Michoacán es otro?

In his final report to the state congress, outgoing interim governor, Salvador Jara Guerrero, insisted that he was leaving Michoacán in a more secure condition than he found it. “Hoy el estado es otro”. Really?

The state’s public prosecutor has now brought the anticipated murder charges against coastal autodefensa leader Cemeí Verdía, former communal police commander of the indigenous community of Ostula. These appear to be related to events on May 26, when assassins last attempted to kill Cemeí. Apparently Michoacán’s state government thinks he and his comrades should have allowed them to do so.

This looks like a more effective way of keeping this popular leader in gaol than the still active charges of theft of barbed wire from a storehouse in Aquila. Dr. José Manuel Mireles Valverde, the other recalcitrant autodefensa leader still in prison, is also likely to remain there for a long time, since even if the charges against him ultimately fail to stick, he is now wrapped up in a legal process that could last for years.

But it seems that others are luckier. Uriel Chávez Mendoza, the former PRI mayor of Apatzingán, the city in the Tierra Caliente that was a stronghold of the Knights Templar cartel, has just been released after 17 months in prison. Accused of extorting money from municipal employees and using funds stolen from public coffers to contribute to cartel finances, Mr. Chávez’s links with the Templarios were widely denounced by townspeople. But a judge in Morelia did not find the case made against him by the state prosecutors convincing.

The former mayor of nearby Tepalcatepec, Guillermo Valencia, is quoted in a report on Chávez’s release on the web site of the magazine Proceso as saying (via his Facebook page) that it seems to be no accident that the release happened precisely on the day when the Apatzingán mayor’s constitutional mandate ended: “they manipulate institutions and twist the law as they please, just as if we were living in a dictatorship”.

Michoacán es otro? Yes, if compared with some other place where the rule of law is not a sham, but no if compared with what it’s always been, a place where the rule of law is pretty non-existent for the weak and a much abused tool of power for the strong. Mexico under the PRI was famously called “the perfect dictatorship” by Mario Vargas Llosa. The present PRI regime would be hard put to claim the kind perfection that Vargas Llosa identified in the light of the tide of extra-judicial executions, forced disappearances, and acts of repression against activists and social movements that have cast a deepening shadow over the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto, along with the growing number of political prisoners filling the country’s gaols. But they still know how to play dirty.