MEXICO CITY – Mexico has a long history of corrupt fugitive governors, including one who was arrested in Italy just last week, but former Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte de Ochoa stands out.
Since his arrest in Guatemala Saturday, a video clip from 2012 has been circulating in which then-presidential candidate and now President Enrique Peña Nieto names Duarte de Ochoa as part of a new generation of politicians from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that will be its future.
Duarte de Ochoa, 43, was part of a wave of PRI governors in 2010 that would later propel Peña Nieto — himself also a young PRI governor — into the presidency two years later.
But things spiraled out of control for Duarte de Ochoa and his collapsed state of Veracruz. On Monday, he was waiting in a Guatemalan military prison for his initial appearance before a judge scheduled for Wednesday and eventual extradition to Mexico. He was arrested at a hotel in Panajachel on Lake Atitlan where he was staying with his family.
How much Duarte de Ochoa allegedly stole from his state’s coffers is still a matter of debate and the theft alone would not distinguish him from other looting governors.
Alberto Olvera, a researcher at Veracruz University, said Duarte de Ochoa also did not stand out as a cunning politician or particularly brilliant thinker, but he left Veracruz with a staggering debt that Olvera put at over $1 billion and widespread violence, the scale of which is still being discovered in secret graves around the state.
“The Veracruz government in the time of Duarte spent much more than it had and to be able to spend incurred a growing debt,” Olvera said. “So it isn’t just a problem of theft, but of misuse of public funds that has generated a financial catastrophe, a fiscal crisis unparalleled in the history of the state.”
Authorities have been excavating secret graves in Veracruz, which was swept by a vicious wave of drug cartel violence, and last month had already found 253 skulls or complete bodies in one area. And at least 16 journalists were killed during Duarte de Ochoa’s term alone, Olvera said.
The state’s former police chief was arrested in February on charges of illegal enrichment. He has denied any wrongdoing.
The PRI stripped Duarte de Ochoa of his party rights in September. Duarte de Ochoa stepped down as governor on Oct. 12, weeks before the end of his term, to face the charges against him, but then promptly disappeared. The PRI lost Veracruz’s governorship for the first time in its history last summer.
In late November, Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (PGR) said it had found about $20.5 million linked to Duarte de Ochoa that had been funneled to two businesses. The government said it froze more than 100 bank accounts and seized properties around the country tied to Duarte de Ochoa.
In February, Miguel Ángel Yunes Linares, Duarte de Ochoa’s elected successor from an opposition party, stood in a warehouse with large framed portraits of Duarte de Ochoa and his wife conveniently in the background. He said an anonymous tip had led authorities to the warehouse where they found not only works of art and other collectibles, but also dozens of wheelchairs and boxes of school supplies and handwritten diaries allegedly kept by his wife that documented their properties around the world.
It is unclear what will happen to Duarte de Ochoa.
Yunes Linares campaigned on a promise to lock him up. Peña Nieto is using the arrest of the man he once signaled as the future of the party as a sign that the PRI will not tolerate corruption.
And Duarte de Ochoa is just one such test facing Peña Nieto. Another PRI governor from the class of 2010 wanted on corruption charges, César Duarte Jáquez of Chihuahua, no relation, is considered a fugitive and believed to be living in El Paso, Texas. And former PRI Gov. Tomás Yarrington de Ruvalcaba of Tamaulipas state was arrested in Italy on April 9.
On Monday, Peña Nieto said the arrests of Duarte de Ochoa and Yarrington were a “firm and overwhelming message from the Mexican state against impunity.”
But Olvera is not counting on any resolution of Javier Duarte de Ochoa’s case soon.
“The most likely thing is that … Duarte’s trial happens after the 2018 election,” he said.
SONIA PEREZ D.