A Nightmare of a Government: Veracruz under Javier Duarte de Ochoa – by Noé Zavaleta (Proceso)

~ This article was originally published by Proceso on August 8, 2015 ~

The governor of Veracruz, Javier Duarte, has earned the enmity of social activists, journalists—one of the most victimized groups during his term in office—and opposition lawmakers. Those lawmakers are unflinching in their critiques of the PRI governor, whose acts and declarations fail to measure up to someone of his political status and academic stature: he studied abroad for his doctorate. Duarte has sunk Veracruz into insecurity and has run up a public debt of more than 40 billion pesos. There are still 16 months left in his term as governor.

XALAPA, VER.- “The state has slipped from his hands… but it’s been like this for a while.” That’s how lawmakers interviewed by Proceso assess the administration of governor Javier Duarte de Ochoa, who still has 16 months left in his term.

And they list the problems that have accumulated since he took office in December 2010: economic crisis, unpayable debts, pension and families and child welfare liabilities, complaints from contractors and providers, sale of public lands to pay debts owed to contractors – a measure that has already been authorized by the state congress.

The worst thing, however, is the spiral of violence gripping Veracruz. There are kidnappings and bodies dumped in municipalities from north to south, along with the murders of journalists and social activists.

Two of the most recent murders are those of the photojournalist Rubén Espinosa Becerril, contributor to Proceso, and the activist Nadia Vera, from the #YoSoy132 movement who, even though they weren’t from Veracruz, worked in the state. Their bodies were found on July 31, in an apartment in the Narvarte neighborhood in Mexico City, together with those of three other women.

The murders have shocked the country and the news heard across the world via social networks and media outlets.

A self-admitted fervent user of social networks, Duarte has generated four hashtags during his tenure that have crossed borders:

#NoSeMataLaVerdadMatandoPeriodistas (You Can’t Kill the Truth by Killing Journalists), sprang up after the murder of this publication’s Regina Martínez Pérez; #HastaQueRenuncieDuarte (Until Duarte Resigns), sparked by the murder of Gregorio Goyo Jiménez; #MeDuelesVeracruz (You Are Hurting Me, Veracruz), because of the femicides and the increase in kidnappings, and now #JusticiaParaRuben for the murder of Espinosa Becerril who left Veracruz last June because of threats he had received.

One of those interviewed, the PANista Senator Fernando Yunes Márquez argues: “We are going from bad to worse… We have been saying for two years, and for month after month, that this is the worst crisis of Javier Duarte’s administration. I hope this is the worst of it and it doesn’t worsen further! But I bet that within two months something else will happen and that civil society is going to be outraged again.”

Yunes Marquez is the President of the Committee for National Defense in the Senate and he maintains that the wave of violence and insecurity is a product of the incompetence of those who direct the state’s Ministry of Public Safety (SSP) and its Attorney General’s Office.

“It is a shared responsibility,” Yunes says, because from the very start Duarte has kept Arturo Bermúdez Zurita at the head of the Ministry of Public Safety, even though he has been criticized on many occasions.

The collective, Peace for Xalapa, and relatives from Coatzacoalcos affected by the violence criticize him because, they say, he has taken a permissive approach to “forced disappearances” of young people and of the municipal police officers of the town of Úrsulo Galván. Relatives of the officers sent a letter to President Enrique Peña Nieto in which they hold the Veracruz Ministry of Public Security responsible for these actions.

There was a case that outraged the world of show business: the kidnapping and homicide of the singer Gibrán Martiz Díaz, who had participated in the TV Azteca program, “La Voz México.” The body of the young man was discovered in mid-January 2014.

Months later, his father, Efraín Martiz, took the case to the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH). It issued a recommendation to Duarte’s Government (14/2015) that it indemnify the singer’s family, along with psychological assistance and the re-arrest of the police officers freed in December 2014 and who were implicated in the kidnap and murder of Martiz Díaz.

Corpses from North to South

In the previous administration of Fidel Herrera (2004 – 2010), Arturo Bermúdez Zurita was the director of the State Center for Control, Command, Communications and Computing (C4). Now he is the head of the Ministry of Public Safety. In August 2014 he was the object of a barrage of social media criticism when he told citizens how they could help “to reduce measures of insecurity.” He suggested buying a dog, a padlock or an alarm for protection. He responded angrily to the criticism, sending out a press communiqué that he would cease to give interviews.

The violence worsened between July 25 and August 1 of this year, a period of more than 30 executions from north to south: five behind the Tamsa industrial area, four in the municipality of Emiliano Zapata – surrounding the state capital –, three shot to death in a taxi in Yanga, seven on the state highway of Isla-Playa Vicente (in two different events), two in Puente Nacional, two more in Xalapa and seven in several other municipalities.

In Veracruz, the Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) admits to the presence of cells of Zetas in the north and south of the country, along with the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) in the conurbation of Veracruz-Boca del Río and the Gulf Cartel in the border areas with Tamaulipas.

This has obliged Duarte to purge police forces. In his last interviews, Bermúdez confirmed that half of the police force – 4,000 officers – had been removed. However, in the request for information number 00299515, obtained from the Infomex-Veracruz database platform, the Ministry of Public Safety catalogues as “confidential” and “restricted” the reasons for the dismissals of these officers.

In an interview Bermúdez said that the officers and commanders left the force because they were “fatties,” “diabetic” and “had tatoos”, the excuse given was the evaluation, control and confidentiality exams were very “rigorous.”

However, in information request number 00160415 presented by this reporter, the Ministry of Public Safety did not answer how many officers from the organization were arrested by the Mexican Marines, the Organized Crime Office of the Federal Attorney General (SEIDO) or the Ministry of National Defense for alleged ties to organized crime or drugs charges.

The purge even reached inside the State Attorney General’s office where there were 370 dismissals, among them investigative police officers, commanders in the Veracruz Investigation Agency, forensic services, public prosecutors’ officers and deputy-general prosecutors, between March 2013 and March 2015, according to document FGE/UAI/210/2015 consulted by this reporter.

According to this document, 80 were removed for “irregularities” in the discharge of their functions; five were fired for submitting false documents; two more for failing to comply with a legal duty; and, seventeen for testing positive in an antidoping exam.

No Funds for Retirees

Javier Duarte’s administration is going through a severe economic crisis (Proceso, Numbers 2004 and 2018). Complaints by retirees about their pensions granted in 2005 in an order issued by Duarte’s predecessor, Governor Fideral Herrera, still have yet to be settled.

The State Ministry of Finance and Planning (SEFIPLAN) issued a press release in which it confirmed that “they will purge the list of pensioners who are receiving other benefits,” since in 2005 in the Official Stat Gazette the guidelines are very clear: the pensions are only for retirees who are not receiving another pension from the State, from IMSS, from ISSSTE or from some other private institution.

The PANista state legislator Hugo Fernández has already called on the local congress to “free up” this part of the state budget dedicated to buy medicine and food for those he referred to as “grandparents.”

In the State Pension Institute (IPE) it’s usual that thousands of pensioners invade the installations or go to cash machines that have agreements with the state government throughout its municipalities, trying to prove if there are funds to back their checks.

Last Wednesday, August 5, in correspondence with the state Congress Duarte asked lawmakers to “alienate” real estate belonging to the municipalities of La Antigua, Xalapa, Boca del Río, Coatzacoalcos and Córdoba with the aim of paying off “liabilities” to several contractors who are going to accept the land in exchange for settling the amount that the government owes them.

In issue number 2019, Proceso reported that Rafael Fentanes Hernández, president of the National Chamber for the Construction Industry (CMIC), which is affiliated with 97 municipalities, complains that half of his members are in dispute with the state over total payments of 220 million pesos (US$13 million) for work that has been concluded, delivered and opened.

Some creditors, he said, date from 2011, Duarte’s first year in government. The last “voucher” CMIC received was in April 2015 and since then the State Treasury has not responded. Given this situation, the CMIC creditors and their suppliers that belonging to other chambers of commerce decided: “if there is no deposit on the work to be done, we won’t begin.”

Last July 20, businessman Víctor Arcos Suárez, a PRI-ista like Duarte, filed a business and administrative complaint with the state public security ministry and the state government for failing to comply with a contract for putting on the Peace Festival a year ago. The Treasury has not paid a debt of 4 million pesos (US$240,000), acccording to the contract SSP-UA-142/14.

The PANista deputy Julen Rementería, from the Treasury Committee, showed Proceso the Banorte bank statements from the Fund for Tax Administration of Remunerations for Personal Work. The statements were all at “zero funds.”

He maintains that even when businessmen, researchers and bureaucrats, among others, pay their two percent contribution from the payroll – discounted by the system – the Treasury did not receive 3 billion pesos from 2010 to 2014 because SEFIPLAN never made the deposits, even though it made the charges: “It’s money that they’ve screwed over, they’ve mixed it all about and who knows where or in whose hands it is,” Rementería says.

For diverting funds and “systematic attacks” on the state budget requisitions, the Workers’ Party lawmaker, Fidel Robles, has steered two of the four phases needed to bring political sanctions against Duarte. He confirms that the state is submerged in a severe crisis in rural areas, with public works that can’t be salvaged, with environmental liabilities and with social programs slowed down because of the lack of liquidity.

A Polemical Man

At forty years old, fifteen of which were spent in the shadow of Fidel Herrera Beltrán, Javier Duarte is one of the most dubious governors in the state of Veracruz because of the scandals swirling around him. Along with the murders of fourteen journalists, there is the spread of organized crime, and a state weighed down by a debt of more than 40 billion pesos.

With a bachelor’s degree in Law, a master’s in Law, Economics and Politics from the Fundación José Ortega y Gasset in Spain and a doctorate in Economics from the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, Duarte began his carer in public service providing daily press summaries to Herrera Beltrán. At the time, Herrera was the fiduciary delegate for the National Fund for Popular Housing.

In his first job Duarte had to “cut and paste” all the news from national newspapers that referred to his boss, to Mexico’s President and to Veracruz, according to a story Duarte has told to reporters he likes. Duarte also telephoned his friends in Veracruz and Xalapa so that they could dictate the headlines to him from the most important newspapers in Veracruz (Dictamen, Diario de Xalapa, Notiver, Gráfico de Xalapa and Sur), with summaries of the headlines and covers that alluded to Herrera Beltrán.

However, as governor, Duarte has tended to have sharp exchanges with reporters from Veracruz. Last June 30, in Poza Rica, in a fifteen-minute long statement he said:

“I am going to take a lot of care over what I am about to say. And if anybody takes offense at what I am about to say, I offer an apology beforehand… People belonging to criminal groups are fighting. The ones below want to be the ones on top. And I say this with full knowledge of the situation. Unfortunately, criminals have contacts, nexuses with notary publics, businessmen, public officials and also with some contributors to media outlets, who are also exposed in these situations.”

Those attending the lunch event were struck dumb. Some reporters became upset. Others began to laugh when they saw the face of Juan Octavio Pavón, the third person to have served as Duarte’s spokesperson, and who stood by the governor’s side.

The governor’s litany continued:

“These are difficult moments… But there’s no trick if you are forewarned. I tell you, because of your families and because of mine, that if something happens to you, everybody crucifies me. So behave yourselves. Everybody knows whose going in the wrong direction. They say that in Veracruz the only thing you just don’t know what hasn’t happened to you.”

He repeated the “behave yourselves, please” four more times. And on the last time he tried to be funny: “Don’t act like you have been talking to the Virgin.”

Journalist Noé Zavaleta is the Xalapa-based correspondent for Proceso, an investigative news magazine in Mexico. This article was first published in the print version of the magazine, issue number 2023. It is not available online in the original Spanish.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator based in the Americas. He is the author of Mexican Pomp and British Circumstancesabout the scandal of the Hay Festival withdrawing from Xalapa, Veracruz that appeared in NACLA on March 18, 2015. He has accompanied at-risk Mexican journalists in Veracruz since 2012.

About Michael Lettieri

Program Officer at the Trans-Border Institute

One thought on “A Nightmare of a Government: Veracruz under Javier Duarte de Ochoa – by Noé Zavaleta (Proceso)

  1. Yo fui secuestrada en Veracruz, por opinion politica, fui secuestrada al inicio de el mandato de este senor, por ordenes de Fidel Herrera de quien me expuse abiertamente declarando lo que el hacia, me hicieron trabajo de integligencia estos criminales llamados zetas, afortunadamente despues de eso y bajo amenazas de muerte y de shootings a mi casa, por salud mental tuve que venirme para USA pero como F1, tengo miedo de pedir por asilo, mi padre sufre amenazas encontra de mi y sufre de estorcion y tortura, hasta que yo no regrese, solo que nada me garantiza asilo politico y si aplico y no me lo dan, imaginate tendria que volver a Mexico a mi ciudad a enfretar una muy segura muerte despues de una tortura …

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