are very valid and deserve to be reviewed.
When the war began in Ciudad Juárez, a security specialist –who later had to go into exile– told me that “Gente Nueva”, a mercenary group at the service of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in the Sinaloa Cartel, brought “a list of the leaders of La Línea, in such a way that the hitmen would arrive at a home, knock on the door, confirm the name and then shoot.” It was an execution command that had come from afar –it would be confirmed later–, with a list that could only come from an intelligence body.
Someone had done the previous work for “El Chapo,” the specialist, a former director of one of the prisons, told me. Someone from the government of Felipe Calderón, with public money, had used the tools available to the State to satisfy the appetite of one criminal at war against another. The fact that Guzmán Loera had help made the difference because he was able to defeat Amado Carrillo’s brother on his own ground, according to this version: he defeated Vicente Carrillo “El Viceroy”, who was in charge of the operations of the criminal enterprise in that border.
The question “who gave that list to ‘El Chapo’?” can be answered more or less easily if it doesn’t require giving names. They were civil or military. But that is not the important thing or it is just a sample button of a broader lesson.
Felipe Calderón’s war was an “intervention in criminal logic”, decided from a government leadership. The public discourse told us that it was to end the enemies of society, but that intervention would have been to benefit a group of drug traffickers, according to the evidence of the prosecutors. García Luna’s police were not reactive nor did they go to the scene of the tragedies to bring justice, to solve crimes and to guarantee that the murderers paid for what they did. They were forces that operated with intelligence.
“The engineer”, as Calderón tells him, had been trained at Cisen and knew exactly what espionage, infiltration, identification and classification of actors, and so on, are for. The point here is that, according to the criminal leaders themselves, the security forces intervened to benefit certain groups even though this would provoke, as we have seen, a war on several fronts.
These days, in the United States court we hear how organized crime bosses say that García Luna allegedly helped them with their rivals. The thesis of the list of enemies given to “Gente Nueva” in Ciudad Juárez seems to make sense. If so, Calderón’s war formally becomes a tool to manage crimes between civilians from the State. Thus, we are facing a notorious case, even at the international level, where the State uses the “legitimate monopoly of violence” – raised by Max Weber in Politics as a vocation1919– for special interests: a series of bribes valued, during the hearings in Brooklyn, in millions of dollars.
The war between Vicente Carrillo and Joaquín Guzmán left, in record time, more than seven thousand intentional homicides in Ciudad Juarez and the surrounding municipalities up to the Valley of Juárez. And that was just at boot and just dead. Can you imagine how many homicides García Luna caused with the administration of the chaos that came with the declaration of war by President Felipe Calderón? Can you imagine how many people were murdered every time García Luna, with or without Calderón’s knowledge, sat down with a criminal, according to US prosecutors?
I insist: it is understandable that millions of Mexicans celebrated the arrest of García Luna and an eventual exemplary sentence, but this could not stop there. The Department of Justice of the United States will not ask itself the questions that are fundamental for Mexicans, and Judge Brian Cogan will only take into account whether or not it is proven that the ex-secretary is corrupt. But it will not come out, at least in this trial, that the corruption of the Mexican federal authorities encouraged thousands of people to be victims of homicide, kidnapping, extortion, forced displacement, etc.
Judge Cogan will not analyze Calderon’s security strategy in depth either. It is not his role and it would also put him in a quagmire because it involves reviewing, first, the concept of the “war on drugs” coined on June 18, 1971 by President Richard Nixon, and the “war on drugs” strategy that he promotes. United States and that has generated more corruption and hundreds of thousands of deaths in the American Continent, including its territories. Nor will the judge consider why President Calderón maintained the strategy after (a) he had many documented warnings (there are official letters, letters, conversations) that his police chief was corrupt and (b) learned of the damage that was being caused to the civil population.
So who is going to raise it and when? Because if García Luna is found guilty, part of the path will have been covered but not all of it, or not for Mexicans.
In his text “Bribes, setups and corruption: the corrosive power of the drug trafficker in the trial against García Luna” published in The country This Sunday, February 12, Elías Camhaji exposes: “But the money was distributed to all kinds of officials and public servants. Nava Valencia implicated Guillermo Galván Galván, Calderón’s Secretary of Defense. Tirso Martínez “El Futbolista” spoke of how he had bribed commanders of the state Police and tollbooth employees. [Édgar] Veytia said that he had judges and journalists on his payroll to “save appearances,” as well as the funds that reached the electoral campaigns. Raúl Arellano, a former federal police officer, said that the high command of the Federal Police at the Mexico City airport received payments, as well as those in charge of the main air terminals, to move narcotics, money and crime weapons. Israel Ávila, who kept the accounts of the Beltrán Leyva, corroborated it and added the name of Luis Ángel Cabeza de Vaca, former Morelos Security Secretary, to the list. Cabeza de Vaca was acquitted of a drug trafficking investigation in 2016.”
That is, the strategy of managing the “legitimate monopoly of State violence” in favor of one or several criminal groups generated a wave of rot within the public administration, and not only violence. That will not be resolved in the trial either because several of those mentioned have previously gone through Mexican courts – with a reputation for corruption – and were acquitted; This is the case of Cabeza de Vaca but not only that: Humberto Moreira, mentioned in the US plot, was acquitted on the last day of the 2006-2012 six-year term.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has stated that he is not trying to generate new complaints or prosecute any of the former presidents of Mexico, and that includes Felipe Calderón. Instead, he has preferred to display them publicly on the premise that they “lose their respectability” after the decisions they made. This forces us to reason about what other formats exist so that ex-functionaries in particular and, in general, a public administration, are tried for participating in crimes committed from the State. A formula accepted in the world are truth commissions, official bodies “responsible for discovering and revealing past irregularities on the part of a government with the hope of resolving conflicts left over from the past”, as Onur Bakiner puts it in “Truth Commissions: Memory, Power and Legitimacy”. (“Truth Commissions: Memory, Power, and Legitimacy”University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).
Some wonder why it seems like an “obsession” that Felipe Calderón remains so firm in the collective memory and is mentioned so insistently in press releases, articles, public debates, forums or by the current government, openly antagonistic to the former president and former national leader of the PAN. The answer lies in the absence of a trial and not only because of the effect that it would produce in a society that is brought to justice, but because it would heal an open wound in Mexico as soon as the 21st century began. Hence the value of a truth commission that “investigates a pattern of events that took place over a period of time; engages directly and widely with the affected population, gathering information about their experiences; that it be a temporary organism, with the objective of concluding with a final report; and that it is officially authorized or empowered by the State” to draw conclusions.
In this way, it will not depend on a foreign judge and jury that we Mexicans feel our desires for justice and reparation are satisfied. It will not depend on whether or not they give García Luna a life sentence in the United States. It will depend on what a collegiate body of women and men committed to the truth decides. Perhaps a commission of this nature is not prudent for the current government, because it will inevitably generate political turbulence four years into the administration. But it could be a matter of the 2024 presidential elections, that is to say: it can be raised from now on so that it is not a surprise in 2025, as happened to us with Felipe Calderón himself, when, questioned about his legitimacy, he started from nothing a war that continues and that generations of Mexicans will regret.
I must also warn that the truth commissions have not worked in Mexico as they did bring justice, for example, in Argentina. The Commission for Access to Truth and Historical Clarification (COVeH), 1965-1990, is currently in office; Let’s hope it works, for the good of the Mexicans. But Vicente Fox created another for the “dirty war” that went to waste.
And it is prudent to say that a truth commission is an alternative, but it does not replace the work of the Public Ministry, which is a defender of citizen interests, at least in theory. Ideally, the Attorney General’s Office is persecuting all those accused of corruption and not just waiting, as seems to be evident, for the Financial Intelligence Unit to ask it to go after the assets of García Luna and his partners. abroad. Ideally, the Prosecutor Alejandro Gertz Manero surprises us with a great investigation into the elite of politicians that led this Nation to a war that did not happen long ago and that is still ongoing.
But, well, a truth commission might be a good idea, too. Or an idea to try to access the truth and non-repetition, as if the events we are talking about had occurred a century ago. It’s something.
Alejandro Paez Varela
Journalist, writer. He is the author of the novels Corazón de Kalashnikov (Alfaguara 2014, Planeta 2008), Música para Perros (Alfaguara 2013), El Reino de las Moscas (Alfaguara 2012) and Oriundo Laredo (Alfaguara 2017). He is also from the story books Does Not Include Batteries (Cal y Arena 2009) and Parachute that does not open (2007). He wrote President in Waiting (Planeta 2011) and is co-author of other journalism books such as La Guerra por Juárez (Planeta, 2008), Los Suspirantes 2006 (Planeta 2005), Los Suspirantes 2012 (Planeta 2011), Los Amos de México (2007), The Untouchables (2008) and The Suspirantes 2018 (Planet 2017). He was deputy editorial director of El Universal, deputy director of the magazine Día Siete and editor at Reforma and El Economista. He is currently the CEO of SinEmbargo.mx