HomeNewsAnalysisMexico Investigates Governor Trio in 'Politically Motivated' Corruption Probe

Mexico Investigates Governor Trio in 'Politically Motivated' Corruption Probe


A federal investigation into three former governors of a Mexican border state may be a sincere attempt to crack down on political links with organized crime, but has sparked accusations of politically motivated law-enforcement.

Reports of the investigation into Manuel Cavazos Lerma, Tomas Yarrington, and Eugenio Hernandez -- the three most recent governors of Tamaulipas -- began to emerge earlier this week. The men headed the government in Tamaulipas, which is the site of such border crossings as Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo, from 1998 through 2010.

The governors are suspected of having links to groups like the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas. As online publication Reporte Indigo reports, a document from the special organized crime unit of Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office, dated January 13, refers to an investigation into these alleged ties. Among the specific crimes that the governors are accused of committing are money laundering and accepting illegal payments. As part of the investigation, federal agencies were instructed to record every instance in which any of the governors or 46 of their family members and political associates left the country.

While investigations into such high-profile officials are rare, the suspicions about Tamaulipas politicians being linked to criminal groups are not. The state government has long been accused of protecting the Gulf Cartel and fostering the rise of the Zetas over the past decade. In 2009, renowned journalist Carlos Loret de Mola said the state was “without a doubt” the most dangerous in Mexico in terms of “the social decomposition and the penetration of drug traffickers in all of the structures.”

Tamaulipas is significantly less violent than many other states also linked to drug trafficking, which is probably linked to the fact that the total infiltration of its institutions makes it more stable. However, the region has grown more bloody with the 2010 split between the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel. In the most notorious act of violence in Tamaulipas' recent history, a candidate for governor, Rodolfo Torre Cantu, was murdered less than two weeks before the 2010 election.

Notwithstanding Tamaulipas’ deep relationship with drug trafficking, the investigation into three governors from an opposition party, and subsequent leaks to the press, just a few months before a presidential election has sparked allegations that the process is serving political ends. Calderon faced similar charges after the so-called "michoacanazo" in 2009, in which dozens of state and local officials in Michoacan were arrested just weeks before key mid-term elections. Ultimately, none of the officials arrested -- who represented all of the major parties, including Calderon’s -- were convicted.

Mexican governors are often described as operating like "viceroys," with extensive control over state and (indirectly) over municipal budgeting within their territories. They also control far more capable police forces than the mayors at the municipal level, and, as the foremost state-level liaison with the federal government, they exercise a significant amount of influence over the deployment of federal troops.

This extensive control over their states makes the governors high-value targets for organized crime groups, who have a much greater freedom of movement in states where they have a friendly relationship with the governor. Probably the most famous such case is that of Mario Villanueva, the ex-governor of Quintana Roo who was accused of allowing the Juarez Cartel use Cancun as a stepping stone for Colombian cocaine in the 1990s. After serving a prison sentence for money laundering in Mexico, Villanueva was extradited to the US in 2010, and remains behind bars.

Other figures connected to state governments are not jailed, but targeted by vengeful drug gangs. Torre Cantu’s murder weeks before his election to the head of Tamaulipas’ government -- he had an insurmountable lead in polls at the time of his murder -- is the most famous case, but there have been other recent aggressions.

Last month, a hardware business owned by Sinaloan Governor Mario Lopez Valdez was burned in Mazatlan, killing one employee. Many interpreted the assault as a warning to the governor. In December 2011, a convoy in which Ruben Moreira, governor of Coahuila, and his family were travelling was attacked by gunmen, though no one was seriously hurt.

Governors in Chihuahua, Mexico’s most violent state for the past several years, have been particularly vulnerable. In 2009, a convoy including former Chihuahua Governor Jose Reyes was attacked along a highway in his state, resulting in one bodyguard being killed and two injured. His successor, Cesar Duarte, suffered the murder of two nephews in separate incidents just before taking office, while he was still governor-elect.

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.


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.


Related Content

COCAINE / 17 FEB 2022

The discovery of two bodies hanging from a bridge in Ecuador may be the starkest sign yet of the country’s…

BARRIO 18 / 30 JAN 2023

While thousands of gang members have been arrested in El Salvador, some may have moved their activities to Mexico.

FENTANYL / 21 MAR 2023

The complex history of the "drug war" in Mexico is hindering its collaboration with the US on the synthetic opioid,…

About InSight Crime


All Eyes on Ecuador

2 JUN 2023

Our coverage of organized crime in Ecuador continues to be a valuable resource for international and local news outlets. Internationally, Reuters cited our 2022 Homicide Round-Up,…


Open Position: Social Media and Engagement Strategist

27 MAY 2023

InSight Crime is looking for a Social Media and Engagement Strategist who will be focused on maintaining and improving InSight Crime’s reputation and interaction with its audiences through publishing activities…


Venezuela Coverage Receives Great Reception

27 MAY 2023

Several of InSight Crime’s most recent articles about Venezuela have been well received by regional media. Our article on Venezuela’s colectivos expanding beyond their political role to control access to…


InSight Crime's Chemical Precursor Report Continues

19 MAY 2023

For the second week in a row, our investigation into the flow of precursor chemicals for the manufacture of synthetic drugs in Mexico has been cited by multiple regional media…


InSight Crime’s Chemical Precursor Report Widely Cited


We are proud to see that our recently published investigation into the supply chain of chemical precursors feeding Mexico’s synthetic drug production has been warmly received.