Friday, June 2, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Ex-President Calderón defends against Mexican public opinion after García Luna verdict

Former Mexico President Felipe Calderón claims to have had no knowledge of his national security secretary’s corruption, asserting that he always fought against organized crime.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — A former president of Mexico is defending himself in the court of public opinion after the top cop in his administration was found guilty of colluding with drug cartels in a U.S. federal court. 

Ex-President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa on Wednesday posted an English translation of a statement he tweeted the day before addressed, “To public opinion, fellow Mexicans,” in which he claimed to have no ties to the corruption exposed by the trial of former National Security Secretary Genaro García Luna. 

“I am a man of laws and I respect the findings of the courts that act according to them,” he said in the statement. “During my tenure as president of Mexico, and throughout my life, I have always been on the side of justice and the law, and I will always be on the side of the victims.” 

García Luna served as national security secretary for the entirety of Calderón’s administration, from 2006 to 2012. At the beginning of his term, Calderón declared war on the drug cartels, an act that started a wave of extreme violence that has plagued the country ever since.

During the shorter than expected trial of García Luna, witnesses testified he accepted millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel to protect its operations from arrests, raids and seizures. Another witness, a former federal police officer, told the jury that he had been arrested and detained for months after reporting that García Luna had met with a cartel leader. 

Calderón claims to have had no knowledge of such corruption, asserting that he always fought against organized crime according to the law.

“I never negotiated or [made agreements] with criminals,” he wrote. “I have never used my position as president to advocate for their interests.”

Many in Mexico, however, don't buy it. Luz María Dávila confronted Calderón at a press conference in 2010 after her two teenage sons were killed in a shooting at a birthday party in Ciudad Juárez. She still holds Calderón responsible for the deaths of her sons.

“May [García Luna] pay for what he did, may they all pay for what they did, starting with Felipe Calderón Hinojosa,” she told the newspaper El Diario de Juárez on Wednesday.

Public opinion in Mexico's current polarized political climate is largely not on Calderón’s side. His National Action Party (PAN) is now part of the minority opposition to the ruling Morena party of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, whose latest approval rating is just under 60%.

In this Oct. 8, 2010, file photo, then Mexico's Secretary of Public Safety Genaro García Luna attends a press conference on the sidelines of an American Police Community (Ameripol) meeting in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)

“Here, the heart of the matter, what is omitted, is what explanation are you going to give to the people of Mexico about why you appointed García Luna, and if you knew or did not know,” López Obrador said at his morning press conference Wednesday.

Federal deputies from Morena Tuesday accused Calderón and his predecessor President Vicente Fox Quesada — also a member of PAN — of being connected to organized crime in Mexico and called for them to be put on trial.

“The perception of the majority of the population is that Calderón was not ignorant, but rather an accomplice to the acts of corruption and collaboration with drug traffickers committed by Genaro García Luna,” security analyst David Saucedo told Courthouse News. 

Calderón’s name will certainly come up in subsequent trials of recently arrested drug traffickers like Rafael Caro Quintero and Ovidio Guzmán, son of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, Saucedo said. That is, of course, if they are extradited to the United States. Both remain in Mexico and are fighting extradition in the courts. 

“García Luna will be a protected witness in other trials, with the aim of getting reductions to his sentencing, and maybe in that context he’ll break his pact of silence with Felipe Calderón,” Saucedo said. 

Other security experts aren’t so sure that the public’s connection of Calderón to drug trafficking is credible.

Analyst Alejandro Hope said it is “of course” possible that Calderón was entirely unaware of García Luna’s corruption, noting that the latter was given medals and recognitions by the DEA and the CIA at a time when the NSA was conducting “massive spying” in Mexico.

“If they didn’t know, how was Calderón supposed to know?” Hope said.

Mike Vigil, the CIA's former chief of international operations, said “there’s a possibility” that Calderón did not know about García Luna’s corruption. 

“To say that a subordinate, if he did something wrong — that does not necessarily say that his boss knew about it,” Vigil said. “There’s no evidence to point to Calderón.”

Vigil, who worked directly with García Luna, told Courthouse News that he never personally saw evidence that Mexico’s top cop was in on the drug trade. 

“Mexico is a land of conspiracy,” he said. “If they put Jesus Christ in charge of a police agency, within two weeks, you’d have people linking him to every cartel in Mexico."

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.