Conviction of former Mexican security chief for taking bribes from drug cartels is “just the tip of the iceberg”

The guilty verdict against Genaro García Luna has raised questions about the involvement of former presidents Felipe Calderón and Vicente Fox in the crimes

February 23, 2023 by Tanya Wadhwa
Genaro García Luna with Felipe Calderón

Mexico’s former Secretary of Public Security and ex-director of the Federal Investigative Agency, Genaro García Luna, was found guilty by a jury in a US federal court on Tuesday February 21 of taking millions of dollars in bribes from drug cartels he had sworn to fight. The guilty verdict came after a four-week trial and three days of jury deliberation in the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, New York.

García Luna was convicted of all five counts of a superseding indictment charging him with engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise that includes six drug-related violations, international cocaine distribution conspiracy, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine, conspiracy to import cocaine, and making false statements.

The trial proved that García Luna accepted millions of dollars in bribes from Mexico’s biggest crime group, the Sinaloa drug cartel, once run by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in exchange for providing protection from arrest, safe passage for cocaine and other drugs shipments into the US, tip offs about forthcoming law enforcement operations and help to attack rival drug cartels.

The jury reached its decision after hearing testimony from nearly 30 witnesses, including nine convicted narco-traffickers. Jurors determined that García Luna was secretly on the payroll of the Sinaloa cartel almost the entire time he served as his country’s equivalent of the FBI from 2006 to 2012.

García Luna faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a minimum of 20 years in prison. Judge Brian M. Cogan is expected to hand down the sentence on June 27.

García Luna moved to the US after leaving office. He was arrested in the state of Texas in 2019. He is the highest-ranking Mexican official ever to be tried in the US.

García Luna had pleaded not guilty and had denied all allegations. His lawyers argued that prosecutors relied on inconsistent narratives from convicted criminals who were implicating him to get revenge on the man who arrested them and in a bid to lower their US prison sentences.

The claims against García Luna’s involvement with the Sinaloa cartel first came to light during a trial against Guzmán, who was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years in 2019. A former cartel leader testified during Guzmán’s trial that he had delivered millions of dollars in payments to García Luna in the mid-2000s.

“García Luna, who once stood at the pinnacle of law enforcement in Mexico, will now live the rest of his days having been revealed as a traitor to his country and to the honest members of law enforcement who risked their lives to dismantle drug cartels,” said Breon Peace, US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York in a statement.

Authorities celebrate verdict and raise suspicions over former presidents’ involvement

Following the announcement of the verdict, former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, under whom García Luna served, released a statement on Twitter wherein he saluted the verdict, and outright denied any knowledge or involvement of García Luna’s criminal activities: “As President of Mexico I fought with complete determination against delinquency…I never negotiated nor did I make agreements with criminals. I never used my role as president to advocate for their interests.”

The statement has provoked a strong backlash from officials of the current administration who have long accused the prior administrations of helping to foment criminal activity in the country.

During his morning press conference on Wednesday February 22, President AMLO, commended the verdict and questioned whether former presidents Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) and Vicente Fox (2000-2006) knew about the crimes of García Luna in their governments. He said that “now that García Luna has been found guilty, there is a possibility that he will testify and speak. I’d say that for the good of the country, I hope he does so, that he will inform whether he received orders or informed the former presidents, both Fox and Calderón, of his misdeeds.”

Referring to the statement issued by Calderón following the verdict against García Luna, President AMLO said that “with his statements he tried to get away from García Luna, by repeating the same arguments to justify the massacre that shook the country and the criminal violence.”

President AMLO also condemned the order issued by a Mexican Collegiate Court to unfreeze the accounts of García Luna’s wife, who is being investigated for her participation in money laundering, real estate purchases and partnerships in companies that obtained 745 million US dollars from the public budget. The head of state demanded that this decision be investigated.

Jesús Ramírez Cuevas, a spokesperson for current Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), said on Twitter “García Luna convicted of drug trafficking, organized crime and false statements in the US. Justice has arrived for the man who was a squire of Felipe Calderón. The crimes against our people will never be forgotten.”

The people demand justice

“The conviction of Genaro García Luna proves millions of Mexicans right, who more than once said that the so-called war on drugs was a war between cartels to benefit one or the other, promoted by the federal government of Felipe Calderón,” said Alina Duarte, Mexican journalist and activist, in conservation with Peoples Dispatch.

She added that, “This conviction in which García Luna was found guilty of five counts shows that there was a whole narco-state during Calderón’s administration that was able to benefit certain cartels with the help of mass media organizations such as El Universal, whose name was mentioned during all these. It was said that it had received millions of pesos to position Genaro García Luna.”

Duarte also raised questions about the involvement of former presidents in the crimes. “I believe that this trial also reflects the need to bring to justice all accused, including former presidents Felipe Calderon, Vicente Fox and Enrique Peña Nieto. On more than one occasion Mexico has raised its voice to demand this type of justice that has cost more than 300,000 disappeared, more than 300,000 murders in the last few years as a result of this so-called war against drug-trafficking, which began in 2006,” she added.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg, underneath it there are not only government officials but also the media. They must also be brought to justice for having lied to the Mexican people, for having tried to impose a truth that was not true, for having convinced us that this war was the best thing for the country. It is a war that unfortunately has not ended and whose consequences are still present in the country today. We continue to witness disappearances, femicides, and all this structural violence that was imposed on us, arguing that it was a war against the drug cartels, which was a lie.”

Duarte pointed out that Mexicans are not happy with Calderón’s response. “Felipe Calderón issued a response hours after the trial, saying that he was not involved in this when obviously we are talking about the cartel of a Mexican government, the cartel of the National Action Party (PAN). There is no phrase that can express all this rage that many of us feel when we corroborate that there is enough evidence to say that they tried to impose a narco-state, which in turn imposed state violence on us. It was practically a war, state terrorism against the Mexican population and today I hope that this verdict is only the beginning of the end of a long list of officials, media and active participants in the dissemination, creation and implementation of this civil war from which Mexico still hasn’t gotten out of.”