Acting on what military authorities said was an anonymous tip, Mexican soldiers raided the home of casino and off-track betting magnate Jorge Hank Rhon the early morning of June 4 in Tijuana, in the northwestern state of Baja California. The military reported finding 88 firearms, 9,298 rounds of ammunition, 70 chargers and one gas grenade. Hank Rhon, a politician in the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and Tijuana’s mayor from 2004 to 2007, was arrested on charges of illegal possession of weapons, a federal crime, along with 10 bodyguards and other employees. The authorities flew Hank Rhon to Mexico City late in the day for questioning.
María Elvia Amaya de Hank, Hank Rhon’s wife, said any weapons found in the house were for the use of security employees of the Agua Caliente racetrack, which Hank Rhon owns. The house is in a compound that includes the racetrack, a private zoo and the Fiesta Americana hotel, which belongs to current Tijuana mayor Carlos Bustamante Anchondo. (La Jornada, Mexico, June 5)
Jorge Hank Rhon has been associated with crimes in the past, including the 1988 murder of Héctor Félix Miranda, co-director of the weekly tabloid Zeta; one of the men convicted in the killing was an employee of Hank Rhon’s racetrack. A report by the US National Drug Intelligence Center in the late 1990s said Jorge Hank Rhon, his brother, Carlos Hank Rhon, and their father, Carlos Hank González, were so involved in drug trafficking and money laundering that they “pose a significant criminal threat to the United States.” The father, who died in 2001, was a past mayor of Mexico City and a major force in the PRI, which dominated Mexican politics for 70 years; his favorite saying was: “A politician who’s poor is a poor politician.” (See Updates #489, 602, 752)
Jorge Hank Rhon’s arrest was “good news,” according to Carlos Navarrete, coordinator of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) faction in the Senate; Navarrete suggested that the former Tijuana mayor had been supplying arms to the drug cartels. Politicians in President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa’s center-right National Action Party (PAN) insisted that there were no political motives in the arrest. “The government was simply applying the law, keeping acts of impunity from continuing,” Senator Rubén Camarillo, elections secretary of the PAN’s National Executive Committee, told the left-leaning daily La Jornada.
But the arrest comes shortly before July 3 gubernatorial elections in Coahuila, México state and Nayarit. PRI candidate Eruviel Ávila Villegas is the frontrunner in the large, central state of México, which is governed by Enrique Peña Nieto, the likely PRI presidential candidate in 2012. The Hank family has a long association with the México state PRI, and Jorge Hank Rhon is said to be close to Peña Nieto. According to Jorge Rojo, a federal legislative deputy in the PRI, “Calderón’s governmental strategy aims at shaking Enrique Peña’s electoral rise, and it confuses the public by linking Jorge Hank with the México governor’s political career.” Earlier in the week rumors were circulating that the federal government was considering criminal charges against several former PRI governors. PRI president Humberto Moreira Valdés called the rumors “political terrorism.” (LJ, May 31, June 5)
Mexican presidents are limited to a single six-year term, but problems in Calderón’s presidency will probably hurt any candidate the PAN chooses to run in the 2012 presidential race. Calderón’s most obvious liability at this point is his militarization, with US backing, of the “war on drugs.” Mexicans increasingly see the fight as failure that has done nothing to weaken the drug cartels since it started in December 2006, while causing more than 35,000 deaths.
International dissent to “drug war”
Disillusionment with US-backed strategies for fighting drug use is spreading outside Mexico as well. On June 2, two days before Hank Rhon’s arrest, a high-level international panel, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, released a report announcing: “The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President [Richard] Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.”
The commission’s 19 members include former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan; former NATO secretary general Javier Solana; former presidents Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León (Mexico, 1994-2000), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil, 1995-2002) and Cesar Gaviria Trujillo (Colombia, 1990-1994); former US secretary of state George Shultz; former US Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker; and Mexican author Carlos Fuentes and Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa. (LJ, June 2; Wall Street Journal, June 3)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 5.
See our last post on Mexico.