MEXICO CITY – Even in a nation almost insecure about corruption, the news was amazing.
The man considered the brain behind the Mexican government's militarized war against drug traffickers was accused by US prosecutors of having been in the pocket of one of the main criminal groups he was pursuing, severely undermining the fight he was helping to lead.
Genaro García Luna, former secretary of public security of Mexico, was accused of accepting millions of dollars in bribes while in office to protect the Sinaloa Cartel, which allowed the organization to smuggle tons of cocaine and other drugs into the States United. At that time, the group was led by Joaquín Guzmán Loera, better known as El Chapo, who is now serving a life sentence in the United States.
The accusation, revealed in New York on Tuesday, and the subsequent arrest of Mr. García Luna in Dallas hours later, surprised Mexico. It was as if Eliot Ness had been an accomplice of Al Capone.
"It's huge," said Jaime López-Aranda, a security analyst in Mexico City who worked briefly with García Luna in the late 2000s. "I'm still a little in shock. And I'm still thinking about the boy and our conversations and his team and his people. It's the big disappointment. I mean, my God, man. It's like … "He paused. "It's like the end of an era."
García Luna was the chief engineer of the country's controversial anti-narcotics strategy that relied heavily on the armed forces to confront criminal groups and kill or capture their leaders. Mexico is still struggling with the legacy of his approach.
While it had some success in capturing dozens of prominent crime bosses, the deployment of the military also spurred a sharp rise in violence and left a trail of death, as monolithic criminal companies were fragmented into a series of groups that They have proven to be even more violent and uncontrollable.
For some Mexicans, the news of Mr. García Luna's arrest was almost unimaginable. For others, it was proof of permanent suspicions that he had been in bed with criminals all the time. Others interpreted it as a radical and scaled referendum on the two administrations in which he served.
Then there were those who found confirmation that the entire apparatus of the Mexican government was once and forever corrupt.
García Luna was one of the architects, and the incarnation, of Mexico's security strategy for a decade. From 2001 to 2005, during the administration of President Vicente Fox, Mr. García Luna directed the Federal Research Agency, the Mexican equivalent of F.B.I. He then became public security secretary in the cabinet of President Felipe Calderón from 2006 to 2012, overseeing his boss's "war,quot; against drug trafficking organizations and the deployment of the Mexican army to free him.
Politically powerful, Mr. García Luna expressed intense loyalty among his followers but also inspired a deep animosity among his critics, particularly when violence shot up amid Mr. Calderón's offensive against traffickers. The strategy disrupted the criminal ecosystem but did not contain violence between criminal groups, resulting in the death of tens of thousands of people and the disappearance of many others.
The strategy continued under President Enrique Peña Nieto, but the current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has tried to discredit her, pointing out the fact that he failed to stop drug trafficking or violence.
At a press conference on Wednesday, López Obrador said his government would not use the case of García Luna to hit Calderón, an open critic of the current president.
"I don't want them to think that we are taking advantage of this circumstance to attack former President Calderón, despite all the damage he did to us, not only me, but the country," said López Obrador.
But the president seemed unable to avoid it, moments later he described the arrest as "a defeat against an authoritarian and corrupt regime, an element of proof that this model failed."
Anabel Hernández, a Mexican investigative journalist who has reported extensively on the alleged links between Mr. García Luna and drug traffickers, found in his arrest some claim to his work.
"There was no war on drugs per se, but a war between cartels in which the federal government took sides and protected the Sinaloa Cartel, which only meant more violence for society and more power for the cartel," said Hernandez . In an interview.
But for her, the accusation and the arrest, in a foreign country, also reaffirmed her constant frustration with the weaknesses of the Mexican state.
"It reflects the immaturity of the Mexican political system, the lack of autonomy and the inefficiency of the Mexican justice system," he said.
Some delighted in the news with a certain schadenfreude. In office, Mr. García Luna was hungry for media attention. Federal agents under your command once He organized the arrest of an alleged kidnapper and the release of three hostages for transmission on national television. He also liked to show suspects to reporters and present them with piles of weapons and drugs confiscated during their arrests.
"For poetic justice, I would have liked a live television broadcast of the arrest of García Luna," Leonardo Núñez González, political analyst in Mexico City, wrote on twitter. "But these things only happen in places like Mexico."
Many close associates of Mr. García Luna have remained silent since the news of his accusation was heard, as observers have speculated if he has information that could lead to new accusations of former officials, not only in Mexico but also in the United States, who worked closely with Mr. García Luna during his years in government.
Some observers rushed to point Mr. Calderón with the accusing finger, saying that if his chief security minister had been working hand in hand with the Sinaloa Cartel and getting large payments for his efforts, then the president had to have known.
"This accusation discredits the entire presidential term of Calderón for many people," said López-Aranda, who served as a spokesman for Mr. García Luna in the Ministry of Public Security for less than a year.
For the supporters of Mr. López Obrador, he added: “Christmas arrived early. Christmas for the next five years came early. ”
Calderón, who was not charged with any crime in the American indictment, said on twitter: "My position is always in favor of justice and the law." But if the charges against Mr. García Luna were true, he wrote, it would be "a serious violation of the trust entrusted to him."
Guillermo Valdés, who led CISEN, a national security intelligence agency, during Mr. Calderón's term, warned that even if Mr. García Luna was found guilty of the charges he faces, the entire government should not be involved.
"This would be a big blow to Calderón's administration, to have a corrupt public security secretary," he said. But, he continued, "it simply cannot be concluded that due to a corrupt government official, the rest of the government was obedient to the corrupt."
"It will be very sad to realize that he worked with a two-sided official." "And in that case we will have to admit that it was a monumental mistake to stay with him."