Mexico moves to extradite former governor

Mexico took the first steps June 21 toward extraditing former Quintana Roo governor Mario Villanueva Madrid to the US, where he is wanted in New York City on charges of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering. President Felipe CalderĂłn has already sent 21 narco suspects to face charges across the border this year, but Villanueva would be the highest-ranking former Mexican official to stand trial in the United States on drug charges.

Villanueva is accused of taking millions of dollars in payoffs from the Juárez cartel during the 1990s in return for helping it ship about 200 tons of cocaine through the Yucatán Peninsula. He went underground in April 1999, just before his term as governor (and immunity from prosecution) ended. Federal police tracked him down and arrested him in May 2001 near CancĂşn. Since then, he has been in Mexico’s Altiplano maximum-security prison, on a money-laundering conviction.

But on June 21, he finished his sentence and walked out of Altiplano. As his family looked on, a dozen masked federal agents immediately seized him again—this time at the request of the United States. “They are kidnapping me! Help!” the former governor said as he was seized, according to El Universal. He is now being held pending an extradition hearing.

According to two indictments in Manhattan Federal Court, Villanueva took millions of dollars from Juárez kingpins, including Alcides Ramón Magaña, from 1994 to 1999—about $500,000 for each shipment. He is also acused of laundering some $11 million with the help of an investment manager at Lehman Brothers in New York.

In return for the payoffs, the cartel brought at least 200 tons of cocaine into CancĂşn by boat, storing it for shipment north to the border town of Reynosa, from where it was hauled to New York and other cities. The indictments say Quintana Roo state police escorted the shipments and worked as enforcers for the cartel. (NYT, June 22)

See our last posts on Mexico, the narco crisis and the Yucatan.

  1. Mexico: PRI governors in trouble
    From Weekly News Update oon the Americas, June 24:

    On June 20 Mexican federal judge Octavio Bolanos found Mario Villanueva Madrid, former governor of the eastern state of Quintana Roo (1993-1999), guilty of money laundering but acquitted him of more serious charges relating to involvement in drug trafficking. The judge sentenced Villanueva to six years—time served, since the former governor had been in prison since his arrest in May 2001.

    But agents of the Federal Agency of Investigation (AFI) detained Villanueva as soon as he was released on June 21; federal authorities said he would be held while they considered an extradition request from the US; a federal court in New York charged Villanueva in 2002 with involvement in the shipping of drugs to the US. “Look what they’re doing to me,” Villanueva, a member of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), shouted to reporters as the AFI led him away. “They want to kidnap me.”

    His lawyers are arguing that the courts should dismiss the US request because he has been acquitted of the same charges by Mexico and because there are errors in the Spanish translation the US provided of its diplomatic note on the case. (La Jornada, June 22; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, June 22 from AP)

    The Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) is now planning an investigation that will target another PRI governor, Oaxaca’s Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. The SCJN has agreed to a recommendation by Justice Juan N. Silva Meza for the court to set up a commission to investigate events in Oaxaca from June 2006 to January 2007, the period of militant demonstrations by teachers and their supporters which was met with severe repression by the authorities. On June 21 the full court confirmed that the commission would investigate actions by all three government entities—federal, state and local. (LJ, June 22)

    During a June 18 interview Gov. Ruiz seemed unconcerned by the plans for an investigation and by the renewal of protests by teachers and their allies. The uprising has “ended,” he said, noting that an encampment that Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union (SNTE) and the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) set up on June 18 in Oaxaca city’s zocalo (central plaza) was only “representative.” In fact, the union and APPO have agreed that only a few hundred people will take part in the ongoing protest and haven’t indicated that they would try to shut down the downtown area, as they did for five months in 2006. The movement continues its unconditional demand for Ruiz’s resignation. (LJ, June 19)

    According to the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada, a separate SCJN commission headed by Justice Silva Meza is recommending that the Chamber of Deputies of the federal Congress impeach Puebla’s PRI governor Mario Marin Torres over the December 2005 arrest of journalist Lydia Cacho Ribeiro. Puebla police agents seized Cacho in Cancun, Quintana Roo, where she lives, and drove her hundreds of miles to Puebla, where she was held in prison for 24 hours.

    She had published a book, Demons of Eden, on the sexual exploitation of minors, revealing that Gov. Marin’s close friend Kamel Nacif Borge, known as the “jeans king” for his involvement in textile maquiladoras, was associated with Cancun hotel owner Jean Succar Kuri, who fled Mexico after being charged with heading a pedophile ring. Tapes of phone conversations released later showed Nacif and Marin joking about Cacho’s arrest.

    The commission also recommended criminal action against Puebla prosecutor Blanca Laura Villeda Martinez and Quintana Roo prosecutor Bello Melchor Rodriguez y Carrillo for their role in Cacho’s arrest, and the removal of Puebla criminal judge Rosa Celia Perez Camacho, who issued the warrant. The commission’s recommendations need to be approved by six of the SCJN’s 11 justices, and even then they aren’t binding on other branches of the government.

    See our last posts on Oaxaca and Puebla.