Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cancun Mayor Gregorio Sanchez's Arrest: A Case of Biased Law Enforcement?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cancun Mayor Gregorio Sanchez's Arrest: A Case of Biased Law Enforcement?

Article excerpt

This week's arrest of Cancun mayor Gregorio Sanchez, who was running for governor, is prompting accusations that Mexico's President Felipe Calderon is targeting opposition party officials in his war against corruption and drug cartels. What does the record show?

The arrest of a gubernatorial candidate in Cancun for alleged links to drug cartels is raising questions about political bias in the Mexican government's effort to weed out corruption.

Federal prosecutors detained Cancun Mayor Gregorio Sanchez late Tuesday on charges he offered information and protection to both the ruthless Zetas and Beltran Leyva drug syndicates in Mexico.

The arrest - in the midst of Sanchez's campaign bid for governor of the state of Quintana Roo - shocked the nation and sparked accusations of electoral sabotage from his Democratic Revolution Party (PRD).

On Thursday, President Felipe Calderon denied the arrest was a political ploy, saying it is backed by both evidence and testimony. Mr. Calderon acknowledged, however, that the move could cause a confrontation between political parties. "I seriously lament that," he said.

Mexicans losing faith in rule of law

This is not the first time in recent history that law enforcement from a ruling party has targeted candidates of the opposition. In fact, it happens so frequently and crosses party lines that many Mexicans have lost faith in criminal cases brought against elected officials, say analysts. And few of the charges end in convictions, confirming a sense that an already weak judicial system cannot successfully battle strong political interests, even when egregious crimes have been committed.

"The best thing the government can do right now is to start addressing corruption not just in opposition parties, but within its own parties," says Edgardo Buscaglia, a law and economics professor at Mexico's Autonomous Technological Institute in Mexico City who has advised federal and local law enforcement in Mexico.

"This has to be perceived by society as a balanced campaign against corruption. And for now it's not perceived as balanced," he says. Calderon has cracked down on corrupt security officials in his own administration with Operation Clean-House in 2008 and most recently arrested the captain of the Pacific coast port of Manzanillo on drug ties Thursday. But he has not targeted his own party's elected officials.

A catch-and-release program?

Sanchez's arrest has been compared to Calderon's sweep of 10 mayors in PRD-held Michoacan during election season last year on alleged links to drug traffickers. Almost all of the mayors, who included two members of Calderon's National Action Party (PAN), were later released from prison.

Since 2004, local and federal prosecutors from different parties have brought and subsequently dropped criminal charges against political opponents. …

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