Its familiar information by now that Mexico’s institutions are extremely compromised. But few could have guessed the true extent to which the violent criminal organizations plaguing our southern neighbor have infiltrated the Mexican federal government.
A bombshell testimony during the ‘El Chapo’ trials already well underway in New York City revealed that even the Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto – who only just left the office at the end of 2018 – was on the take; to the tune of a cool hundred million dollars to be exact. CNN reports,
“A former close personal aide to Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman testified Tuesday that the drug kingpin once paid a $100 million bribe to former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
The stunning testimony came from Alex Cifuentes, a Colombian trafficker who once served as Guzman’s secretary and close personal aide.
After three days on the stand in the Brooklyn federal courtroom, the bombshell revelation was only brought up in court by defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman, not prosecutors. Cifuentes had been testifying about two years spent living with Guzman in the mountains of Sinaloa as the fugitive kingpin eluded the army.
While previous testimony implicated lower-level Mexican politicians as well as police and military officials in the vast corruption network that facilitated Guzman’s cartel’s trafficking, Tuesday’s accounts struck at the highest levels of Mexican political life.”
While these accusations come as a surprise to prosecutors and Americans, who are accustomed to at least relatively intact institutions, it probably is not at all shocking for Mexican citizens, who utterly loathe their government and constantly lambast it as completely corrupted.
President Nieto has the dubious reputation of being one of the most controversial and least popular Presidents in Mexican history. His all-time low approval of 12% reflected his failures to secure Mexico against cartel violence. Violence that not only plunged the embattled nation into warlike homicide rates and exacerbated poverty, but wrestled control of much of the land itself from Nieto and the Mexican military.
Mexico’s populace was never able to spur their government into actually securing their homeland, despite ample assistance from various sources including the US. For whatever reason a relatively modern military had proven utterly incapable for the entire duration of Nieto’s presidency of defending its own territory from armed drug dealers; now we perhaps know why. Time explains,
“Cifuentes acknowledged that he first spoke with prosecutors about the bribery allegation when he began cooperating with U.S. authorities in 2016. After expressing confusion about the details, he acknowledged that he had told prosecutors that he was informed by Guzman that someone named “Comadre Maria” delivered money in Mexico City in October 2012, at a point when Pena Nieto had been elected president but before he took office.
The trial has featured numerous allegations of bribes or attempts to bribe high-level officials in Mexico and Columbia, including police commanders and other officials in charge of fighting the drug cartels.”
Nieto’s Out, But What About the Corruption?
A possible spot of bright news is Nieto is gone with 2018. He finished out his extremely unpopular tenure before handing over the keys to vocal (hypothetical) reformer and now current Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who among other sweeping changes has pledged to purge the corruption of the cartels from his institutions.
The problem? Nieto did too.
Then he apparently took $100 million from EL Chapo before even starting his term in office; in all likelihood, because it was preferable to dying. In fact, his predecessor Felipe Calderón – who shares blame in standing by while cartels usurped his nation prior – also stands accused of taking ample bribes to let his country crumble in what appears to be a longstanding tradition of the Mexican head of state.
Of course, it’s a possibility that the testimony in question is simply a man in chains spinning a very tall tale. But the fact of the matter is a cartel minion already in US custody has far less rationale to lie about giving bribes than former – and free – Mexican presidents do about taking them. After all, what does Cifuentes have to gain from admitting to *more* crimes?
It doesn’t take the intuition of a detective to realize that, for all his bluster of reform, Obrador in all likelihood will (if he hasn’t already done so) follow suit. While El Chapo might be facing justice in the US the power vacuum left behind continues to tear Mexico apart replete with several powerful cartels that are undoubtedly all too eager to put the newest President in their pockets and they have the funds to do so.
It takes even less intuition to realize that, if the Mexican president is vulnerable to bribery, the legions of police, soldiers, and bureaucrats serving below him for paltry wages are *extremely* susceptible and in fact might as well just be assumed to be compromised. This simple reasoning offers insight into just how exactly a country with the economic potential of Mexico arrived at its current broken situation; everyone who was supposed to stop it was simply put on the take.
As such the only question we’re really left with regarding the struggling narco-state to our south is how long will it take to find out President Obrador is too?
Editor’s note: As a former intelligence officer, which experience in counternarcotics, I can tell you that narcotraffickers have a method known colloquially as “silver or lead.” The pitch is simple, “either you accept our money and live the good life, or we kill your kids, rape your wife and torture you to death. Choose.” It is very effect. But to think the narcotraffickers could reach all the way to the top leadership of a country as big as Mexico is scary beyond belief. This means the entire country is compromised, and that Mexico has little chance of rooting out illegal drugs on their way to the U.S.
Yet another reason for the wall.