Mexico Crime Reaches Record High, New Government On Shaky Ground

Published: 30 July 2018

640px-AMLO se afilia a MORENA en el Zócalo 8361522287Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (CC BY 2.0)

By Jesse Chase-Lubitz

Organized crime-related killings in Mexico hit a record high according to a report that came one week after the newly elected Morena party, which promised to tackle corruption and organized crime, was accused of creating a fund that was allegedly used to buy votes.

Mexico has been shrouded in violence fueled by organized crime and corruption. InSight Crime reported on Thursday that 11,241 organized crime killings occurred in the first six months of 2018 or 60 per day — an increase of 28 percent from the same period last year.

While no one expected the new government to reduce organized crime-related violence in just 30 days, voters did expect it to be less corrupt than the last.

However, just one week ago, Mexico’s electoral watchdog, the National Electoral Institute (INE), announced that the Morena party, led by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, would be fined 197 million pesos (US$10.3 million) for failing to report the creation of a charitable fund ostensibly designed to give money to victims of the September 2017 earthquake, local media reported. 

According to the INE, a political party cannot have a fund that gives money to the population, as it is seen as an attempt to buy votes.

The suspicious activity did not end there. In addition to failing to report the fund, Morena also did not declare where the money taken out of the trust went.

The investigation began after INE received a complaint from the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which lost the election on July 1, accusing Morena of using the trust funds for his electoral campaign. 

The fund — called “Por los demas” (for the others) — was set up last year. Morena claimed it was not a party project, however 49 out of 58 trustees were Morena congressmen.

The fund collected 78.8 million pesos (US$4.1 million) and the INE said that 44 million pesos ($2.3 million) — or half of the total — was deposited in cash. The INE also referred to video camera recordings showing multiple different people going in and out of several bank branches and making cash deposits to the fund, possibly allowing them to stay below the legal threshold for reporting cash deposits.

By May 31, the INE said that 64.5 million pesos ($3.4 million) were withdrawn from the trust using cashier’s checks and distributed to 56 people with links to Morena, according to local media

In the end, the investigation was unable to determine exactly where the funds ended up — and that was a big part of the problem. “The only thing we’re penalizing is a trust fund created irregularly, managed by Morena officials and whose final destination we couldn’t determine,” said Electoral Counselor Marco Antonio Banos to local media

At least some of the money did make it to the victims of the earthquake, as several people recorded videos thanking Lopez Obrador for the funds and confirming that they received them.

Lopez Obrador and Morena deny that they did anything illegal. 

“We are not corrupt nor did we commit an unlawful act,” Lopez Obrador wrote on Twitter in response to the 197 million pesos (US$10.3 million) fine. 

“On the contrary, they [the INE] seek to muddy a humanitarian action. We will go to court.”

The trust also issued a statement saying that the funds have been distributed to 27,288 earthquake victims, according to local media. 

While the INE stands by the fine for Morena’s failure to report the fund to electoral authorities, on Tuesday they released a statement saying that despite accusations from PRI, there is no proof that the funds were used for the campaign and therefore, this probe does not question the validity of the election.

Lopez Obrador’s entire campaign was built on his promise to rid Mexico of corruption and this investigation could impact that image.

Lopez Obrador and Morena have proposed extensive plans to reduce crime in the country, but now, many will be questioning if their new government will be any different from the last.