The mystery surrounding the kidnapping of Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, a leader in the National Action Party (PAN) and one of the most powerful politicians in Mexico, has not ended with his sudden release this week after over seven months in captivity.
Fernandez de Cevallos, a.k.a. “Jefe Diego,” has a long and colorful history in Mexican politics, including a stint as the head of Congress and a run at the presidency in 1994, that may not be over and fuels part of the speculation about his kidnapping.
A group calling itself the Network for Global Transformation took credit for the kidnapping. It issued various statements along the way, including a lengthy one preceding his release in which it attacked Fernandez de Cevallos for being part of the “neoliberal oligarchy” that routinely stole elections, defended drug traffickers and left the economy in shambles due to its dealings with the United States.
But Fernandez de Cevallos did not say who this group was or give any clues in his limited public appearance after his release, so we are left ponder the predominant theories about their origin.
A close political associate and de facto spokesperson for the Fernandez de Cevallos family, Fauzi Hamdan, said in a television interview that it was a “strong group…with infrastructure and logistics, and solid [financial] resources.” He added that he thought it was definitely “political” in nature, although he did not discard the “economic” aspect.
Here are the top three and a half theories:
1) Leftist guerrillas: The Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) got the blame in the early phases of the kidnapping. However, in an energetic response to the accusations, the EPR denied it had anything to do with the kidnapping. And Ruben Aguilar, a former spokesperson for Salvadoran leftist rebels, told the Associated Press, “This is clearly the work of a group of professionals, who knew how to negotiate, take things to the limit, deal with seven months of tension…I really don’t see any serious indications that it was any leftist group … they are small, fractured groups without any real operational capacity.” But Raul Benitez, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, is quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying that the kidnapping and the statement have the hallmarks of the EPR. The WSJ report notes that the EPR has experience kidnapping high level citizens for money, and has splintered in recent years, opening the possibility that one of the splinter groups was responsible. And El Universal reported earlier this year that the EPR had made contact with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the hemisphere’s oldest insurgency that has years of experience in kidnapping. Finally, in an interview on Monday, Fernandez de Cevallos told a radio station that he had vowed to his kidnappers that he would fight against “poverty, injustice and impunity.”
2) Organized crime: Just days after Fernandez de Cevallos was kidnapped, Mexican President Felipe Calderon said the kidnapping is a message from “organized crime to his government.” In the days leading up to the kidnapping, the government had arrested Griselda Lopez Perez, the second wife of Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo,” the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, as well as several other Guzman relatives, to question them about their involvement in the criminal organization. Speculation, therefore, centered on the Sinaloa Cartel. But this cartel is rarely associated with kidnapping and, by many accounts, thrives because of its relations with the central government. Indeed, other criminal syndicates, such as the Familia Michoacana, seem like much more likely candidates for this crime. The Familia, for instance, combines the wherewithal and the capabilities to perpetrate a profile kidnapping. It also has the ideology and rencor toward the federal government readily displayed in the various statements made by the group who took Fernandez de Cevallos. Fernandez de Cevallos also had personal reasons to fear criminal organizations. His law firm has defended drug traffickers, something the kidnappers mentioned in their statement.
3) Professional kidnapping organization: With nearly four kidnappings reported a day, Mexico has become the kidnapping headquarters of the world. There are powerful groups involved in this trade, including the Zetas, the Tijuana Cartel and the Familia Michoacana criminal syndicate. However, there are also groups that dedicate all their time and effort to kidnapping, some of whom include active and retired police. These groups have the capacity and infrastructure to hold victims for long periods of time and force large ransoms. Reports in Mexico say the politician’s family paid between $20 million and $50 million for his release and, in its statement, the kidnapping group says that he returned “a thousandth of what he’s stolen.”
There are is also what we could call half a theory that Fernandez de Cevallos orquestrated his own kidnapping in order to amplify his chances at the presidency in 2012. George Grayson, a professor at the College of William & Mary, does not support this theory but, as quoted in Molly’s Frontera List Serve, says the PAN politician has raised his stature. “Like John McCain, who showed bravery in a POW camp, the PAN stalwart’s much briefer imprisonment could make him a hero,” Grayson says.
Epilogue: Just days after Fernandez de Cevallos was released, the Colombian government released a series of FARC emails in which the group talks about “a high level retention” with help from their Mexican “friends.” The Colombian government did not say if it thought the FARC might be involved in the kidnapping of the Mexican politician but sources in Mexico told InSight the group was among the suspects.