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La Semana: Sunday, April 3
The week in supreme court rulings and the countdown to recall vote
Welcome to the Sunday edition of The Mexpatriate.
In today’s newsletter:
The Gertz-Cuevas Saga and Abuse of Power
One-week Countdown to the Recall Referendum
Please send me your comments, feedback and questions, and feel free to forward this to anyone who may be interested. You can always find all sources (with links) at the bottom of the email.
The Gertz-Cuevas Saga and Abuse of Power
Alejandra Cuevas, 69, was released on Mar. 28 by order of Mexico’s Supreme Court (SCJN) after spending 528 days in Santa Marta Acatitla women’s prison. Her case, and that of her 94 year-old mother, Laura Morán, have been high-profile examples of the most egregious flaws in Mexico’s judicial system: lengthy pre-trial detention, haphazard investigative work, inept courts. While their families have been tireless in their efforts to free Cuevas and absolve Morán, it was also inevitable that public attention would be drawn to their plight: the prosecutor pursuing them is none other than Alejandro Gertz Manero, Mexico’s attorney general, and brother-in-law to Morán. In a statement to the press made shortly after her release, Cuevas spoke of her fellow female inmates as “ignored” and “invisible” and acknowledged: “without you [the press], Gertz Manero would have entombed me forever.”
Gertz is a “lawyer, pilot, theatre producer, biographer, columnist, elusive interview subject, professor, dean, pioneer of the war on drug trafficking, congressman, [and now], public prosecutor.”
The story began in 2015, with the illness and death of Alejandro Gertz Manero’s brother, Federico, at age 81. In August of that year, Laura Morán, Federico’s partner of 52 years, called Gertz to tell him that Federico’s delicate health was worsening. In fact, he was being treated at the time with anti-psychotics and tranquilizers. According to Morán’s grandson, Alonso Castillo Cuevas, caregivers and nurses had already been hired to care for Federico and then Gertz sent doctors to check on him. But on Aug. 29, Gertz arrived with police to forcibly remove his brother from the house and threatened Morán and her family with arrest if they tried to visit Federico, who died in a hospital on Sep. 27. The cause of death was recorded as “visceral congestion” caused by pneumonia and cardiac infarction.
Gertz Manero alleged that Morán and her daughters had been negligent in their care of Federico and thus had no choice but to take custody of him. However, he was frustrated in his first attempts to press criminal charges against his sister-in-law and her family for negligent homicide. Prosecutors concluded that there was not enough evidence to pursue the case—twice. At the time, Gertz was the dean of the Universidad de las Américas, but had a long history in the halls of power, shape-shifting with the changing politics of each decade. He worked in the attorney general’s office during the pinnacle of PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) hegemony in the Echeverría administration in the 1960s and for PAN (National Action Party) President Vicente Fox as Secretary of Public Security. He also served as the head of public security for Mexico City’s first PRD (Democratic Revolution Party) government under Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas. As described in an article in El País published shortly after his nomination as attorney general, Gertz has been a “lawyer, pilot, theatre producer, biographer, columnist, elusive interview subject, professor, dean, pioneer of the war on drug trafficking, congressman, [and now], public prosecutor.”
Within a week of his official appointment as attorney general in 2018, Gertz Manero had re-opened the case against Morán and Cuevas. Their family claims to have been blindsided by the tenacity of Gertz’s pursuit of criminal charges and has publicly hypothesized that there is an ulterior motive. Gertz’s name turned up in the “Paradise Papers” and the “Pandora Papers”, massive document leaks released by investigative journalists uncovering fiscal havens used by the wealthy and powerful all over the world. His brother Federico’s name also appeared on foreign accounts owned by shell companies. Some say Federico had always been in charge of administering and managing the family fortune, others allege that Alejandro Gertz used his brother as a “prestanombres” (a frontman) to manage offshore monies. Either way, when Federico’s health collapsed, perhaps Gertz panicked and scrambled to take custody of his brother and his files before the Morán family could.
The Supreme Court decision came two weeks after their first deliberation on a proposal presented by Court Minister Alberto Pérez Dayán to send the case back to a lower Mexico City court: on Mar. 14, the majority of members voted instead that the Supreme Court itself should conduct a comprehensive review of the evidence. There was heightened scrutiny of these decisions in the wake of a Mar. 4 leak of recorded phone calls between Gertz and a subordinate discussing the case in which the attorney general not only referenced the proposal drafted by Pérez Dayán—which he had access to before it was made public—but also implied that he had influence over several ministers on the court.
“Maybe [we’ve] created a Frankenstein,” speculated journalist Leo Zuckermann on “Es la Hora de Opinar”, describing Gertz Manero’s ascent to a uniquely powerful position. One of the key anti-corruption strategies that President López Obrador promoted was establishment of an independent public prosecutor. After decades of notoriety involving the Procuraduría General de la República (Attorney General’s Office), which acted as the prosecutorial arm under authority of the executive branch, AMLO made it a campaign promise to finally nominate an autonomous “Fiscal General” as dictated by a 2014 constitutional reform.
The PGR was dissolved and the FGR (Fiscalía General de la República) took its place as an independent investigative law enforcement office under the leadership of a prosecutor who serves for nine years and who can only be removed from office for “serious violations” by the president. Legal analysts have highlighted the lack of checks on the power of the fiscal general. Perhaps the most glaring is lack of any department of internal affairs that could investigate and sanction its own. Even AMLO may wince at the latitude and vindictive nature of Gertz’s power, whose term extends beyond this “sexenio”.
Gertz has referred to himself as the “victim” in numerous interviews, not just in the case of his brother’s death, but also following the leaked phone call. He emphatically blamed lawyers his office is currently investigating for extortion, bribery and other crimes committed within the highest echelons of government. And indeed, one wonders who could have the access and the ability to tap Gertz’s phone calls. The former legal advisor and right-hand to AMLO, Julio Scherer Ibarra, also joined in the blitz against Gertz: Proceso published a letter by Scherer detailing a vendetta he claims the attorney general has had against him since the magazine (owned by Scherer’s family) published a series of articles about Gertz’s possibly illicit purchase of a property on behalf of Universidad de las Américas while he was the dean.
Scherer resigned from the AMLO administration in 2021 and is linked to a number of the attorneys currently under investigation by the FGR. In his letter, Scherer alleged that in a confrontation with Gertz, he was told: “you could make the attorney general your friend…or your enemy.”
One-week Countdown to the Recall Referendum
Spring has arrived in unabashed purple glory as jacaranda trees bloom across Mexico. Windy days and warm nights herald the arrival of “las vacaciones” but this year, the scent of politics is in the air: the “revocación de mandato” or recall referendum vote will be held in one week, on April 10 (Palm Sunday). Check out my overview on this topic in the Jan. 23 “La Semana” newsletter, as well as a couple quick follow-ups in between if you would like more background information.
This past week, the INE (National Electoral Institute) ordered the removal of propaganda supportive of President López Obrador in 30 states, which violates the prohibition on campaigning in effect since Feb. 4 and is considered “an atypical or unusual publicity strategy, with the objective of supporting, in a way prohibited by the Constitution, the President of Mexico in the process of the recall referendum.”
Pundits predict low voter turnout: “There are reasons to believe that, of the 11 million signatures collected by Morena and the government, between 2.5-3 million were falsified, that is, they were obtained from people who registered in social programs, not for the recall,” noted Jorge Castañeda in an opinion piece in Nexos.
Stay tuned for more updates next Sunday…
Alejandro y Alejandra, una asimetría total de poder (Opinión 51)
Los Pandora Papers tocan al Palacio Nacional (El Financiero)
Las claves del caso de Alejandro Gertz contra la familia Cuevas (Animal Político)
Filtran llamada de Gertz donde interfiere en el caso de su cuñada (Animal Político)
Julio Scherer acusa confabulación de Sánchez Cordero y Gertz Manero (Animal Político)
INE ordena retirar propaganda a favor de AMLO en 30 estados (Animal Político)
¿Cómo votar el 10 de abril? (Nexos)