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Cablegate: Mexico: New Attorney General -- The Good, the Bad

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RR RUEHCD RUEHGD RUEHHO RUEHMC RUEHNG RUEHNL RUEHRD RUEHRS RUEHTM
DE RUEHME #2759/01 2642241
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 212241Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY MEXICO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8315
INFO RUEHXC/ALL US CONSULATES IN MEXICO COLLECTIVE
RUEHWH/WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS
RHMFISS/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFISS/HQ USNORTHCOM
RUEAHLA/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
RUEABND/DEA HQS WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MEXICO 002759

SIPDIS

NSC FOR SENIOR DIRECTOR RESTREPO; DEPT FOR WHA DAS
JACOBSON, MEX DIRECTOR LEE, D STAFF CUE, AND INR HOHMAN.

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/08/2019
TAGS: MX PGOV PHUM PINR PREL SNAR
SUBJECT: MEXICO: NEW ATTORNEY GENERAL -- THE GOOD, THE BAD
AND THE UGLY
MEXICO 00002759 001.2 OF 003


Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Gustavo Delgado.
Reason: 1.4 (b),(d).

1. (C) Summary: President Calderon's decision to replace
Mexican Attorney General Medina Mora could have far-reaching
consequences: on prospects for judicial reform; on the GOM's
ability to manage human rights' criticism; and on our efforts
to move forward on an expanded Merida agenda. Calderon's
choice of a party loyalist, lacking political heft and/or
legal reputation and burdened with a controversial human
rights record, has thrust Calderon into a political battle of
his own making, raising the price of getting his candidate
through the Senate at a time when he is already in a serious
battle over his budget for FY10. That said, there is no way
that Calderon will allow any Attorney General to back away
from cooperating with the United States on the fight against
narco traffickers especially when he needs our help to get
results.

2. (C) The fight against narco traffickers and economic
stability are the two core objectives of Calderon's
administration. Without much forethought, Calderon handed
the opposition the lever it did not have to attack him on his
fight against drugs and to establish the rule of law.
AG-designate Chavez is scheduled for committee hearings early
next week. Questions continue to circulate about whether he
will make it out of the Senate, though the press suggests he
essentially already has the votes he needs. Some Senators
say the confirmation process will be bruising but he'll get
through. His predecessor tells us that he helped Calderon
cut a deal to make sure he makes it. The reaction of the
U.S. and Mexican human rights communities will be negative.
End Summary

--------
The Good
--------

3. (C) A review of files from various U.S. law enforcement
agencies reflect a generally positive impression of Chavez
during his stint as the Attorney General of Chihuahua in the
early 90's (1993-1996). Back then, Chavez worked closely
with U.S. law enforcement and was a favorite of FBI, DEA and
others in El Paso and at EPIC. He was considered
pro-American and a trusted interlocutor and quickly developed
a reputation as a low-key, steely prosecutor who had
surprising success against the cartels in the early days of
the fight against Mexican drug lords, when the legal and
political terrain was extremely complicated. Former Attorney
General Medina Mora also went out of his way to underscore
Chavez's bonafides to the Ambassador: "He is a lawyer, a good
one. I am not. I was a good public servant. I came out of
intelligence. We are different people. He will bring the
legal capacity that I did not have."

-------
The Bad
-------

4. (C) There are, however, reports that Chavez could have
played both sides in his effort to make progress against the
cartels. Current Chihuahua Attorney General Gonzalez,
recently told us that Chavez' youth and inexperience -- he
was the youngest Attorney General in Chihuahua's history --
led him to be easily influenced by others and to delegate
control of sensitive investigations to local police
commanders in the Chihuahua Attorney General's office (PGJ),
at a time when police there were plagued by corruption.
Chavez was also hindered by the unwillingness of
then-Governor Francisco Barrio Chavez to provide sufficient
financial support for the PGJ, which lacked resources to
conduct even basic office functions, e.g., forensic expert
investigations, case filling, etc.

--------
The Ugly
--------

5. (C) The most damaging part of his early record relates
to his prosecutorial neglect of a series of killings of young
women in Chihuahua that came to light when he was the local
Attorney General. Human rights groups both in Mexico and
abroad have criticized him for his lackluster response to
this criminal, and not fully resolved, femicide. Medina Mora
said: "Did he do enough to investigate the femicides? In
retrospect, no. But from the standards of the time, he acted
the same way everyone else did. It was bad judgment, but you
could make that a collective statement about Mexico." While
some have attributed the murders to cartel thugs trolling for
female victims, charges of alleged police complicity and
investigatory foot-dragging continue to linger. The difficult
local environment he faced in the early 90s puts the charges
in context -- a few of our reports from "non-public sources"
at that time also relate an episode of Chavez offering a
"helpful hand" to certain cartel figures -- but none of it
refutes charges of serious missteps.

-------
The Why
-------

6. (C) State Secretary for Public Security (SSP) Garcia
Luna told us that even though Chavez was on the original list
of five candidates, he was seen as a long shot overshadowed
by front-runner Blake, the Baja California Prosecutor. He
said he did not know Chavez well but he believed he could
work well with him if he were confirmed. (Garcia Luna's
constant feuding with Medina Mora has complicated our joint
law enforcement efforts in the past.) He described Chavez as
somewhat the opposite of outgoing AG Medina Mora: stronger as
a jurist but weaker in the political skills required for
working things through legal and political channels. Garcia
Luna was uncertain that Chavez would make it through the
Senate given the PRI's suspicion of his strong PAN
credentials; the PRI, he told us, had suggested Interior
Minister Gomez Mont for AG. Respected legal scholar and
Director of the National Institute of Legal Studies (INACIPE)
Gerardo Laveaga, described Chavez as a personal friend, who,
he said, did not even want the job. He described Chavez as
"plodding", unrenowned in the legal field and not "clever"
enough to move legal reforms forward. Laveaga termed the
baggage from Chihuahua as "poison" that would reinforce a
view among many politicians that Chavez was not up to the
judicial challenge, not the guy they would want to see
leading critical legal efforts in the current environment.

7. (C) Well-placed PAN sources confirmed that Calderon had
nominated Chavez to gain favor with a faction inside of the
PAN led by Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, PAN's candidate for
President in 1994 who also served in the Senate from 2002-06.
Chavez currently works in Cevallos' law firm, mostly on
commercial and civil cases, and served as his chief of staff
during Cevallos' time in the Senate. One PAN contact
conjectured conspirationally that Calderon was using the
nomination to gain favor with the Cevallos faction, but fully
expected that the Senate would reject him; according to this
source, Calderon would then nominate acting Attorney General
Juan Miguel Alcantara.

8. (C) PRI leader in the Senate, Manlio Fabio Beltrones,
confirmed earlier reports that the opposition had turned down
front-runner Blake. Beltrones characterized him as a
"political hack" who ran Calderon's campaign in Baja
California with no legal background. "You would think the
government would have consulted us before announcing a
"political unknown" like Chavez," he told the Ambassador.
Beltrones described Chavez as a "nice boy" who stuck to his
talking points but had no real vision. On confirmation he was
ambiguous, noting strong opposition from the Democratic
Revolutionary Party (PRD) and scant support in some PRI
quarters. Beltrones positioned himself to take whatever side
of the Chavez vote seems convenient: "This is too important a
post to leave vacant. The PRI would be abnegating its
responsibilities if we just abstained. So I will try to get
the votes, but it will be hard." No doubt Beltranes is
asking a price to get this through. What that might be is
still unclear. And if the political cost of doing that is
too high, then Beltrones is giving himself (and the PRI) the
space to position himself (and the party) as human rights
advocates.

--------
The When
--------

9. (C) Chavez is scheduled to appear before the Justice and
Constitutional Affairs Committees on 21 September. He must
get through both in order to come up for a vote before the
full Senate where he'll need a simple majority of those
Senators present. PRD President Jesus Ortega told us that
the PRD would vote in bloc against his confirmation. PRD
Senator Torres Mercado noted, however, that there were limits
to how long the AG nomination could be held up given that no
party would want to look like they were being obstructionist
on matters of national security. Beltrones predicted that
whatever happens, it will be quick. Medina Mora predicted
confirmation by the end of the week.

--------------------------------------
Implications for Calderon and the U.S.
--------------------------------------

10. (C) For Calderon, the Chavez nomination is a
self-inflicted political headache. The internal vetting was
poor, discussions on alternatives was limited to a narrow
group, the government did not fully vet the options with the
key power brokers, and Chavez himself was not well briefed or
prepared to make his own case to legislators. PRI Senator
Beltrones is a skilled back-room negotiator and Calderon will
have to spend significant political capital to get Chavez
through. Even then, the opposition will likely badger and
bloody him through the process. Chavez is said not to have
the legal or or political skills to make much headway on
needed security agenda reforms. Progress on that front will
require Calderon to engage personally or another agency, like
the SSP, to push for the reforms as a way of enabling their
success in the fight against organized crime.

11. (C) Still, there is no way that any candidate in the
Attorney general's office will walk away from cooperation
with the United States. Calderon knows that U.S. support in
this area is critical to concrete progress and to certain
degree his own political credibility. He will not tolerate
any obstruction to investigations that make it harder to
seize high-value targets and disrupt the cartels. That said,
cooperation on day-to-day law-enforcement issues could become
more complicated. Medina Mora consistently placed
operational requirements ahead of procedural fine points. If
another day was needed to complete a report or investigation
before he took action on a case or investigation or appeal,
he had no aversion to allowing the file to linger in his
in-box. He was pragmatic about bureaucracy and used his
position to aid our efforts. Our experience with his deputy,
Alcantara, is quite the opposite.

12. (C) Most fundamentally, Chavez' confirmation will also
present a difficult credibility challenge for Calderon on the
human rights front. His Chihuahua baggage will make it
harder for Calderon to get on the right side of this issue:
criticism in the NGO community and skepticism about the
government's resolve to address the problems will deepen.
Not only will Calderon be under attack on the role of the
military, his civil justice system will be the target of
human rights critics as well. Mexicans across the border are
spilt on whether Medina Mora should have been fired -- many
said he had become ineffectual on the "big issues" -- but on
the handling of Chavez the views of the Mexican elite are
unanimous: questionable judgment, bad timing, and poor
execution.

Visit Mexico City's Classified Web Site at
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/wha/mexicocity and the North American
Partnership Blog at http://www.intelink.gov/communities/state/nap /

PASCUAL

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