Political Corruption Scandals Continue; Reports Link Morelos Governor Sergio Estrada to Drug Traffickers

Article excerpt

Scandal continues to taint elected officials in Mexico, with new allegations of misconduct surfacing on a regular basis. Several instances of major political corruption have already become public this year, including separate bribery cases involving the leader of the Partido Verde Ecologista Mexicano (PVEM) and a leader in the state legislature (Asamblea Legislativa del Distrito Federal, ALDF), along with the allegations of embezzling of public funds by a high-level official from Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's administration (see SourceMex, 2004-03-10).

The latest corruption case involves the administration of Morelos Gov. Sergio Estrada Cajigal of the governing center-right Partido Accion Nacional (PAN). At the heart of the scandal, which broke in early April, are allegations that Gov. Estrada allowed the powerful Juarez drug cartel to use Morelos state as a collection and distribution site for cocaine arriving from Colombia.

The Morelos operations are said to have been directed by Juarez cartel lieutenants Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno and Vicente Carrillo Leyva. Carrillo is the nephew of Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, considered the leader of the cartel.

Estrada's connection to the drug-trafficking organization remains under investigation, but the federal organized crime investigating agency (Investigacion Especializada en Delincuencia Organizada, SIEDO) has already filed charges against Morelos judicial police officer Jose Agustin Montiel, his top aide Raul Cortes, and five other state police officers. According to SIEDO, top officials of the state judicial police accepted bribes in exchange for protecting airfields, aircraft, warehouses, and individuals linked to drug-trafficking activities in Cuernavaca and other Morelos communities.

SIEDO, a unit of the Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR), also implicated a handful of members of the federal police force (Policia Federal Preventiva, PFP). The PFP officers worked closely with the Morelos police and drug traffickers, alerting them about federal surveillance operations and surprise inspections at checkpoints, SIEDO said.

Juarez cartel operates in state

Estrada's response to the scandal was to promptly dismiss 552 members of the judicial police and to announce a restructuring of the entire force. "We want our agents to be fully trained in criminal investigation...respecting a code of ethics in strict compliance with the law and human rights," Estrada told reporters.

The governor, however, has not escaped suspicion, even though allegations of his involvement in the scheme have not been proven. A key issue in the investigation is Estrada's close friendship with Nadia Esparragoza, daughter of Juan Jose Esparragoza, commonly known as El Azul. Nadia Esparragoza has played a key role in ensuring the smooth movement of drugs in and out of Morelos, said the Mexico City daily newspaper El Universal.

The PGR issued a statement exonerating Estrada, but even that statement attracted criticism. The PGR said an initial SIEDO investigation found no evidence that Estrada was directly involved with the activities of the Morelos state police. "A year ago we launched an investigation into reports linking the governor to the Juarez cartel, but we did not find evidence of such a link," Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha told reporters.

Opposition parties immediately criticized Macedo for being too quick in exonerating Estrada, especially given some allegations that the Morelos governor and state attorney general Guillermo Tenorio Avila had acted as liaisons in payments from the Juarez cartel to state and federal officials. In mid-April, legislators from all parties except the PAN approved a resolution in the federal Chamber of Deputies calling on Macedo to offer a clear and convincing explanation of why Estrada was "exonerated in secret."

The center-left Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD) also accused the PGR of playing politics by favoring a PAN governor while going full speed with its investigation of the corruption cases in Mexico City. …