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Mexico Versus Mexico: The Battle over Impunity

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Last month was a bad month for crooked state governors in Mexico, which means April 2017 was a potentially promising month for Mexican citizens disgusted with the culture of impunity.

For outraged Mexicans, the word "impunity" signifies the deep injustice and corruption embedded within their nation's governing institutions. Mexico's politically-connected and wealthy can commit horrendous crimes and then avoid accountability. They steal -- and even kill -- with "impunity."

Impunity has become a political problem for President Enrique Pena Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party. As a presidential candidate in 2012, Pena promised to reform government and to penalize corruption. Then 2014 arrived with revelations that he and his wife had acquired luxury homes, with the help of wealthy media and business big shots.

The Iguala Massacre crystallized public distrust. In September 2014, the mayor of Iguala (Guerrero state) and his wife ordered corrupt police to make certain 43 student protestors did not disrupt a political fiesta. The police and a local drug gang allegedly killed the students. The mayor and Guerrero's state governor were both PRI politicians. The governor was a political ally of President Pena.

The mayor and his wife were finally arrested. The governor resigned his office. However, the government's shoddy investigation convinced many citizens the PRI had returned to its bad old ways.

The case of former Coahuila state governor Humberto Moreira bears the marks of organized and incestuous impunity. At one time Moreira served as president of the PRI. In 2015 a U.S. court indicted him on money-laundering charges. In January 2016, Spanish authorities arrested him. After diplomatic intervention by the Mexican government -- Pena's government -- Moreira was released on bond. Humberto's brother, Ruben Moreira, is Coahuila's current governor.

In mid-2016, the federal government passed new anti-corruption laws Pena contended would make it easier to prosecute corrupt practices like bribery, graft and money-laundering. See, he was attacking corruption! The legislation established the National Anti-Corruption System and created accountability procedures. But would new laws be enforced when old laws prohibiting blatant organized criminal activity were ignored? Yes, in 2017 three former governors are in prison. However, critics note that Humberto Moeira remains free in Mexico, pending trial.

Still, new investigations and arrests may signal Mexican leaders know change must occur. On April 9 law enforcement agents in Florence, Italy arrested a big PRI fish, former Tamaulipas state governor Tomas Yarrington. Yarrington had evaded arrest for almost five years on both American and Mexican criminal charges. His whereabouts weren't entirely unknown. Until late 2016 he still had a retinue of Tamaulipas-supplied bodyguards. Italy decided to extradite him to the U.S. but the attorneys general of both the U.S. and Mexico approved the deal.

On April 15, Guatemalan police clapped handcuffs on an even more notorious crooked politician, Javier Duarte, a former PRI governor of Veracruz state. Duarte disappeared in October 2016. The Mexican government has charged him with bribery, theft and facilitating organized crime. For many Mexican's Duarte's case illustrates corruption in the highest levels of state and national government. Investigators suspect he protected major drug gangs from law enforcement. Human rights activists believe that during his term (2010-2016) he was involved in murder of several journalists and political critics.

Two other former state governors currently face major criminal charges. Cesar Duarte (no relation to Javier), a former PRI governor of Chihuahua state, is charged with graft and is in hiding. In 2015, a U.S. court indicted former PRI Tamaulipas state governor Eugenio Hernandez Flores on money laundering charges. He does not face charges in Mexico.

Mexican media report at least three other former governors are currently under criminal investigation. Two belong to the PRI, the other is a member of the National Action Party.

Investigations, charges and arrests are starting points. Eradicating the culture of impunity, however, requires stiff convictions for corrupt politicians followed by hard time in prison cells.

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