Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mexican Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mouriño and Top Drug Prosecutor José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos Die in Plane Crash

Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mouriño and drug prosecutor José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos died along with twelve other people when the plane carrying the government officials crashed into Mexico City's financial district last night.

Juan Camilo Mouriño had been at the center of numerous energy scandals. He was Felipe Calderon's right-hand man and climbed the political ladder on the current president's coattails. As Interior Minister he was the most powerful member of Calderon's cabinet.

José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos had received numerous death threats and survived two attempts on his life as a result of his work combatting drug cartels.

While Mexico's Secretary of Transportation has said that all signs point to the crash being an accident and not an attack on the officials, President Calderon has yet to use the word "accident" in his public communications regarding the crash. The black box recovered from the crash site indicates that the pilots never issued an SOS or reported any emergency or technical problems prior to crashing. Calderon has promised a thorough investigation that will involve US and British experts.

The following is an obituary written by one of Mexico's top drug reporters for José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, one of Mexico's leading drug prosecutors.

Vasconcelos, amongst threats and scandals

by Ricardo Ravelo, Proceso
translation and notes by Kristin Bricker

Mexico City, November 4. After a long career combatting drug trafficking in the Federal Attorney General's office (PGR in its Spanish initials), José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos died tonight, along with the Interior Minister, Juan Camilo Mouriño, and six other people, when the aircraft that was carrying them crashed in Mexico City's western zone, very close to the president's official residence, Los Pinos.

Just this past September, after 20 years of service in the PGR, Vasconcelos resigned from the Assistant Prosecutor's Judicial and International Affairs office, where he had worked since the beginning of President Calderon's term.

Before, and over the decades, Vasconcelos served as head of the Specialized Unit on Organized Crime, an office which was later elevated to the rank of assistant prosecutor's office [translator's note: the Specialized Unit on Organized Crime became the Assistant Attorney General's Office for Specialized Investigation of Organized Crime, or SIEDO in its Spanish initials, which was recently rocked by the revelation that some of its top-ranking officials were on the Beltran Leyva cartel's payroll].

After a scandal provoked in a Cabinet meeting in which the federal Secretary of Public Security, Genaro Garcia Luna, and the Federal Attorney General, Eduardo Medina Mora, became immersed in a heated discussion, problems arose within the PGR, particularly in the SIEDO.

Noe Ramirez Mandujano resigned from the SIEDO, and Vasconcelos followed him soon thereafter, making the following argument: "I decided to step aside to let some fresh blood and new energy enter the PGR.

"When I was informed that the federal Attorney General, Eduardo Medina Mora, had plans to renovate the institution and integrate people from his team into the fight against crime, I put tendered my resignation in order to continue the effort to combat crime from other security departments within the federal government."

During his time in the PGR--he began working there at the beginning of Carlos Salinas de Gortari's adminstration, when the attorney general was Enrique Alvarez del Castillo--Vasconcelos was a key figure in combatting drug trafficking: amongst other detentions, he is credited with the investigations that resulted in the detention of Osiel Cardenas Guillen [the imprisoned head of the Gulf cartel].

Before that, Vasconcelos collaborated on investigations in the Special Prosecutor's Office for Crimes against Health (Feads in its Spanish initials) in order to detain Juan Garcia Abrego [former head of the Gulf cartel]. He also went after Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the so-caled "Lord of the Skies," the boss of the Juarez cartel.

He combatted Los Zetas, the armed wing of the Gulf cartel; various members of the Gulf cartel itself, amongst them Eduardo "El Coss" Costilla [alleged leader of the Gulf cartel]; as well as the Beltran Leyva organization.

It was said that [the Beltran Leyva organization] had threatened to kill Vasconcelos, that hitmen for these men frequently followed him, and that--according to the information the Secretary of Public Security could gather--it had something to do with gunmen hired by that criminal organization.

This past January, the official was saved from two attempts on his life allegedly perpetrated by Arturo Beltran Leyva's hitmen. The capital police thwarted both attacks by chance. The hitmen were detained in the capital before carrying out the operation.

Following Vasconcelos' resignation from the PGR, President Felipe Calderon designated him as the coordinator to carry out legal reforms with the goal of strengthening the country's legal framework against drug trafficking.

Following Vasconcelos' departure from the PGR, the SIEDO-- was slammed by a corruption crisis within the department. SIEDO is currently run by Marisela Morales, a person who is close to the ex-attorney general Rafael Macedo de la Concha. The crisis had to do with about 40 officials--some of them Vasconcelos' colleagues in the SIEDO--who leaked information to the Beltran Leyva brothers, who are clashing with Calderon's government.

Parallel to these events, a corruption crisis also hit the Secretary of Public Security, lead by Genaro Garcia Luna, a person who in various PGR investigations--amongst others, PGR/SIEDO/UEIDCS/106/2005*--has been associated with the Beltran Leyva brothers.


* PGR/SIEDO/UEIDCS/106/2005 is a case in which four alleged members of Los Zetas were kidnapped and tortured, and one of the was executed. The assailants appeared to be Federal Investigation Agency [AFI] agents who operated under the protection of two PGR agents.

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