With corruption and narco-terrorism on the rise in México in 2006, then-president Felipe Calderón declared war on the drug traffickers, mobilized the Mexican military. Calderón set out to reform the Mexican policing framework to deal with the crisis. Calderón appointed Genaro García Luna to transform the federal police into a more-professional civilian organization equipped with intelligence gathering infrastructure to investigate drug trafficking crime.
García Luna was lauded by the international community as well as in México as “a determined leader” intent on building organizational capability to deal with the drug trafficking problem in México.
On December 10, 2019, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York indicted and arrested Genaro García Luna on charges of conspiracy to drug traffic and making false statements.
Smoke and Mirrors
México is often described as a country of smoke and mirrors because there are two sides – the truth and the reality portrayed to the world. The conundrum of Genaro García Luna portrays the smoke and mirrors that is México. García Luna demonstrates two faces of the same issue, a face that most believed in, including the international community and the reality that is behind the smoke.
Drug crime in México is governed by federal laws and the federal police is primarily responsible for enforcing the drug laws. The federal police has historically been an ineffective police force because of lack of capability and lack of resources. In 1994, the administration of Ernesto Zedillo (PRI) unified various federal police units into the Federal Preventive Police, unifying the highway, fiscal and immigration forces into one in hopes of modernizing the policing.
In 2000, Vicente Fox (PAN) further updated the Federal Preventive Police by creating the Agencia Federal de Investigación modeled after the FBI. Fox named Genaro García Luna as the director. He led the AFI for five years.
When Felipe Calderón (PAN) declared war on the drug cartels he sought to find someone who could transform the country’s federal police into an organization up to the task of delivering on the mission to deal with rising drug violence. Calderón appointed Genaro García Luna as his secretary of public safety.
The New Policing Model for México
In 2011, García Luna published The New Public Security Model for Mexico, in which he argued that lack of training, social prestige and low wages, careers in Mexican police forces were merely “a vocational choice for people lacking better opportunities.”
García Luna detailed his plan for dealing with the drug problem in his 2011 book. He wrote that “a different type of criminal investigation was now required, one based on information analysis and processing, to identify the logistical and financial structures of organized crime, its ties to authorities, its modus operandi, and its recruiting mechanisms.”
In his new post, García Luna worked to modernize policing in México by improving operational systems focusing on intelligence gathering and by creating a professional police force that the citizenry would look up to, rather than to distrust them.
He needed to start from scratch and rebuild the apparatus from the ground up.
To do so, García Luna had to disband the existing forces and replace them with a new modern one. To accomplish that task, he not only had to build a new infrastructure, but he also needed to change the Constitution for the new framework to work.
In June 2008, the Constitution was amended to include the presumption of innocence and updated the court system to begin hearing criminal cases in an adversarial process, like the U.S. court system. In 2009, laws were enacted bringing Genaro García Luna’s vision of a modern police force to fruition.
The reforms were controversial. The PRI and the PRD argued that giving federal police forces too much power would lead to human rights abuses. García Luna persisted, however, although his attempt to unify a police chain of command among the states remained unattainable. However, the reform centralized intelligence gathering and created a fusion center for sharing information.
Although García Luna’s reforms were substantial, much remained to be completed in 2012. When Calderón left office, the army was still on the streets combating drug traffickers. However, the public’s perception of the federal police rose to 64% of the population who viewed the federal police as effective.
On December 1, 2012, Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI) took over the presidency. He kept most of Genaro García Luna’s reforms in place but did little to continue the police reforms. Peña Nieto had promised to create a national police gendarmerie but never did.
Despite promising to initiate substantial policing in México in 2018, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has, instead redirected his newly formed National Guard away from police duties towards immigration enforcement to block Central American immigrants from traversing México towards the United States. AMLO has kept conventional policing in the hands of the military.
U.S. Government Supported García Luna Reforms
In 2008 U.S. government officials met with Genaro García Luna at Luna’s recently reformed police force’s (AFI) headquarters to see how the U.S. government could complement García Luna’s reforms. The goal of the meeting, according to a declassified State Department cable was “to support Calderon’s effort to consolidate and clean up federal police forces, and identify those areas where we [U.S. government] can best add value to achieving a modern, effective police force,” in México.
In another State Department cable from 2006, released by Wikileaks, the U.S. government labeled García Luna as “a trusted liaison, partner and friend of the FBI”. The cable also added that his “personal reputation is very good.”
The Criminal Case
In 2012, Genaro García Luna left México and began the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. On December 9, 2019, García Luna was arrested on charges of accepting millions in bribes from Chapo Guzmán’s Sinaloa Cartel.
Genaro García Luna was indicted on December 4, 2019 on four counts of drug trafficking. The charges state that he started working for Chapo’s cartel around 2001.
In February 2020, García Luna’s defense team submitted a request to release him from pre-trial detention. In their application for release pending trial, the defense team cited that García Luna “has sufficient ties” to the U.S., having become a permanent resident since about 2012, has family in the U.S. and that García Luna “does not have ability to flee” because he relinquished his passport and green card.
The defense team offered to guarantee his appearance in court by offering real estate worth “approximately $1,200,000”.
For its part, the Department of Justice objected to the pre-trial release. In its February 27, 2020 response, the DOJ argued that García Luna “poses an unacceptable risk of flight.” The DOJ also argued that Genaro García Luna has access to “nearly four million dollars” in real estate holdings.
The DOJ document stated that in October 2012, García Luna paid cash for a 5,099 square-foot residence in Golden Beach Florida. According to the DOJ filing, García Luna paid more than $3 million for the Florida property. The DOJ also noted that in 2016, García Luna paid for his children’s private school tuition with funds from a Florida-based company that he has not disclosed to the government as his.
The DOJ, in its argument against releasing Genaro García Luna from pre-trial detention, argues that it has a strong criminal case against him. According to the legal document, the U.S. government has “numerous cooperating witnesses, including several former high-ranking members of the Sinaloa Cartel.” They are “expected to testify about millions of dollars in bribes paid” to García Luna “in exchange for his protection” of Chapo Guzmán’s organization. The government argues that in addition to the testimony, García Luna’s own financial records “reflect that” he “continued to live off the millions of dollars in bribes that the Sinaloa Cartel paid him as part of his role in the drug trafficking conspiracy.”
The Mexican government under AMLO reported that García Luna’s held assets of approximately $700,000 under the Calderón administration. He earned $683,050 from 2001 to 2012 while working for the government. Former president, Felipe Calderón issued a statement shortly after the arrest that he had “no knowledge” of the charges against García Luna.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador has accused Calderón of covering up for García Luna. AMLO has requested the extradition of García Luna to México to face charges of money laundering.
The prosecution of Genaro García Luna continues in New York. It is likely that more details with be revealed as the trial progresses.
The Salvador Cienfuegos Backdrop
The case of Genaro García Luna has put the PAN party in the crosshairs of the political intrigue in México. Against that backdrop is the case of Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda who was recently arrested and released back to México after drug trafficking charges were suddenly dropped. We will look into this case further in the next article.
Note: the arrest of Genaro García Luna derived from testimony provided during the Chapo Guzmán trial in 2019. Read my book, Convicting Chapo for details of the trial and the testimony.