The outgoing governor of Mexico’s state of Tamaulipas is about to lose immunity from a long-looming arrest warrant, but the protection he enjoyed while in office highlights some of the struggles Mexico faces in addressing official corruption.
Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca’s term as governor ends on October 1, at which time his immunity as a sitting official will also expire.
Cabeza de Vaca has been accused of being the head of a money laundering network, embezzling state funds, and having links to drug cartels.
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The lower house of Mexico’s Congress voted in April last year to strip him of his immunity, but Tamaulipas’ state legislature rejected the move.
Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office obtained a warrant for the governor’s arrest last year. But the country’s Supreme Court ruled in August that the federal lawmakers’ bid to revoke the governor’s immunity was unconstitutional. Only Tamaulipas’ state legislature could revoke his immunity, and it had voted against doing so, the court ruled.
Cabeza de Vaca has denied the allegations against him and despite attempts from prosecutors and some politicians to ensure he faces justice, his position and political allies guarded him from being arrested.
InSight Crime Analysis
Cabeza de Vaca’s arrest warrant was the first in modern history to be issued against a sitting Mexican governor for links to organized crime. But the struggles authorities faced in enacting it show how politics may frustrate efforts to hold sitting officials accountable.
The Tamaulipas state legislature, which was controlled at the time by the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional - PAN), swept aside serious allegations of Cabeza de Vaca’s connections to organized crime, allowing him to remain as the party's first-ever governor in the state. After rejecting the bid to remove his immunity, PAN lawmakers held up a banner decrying what they called “electoral use of justice,” suggesting their refusal may have had political undertones.
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At the same time, Mexican federal authorities have demonstrated a commitment to bringing Cabeza de Vaca to face the charges against him. The Attorney General’s Office issued a public migration alert last year advising the country’s migration service to keep close tabs on his movements.
Other Mexican governors have previously fled criminal accusations, most notably Veracruz governor Javier Duarte, who was arrested in 2017 in Guatemala after going on the lam from charges of organized crime, corruption, and embezzlement.