Thousands of people have disappeared in the coastal state
by PARKER ASMANN & ALISTAIR THOMPSON
A new report says harrowing corruption and violence have transformed Mexico’s Veracruz into a “state of terror,” and suggests that only a compete overhaul can reform it.
The report produced by the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organization that conducts research and proposes policies for dealing with conflict zones, suggests that before Veracruz can be reformed, there is a need to obtain accurate data revealing the full scope of the violence and corruption, and the government needs to do an overhaul of state institutions.
Not only has the state suffered an extraordinary wave of violence and disappearances, but, according to the report, it has been “governed with the intent of hiding or denying these crimes, and ensuring their culprits a free rein.”
The report found that only 681 cases of unresolved disappearances are recognized by the federal government, whereas “2,750 cases have been denounced before the state attorney’s office [Fiscalía General del Estado, FGE].”
Meanwhile, civil society organizations estimate there may be up to 20,000 unresolved cases of disappearances in Veracruz. And they say none of these have been solved. As of February 2016, the nationwide estimate of disappearances was 27,659, suggesting Veracruz may be responsible for up to 72 percent of Mexico’s total disappearances.
Near total impunity helps to conceal these crimes. Mexico’s national impunity rate is 97.1 percent, and the report found that Veracruz’s impunity rate surpasses that number. Moreover, according to Mexico’s National Institute for Statistics and Geography, 94.6 percent of the total crimes in Veracruz go unreported.
According to the report, this is “part and parcel of the self-protection the Veracruz state and its criminal associates guaranteed themselves between 2004 and 2016.” Mexico is the “most corrupt country among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member states.” And, the report suggests, Veracruz is arguably the most corrupt state.
What this reflects, the report says, is the misuse of state and federal public offices, suggesting a lack of checks and balances and the absence of any “genuinely independent” body to hold political elites and their criminal associates accountable.
Since 2010, the report found, corruption investigations have been opened against 11 governors of Veracruz, “amounting to an estimated total of $15 billion of allegedly embezzled funds.”
Public funds are often the most commonly looted in Veracruz. In particular, the report found that former Veracruz governor Javier Duarte was channeling “funds from public contracts toward a string of shell corporations allegedly set up at the start of his term in 2010.”
What’s more, all of these contracts were signed off on by “high-level public officials,” highlighting the “extent of collusion” and the “weakness of oversight mechanisms.”
Not a single anomaly, the report says, was detected by the High Audit Body of the State of Veracruz, or ORFIS. Although, in October 2016, the ORFIS accused Duarte’s administration of embezzling nearly “$650 million, including via public contracts to shell firms ($80 million); unaccounted credits ($300 million); funds destined for municipalities but illegally retained at the state level ($25 million); and resources diverted from pension funds ($150 million).”
Duarte has been on the run since October 2016, over organized crime and money laundering allegations. The interim governor of the state, Flavino Ríos Alvarado, was arrested and jailed as well for assisting in Duarte’s escape.
InSight Crime analysis
In order for Veracruz to be rebuilt, the scope of corruption and violence must be fully revealed and quantified, and corrupted government offices and agencies must be overhauled and “cleansed,” as the report suggests.
The initial cleansing phase will have to focus on the state attorney’s office. While the federal government may manage a large portion of the higher ranking judicial processes, it will be critical to have an in-state power bringing criminals to justice. The report argues that before the state attorney’s office can overhaul the state, however, it must be overhauled itself.
“The prospect of the state attorney’s office becoming the principal investigator of the fate of Veracruz’s disappeared and strengthen the rule of law in general will depend in large part on the extent to which the institution can be purged of its corrupt and criminally complicit officials,” the ICG states.
Local police forces need to be overhauled as well. New governor Miguel Ángel Yunes has repealed plans to combine all of Veracruz’s police into the national Sole Command arguing that “a single police force is more easily corrupted.” Instead, Yunes is aiming to rebuild municipal police forces in their respective localities.
While the changes in police forces will ultimately result in a major restructuring, Yunes is emphasizing a slow and steady pace. Despite campaign promises of sharp changes in police forces, Yunes has admitted that the “cleansing of police forces has to be balanced” in order to maintain “operational capacity.”
It is likely that a full and immediate cleansing would leave the streets nearly devoid of officers, based on the reported depth of corruption.
Independent truth commissions will play a vital role in this process. However, the crimes committed are extremely difficult to investigate and attribute, mainly because the involvement of the state and its efforts to protect itself. All of this begs the question as to how these truth commissions will go about tracing these crimes.
For example, on the subject of forced disappearances, the Veracruz Truth Commission estimates that “the total number of disappeared in the state under Herrera and Duarte to be at least 5,000.” However, estimates by other victims groups “oscillate between 4,000 and 20,000.”
The range shows the difficulty of the task.