HomeNewsAnalysisWhy Mexico's Governors Became A Prime Target of Criminal Groups
ANALYSIS

Why Mexico's Governors Became A Prime Target of Criminal Groups

ELITES AND CRIME / 31 JAN 2017 BY PATRICK CORCORAN EN

A growing stream of corruption allegations against governors in Mexico exemplifies how changes in the country's political landscape have inadvertently served to expand these officials' role in enabling organized crime.

As reported by InSight Crime and other sources, a reputed financial operator for the Zetas criminal group accused former Coahuila Gov. Humberto Moreira of accepting $2 million in monthly payments in exchange for allowing the gang to open hundreds of so-called "narcotiendas" (narco-stores) and giving them virtually free rein to operate throughout the state. As part of the bargain, the Zetas intimidated and attacked political and business enemies of Moreira, according to the testimony of the former Zetas member.

Moreira has denied the charges, and while they have not been verified, they do fit with the broader pattern of Moreira's tenure at the head of the Coahuila state government, which lasted from 2005 to 2011. After having operated primarily as an offshoot of the Gulf Cartel in Tamaulipas, the Zetas took control of Coahuila in 2007 and 2008. In so doing, they initiated a campaign of kidnapping and extortion that had no local precedent and turned certain cities, such as Torreón, into virtual war zones. Rumors that Moreira was directly responsible for the Zetas' rise were rampant during his tenure, and since his exit, Moreira's alleged ties to the criminal group have sparked multiple criminal investigations, including some convictions, against him and his subordinates in the United States.

The grim arc of Moreira's career is not unusual. Two former governors of Tamaulipas, Tomás Yarrington and Eugenio Hernández, are facing indictments in the United States for allegedly aiding criminal groups. Former Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte is a fugitive with a raft of corruption cases hanging over his heard, while his former counterpart from Sonora, Guillermo Padrés, turned himself in to Mexican authorities in November amid similar allegations.

InSight Crime Analysis

This confluence of stories on governors' wrongdoing is not a coincidence, but rather a byproduct of a Mexican political system that concedes enormous and largely unchecked authority to the statehouse.

In the post-Mexican Revolution political system that dominated the 20th Century, while Mexican governors enjoyed a great deal of autonomy strictly within their domain, they operated at the orders of a near-omnipotent president. The power of the presidency provided an important check on their power. The multi-party system that emerged in the 1990s and 2000s brought the days of the all-powerful president to an end, but this opening had the unintended effect of vastly increasing the practical control that governors exercised.

If a gang secures the support of a single governor whose state controls a major port or a border crossing, it has likely guaranteed itself a major role in the national criminal landscape.

It is not a coincidence that one of the first examples of the so-called narco-governor essentially coincided with the end of the PRI's monopoly on Mexican politics. Former Quintana Roo Governor Mario Villanueva went underground days before the end of his term in 1999, amid rampant rumors that, in exchange for bribes much like those Moreira is accused of receiving, he had given the Juarez Cartel of Amado Carrillo free use of his state. After being arrested in Mexico in 2001, Villanueva was later extradited to the United States. After serving a lengthy prison sentence, earlier this month Villanueva was returned to Mexico and subsequently arrested. He is reportedly awaiting another lengthy prison term.

Today, governors rather than presidents exercise practical control over their states' congressional delegations. They often wield substantial influence over the municipal governments within their states as well, as mayors rely on them for budgetary transfers and for support in advancing their political futures.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

This shift in the political landscape over the past two decades has made governors collectively the most important cohort in Mexican politics, frequently described as modern-day viceroys. Working as a unit, they are capable of scuttling a president's agenda.

This has consequently turned them into an irresistible target for criminal groups looking for allies within government. The scope of governors' authority makes it ideal for criminal groups to try to corrupt or otherwise co-opt them. If a gang secures the support of a single governor whose state controls a major port or a border crossing, it has likely guaranteed itself a major role in the national criminal landscape. The Familia Michoacana and the Knights Templar, for example, were largely concentrated in a single state, but that has been enough to make the gangs major players over the past decade.

A gang can leverage the support of a key governor in any number of ways. They can use his government as a sort of beachhead amid a territorial expansion, as the Zetas allegedly did. Most governors control large and relatively effective state police forces, which, when deployed at the service of a criminal group, can be extremely valuable allies.

Criminal groups can also use political support indirectly to lean on local governments. Governors can help gangs by pressuring prosecutors to limit prosecutions against their members, as many laws targeting organized crime are in the realm of state courts. As the chief interlocutors with the federal government, governors can also obstruct federal efforts to target one group or another.

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Elites and Organized Crime

From a criminal group's perspective, governors are also more reachable than the president. The fact that they occupy a lower profile than the president makes dealing with governors far less risky. In addition, governors are not burdened with the prerogatives of statesmanship, from monetary policy to foreign relations, which limit time for focusing on law enforcement and security matters. Relative to presidents, governors are also more isolated from pressure from the US government to crack down on criminal groups.

This collective dynamic is behind the spate of cases like Moreira's and Yarrington's, among many others. Although much of the commentary on security issues in Mexico focuses on the goals and missteps of the presidency, a great deal of the government's efforts are channeled through other offices. And as long as Mexican governors in key states are actively boosting the interests of powerful crime groups like the Zetas, there will be a limit to what federal policies can accomplish.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

MEXICO / 9 JAN 2017

As Mexico is rocked by protests against a hike in fuel prices, authorities have highlighted the collusion and corruption facilitating…

ECUADOR / 16 MAY 2022

Ecuadorian gangs are taking another page from the playbook of crime groups in Mexico and Colombia, stepping up targeted killings…

EL CHAPO / 31 OCT 2018

The upcoming trial of Mexico’s former top drug kingpin El Chapo in the United States is being hailed as a…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution Met With Uproar

6 MAY 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime launched its latest investigation, Venezuela’s Cocaine Revolution¸ accompanied by a virtual panel on its findings. The takeaways from this three-year effort, including the fact that Venezuela…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…