The future of the recently elected governor in Tamaulipas, one of Mexico’s most criminally infested states, depends on punishing his predecessors for past sins of corruption and collusion with criminal networks, according to the author of a new book on the subject.
Impunity for contraband runners, drug traffickers and corrupt political elites dates back to the very inception of organized crime in Mexico's northwestern territory, argues Humberto Padgett in "Tamaulipas - La Casta de los narcogobernadores: un eastern mexicano."
He takes us back to the 1930s, when prohibition was in place in the United States and contraband runners were smuggling alcohol across the border Tamaulipas shares with Texas. One of the documented smugglers in Tamaulipas was Juan Nepomuceno Guerra, born and raised in the border city of Matamoros and the founder of what is now known as the Gulf Cartel.
Padgett paints a fascinating picture of Nepomuceno, who he refers to as "el maestro" (the master). He remains untouched by the authorities, despite the fact that he shoots his own wife, the actress Gloria Landeros, in a fit of jealousy in 1947. Incredibly, even killing the son of revolutionary leader Pancho Villa some 13 years later had no real legal repercussions for Nepomuceno.
There are at least two streets named after Nepomuceno in Tamaulipas, and collusion between the state’s two powers -- officials and drug gang bosses -- has become part of the culture. Padgett documents examples of this symbiotic relationship from the 1930s to the present day through an investigation that involved scouring documents and history, as well as low-profile field trips.
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Tamaulipas has been the source of some of the most horrific drug violence since the start of the government’s campaign against organized crime began back in 2006. In 2010, 72 Central American migrants were massacred -- allegedly by the Zetas -- and their bodies were dumped in a farm shed in the San Fernando municipality. At the time, the Zetas were at war with their former employers, the Gulf Cartel. Padgett dedicates a chapter of his book to the mass killing.
“If you have a mass grave in San Fernando with 300 bodies in it, it’s not because a solitary, isolated spontaneous event has occurred. It’s the consequence of a political process, more than criminal," said Padgett in an interview with InSight Crime. “The book is about establishing the causal relationship between corruption and its social effects.”
To date, two former Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) Tamaulipas governors are fugitives, wanted in the US on drug-related charges -- Tomás Yarrington (1999-2005) and Eugenio Hernández Flores (2005-2010). During the tenure of both, a construction company allegedly paid the Tamaulipas government 500,000 Mexican pesos a day in bribes.
“That is government-sponsored drug trafficking,” says Padgett, who believes that the legal investigations into Yarrington and Hernández are just the tip of the iceberg. Padgett documents a litany of wrongdoing over the years by more than a dozen government officials in Tamaulipas in accounts that read as good as a political thriller.
One of the essays in Padgett’s book, "A poor politician is a bad politician," describes in detail how, according to US prosecutors, Yarrington accepted millions of dollars in bribes from the Gulf Cartel in return for enabling the flow of drugs across the state and the border into Texas. He invested that money in real estate in the US, some of which has since been seized by the authorities.
Although both Yarrington and Hernández Flores are wanted in the United States, they have yet to be captured by the Mexican government. Hernandez Flores was reportedly photographed voting in gubernatorial elections in early June, in which Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca, from the National Action Party (PAN) won the Tamaulipas governor’s seat from President Enrique Peña Nieto’s PRI party for the first time in modern history.
When Cabeza de Vaca takes power on October 1, it will fall to him and his connections in the federal government to decide whether or not to make an example of their former colleagues as solid proof that corruption will not be tolerated.
But there are few examples in contemporary Mexican history of powerful elites and politicians being punished for collaborating with organized crime, and not a single politician features on Mexico’s current most-wanted capo list, argues Padgett.
He points out that the "Casa Blanca" incident in 2014 that exposed house purchases by Peña Nieto, his wife and his finance minister from prominent government contractors but in which they were cleared of any wrongdoing suggests that impunity remains the norm for Mexico’s political elites.
"The phenomenon of organized crime cannot be explained without the permanent complicity of the Mexican authorities," he said in reference to the whole country, not just the subject of his book.
But when asked if the presence of so much criminal activity has been wholly negative for Tamaulipas in particular, Padgett was split. For sure, he said, the Gulf Cartel has contributed to the economic development of the state.
“Take away remittances, money from the informal economy and money from drug trafficking from Tamaulipas -- it would be very, very hard" for the state, he said.