HomeNewsAnalysisMexico's Morales Tackles Creaky Justice System

Mexico's Morales Tackles Creaky Justice System


Marisela Morales is just a couple of months into her tenure as Mexico’s attorney general, but she already has a mountain of issues weighing down on her.

As the Los Angeles Times reported in a recent profile of Morales, the official faces a number of political, cultural, and organizational challenges as she takes the reigns of the PGR, as Mexico’s Justice Department is called.

Among the most important bottlenecks for the new attorney general is the system's failure, in many cases, to move from arrests to trials, and much less to convictions. As InSight Crime noted in April, the PGR’s own figures indicate that in 2010 72 percent of all federal arrests, which includes most offenses related to organized crime, were dismissed without the suspect being submitted to a legal judgment, typically due to lack of evidence.

This and other problems long predate Morales' arrival to one of Mexico’s top law-enforcement jobs, and her efforts to fix them are complicated by ongoing judicial reforms that are changing the format in which PGR prosecutors bring cases. From the old system of written, closed trials, Mexico is moving toward an adversarial, oral system much like that in the U.S., which is scheduled to be in place by 2016.

Another of the biggest issues facing Morales is political corruption. While dirty police are arrested with great frequency in Mexico, politicians that provide favors to organized crime groups or just take public funds are rarely punished. At the same time, rumors of wrongdoing fly incessantly, which has led some to the conclusion that Mexican authorities aren’t really interested in punishing politicians’ wrongdoing.

Morales seems to have arrived to her office intent on changing that. Within a couple of weeks of her arrival, a number of politicians, including the former governor of Chiapas, had been fingered for corruption charges. But the most high-profile attack so far -- the arrest of Jorge Hank Rhon, a former Tijuana mayor and famously wealthy scion of a prominent political family -- was a disaster. Indeed, the embarrassing dismissal of weapons charges against Hank Rhon merely laid bare the scale of the problems facing Morales.

Among Mexican commentators, much of the blame for the Hank Rhon debacle has fallen at the feet of other agencies, namely the army, which videotapes show manipulated the evidence against Hank Rhon, and the interior secretariat, which reportedly planned the operation. As the Times reports, Morales tersely replied that she accepted “None” of the responsibility when asked about her role in a recent television interview. But Morales’ agency, which presents criminal cases before the judge, was the one with egg on its face in the immediate aftermath of Hank Rhon’s release.

Some say that discrediting Morales and the PGR was the Machiavellian goal of such a shoddily planned and executed arrest operation. Jorge Zepeda Patterson, one of Mexico’s preeminent journalists, suggested that Morales was set up to fail, with competing agencies aiming to knock the new kid on the block down a peg. He also speculated that her being one of a small number of women at the top of Mexico’s criminal justice hierarchy, and the first female attorney general, increases the scope of her challenge.

Regardless of the animosity and sexism that may be directed toward Morales from within the government, the problems in convicting suspects, and the relative decline in importance of the PGR over the past several years, the PGR remains one of the nation’s key criminal justice agencies. Consequently, its recent fade in prestige and in capacity poses a significant impediment to improved public security in Mexico. As the Mexico City daily El Universal wrote upon her arrival to the post:

The challenge for whoever heads the PGR is significant. It goes from attacking a deeply rooted culture of inefficiency and corruption, which necessarily will affect powerful economic and criminal interests, but there's no turning the page, no possibility of starting with a clean slate. Without changing this, there will be no way that soldiers, marines, intelligence agents or police will have success in their work in the field. If the fight is sabotaged from the PGR, everything else is doomed to failure.

Her ability to address those problems, rewrite that description, and build a PGR that is no longer an agent of impunity will go a long way to determining both her legacy and the state of Mexican security.

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


In 2021, most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean experienced a marked increase in murders. Resurgent violence was to…

FEATURED / 20 SEP 2022

Authorities in Arizona are sounding the alarm about the rising use of outsiders as drivers for human smuggling.

BRAZIL / 20 FEB 2021

Drug traffickers engage in a creative game of hide and seek with coast guards and other security forces that board…

About InSight Crime


Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…


Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…


World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…


InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…


Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…