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CAB011 / Mexico / MEXICO: NEW ATTORNEY GENERAL — …

SUBJECT: MEXICO: NEW ATTORNEY GENERAL — THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

¶1. (C) Summary: President Ruiz-Pena’s decision to replace Mexican Attorney General Javier Torres 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. Ruiz-Pena’s choice of a party loyalist, lacking political heft and/or legal reputation and burdened with a controversial human rights record, has thrust Ruiz-Pena 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 this year. That said, there is no way that Ruiz-Pena 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 Ruiz-Pena’s administration. Without much forethought, Ruiz-Pena 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 Felix Aguilar 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 Ruiz-Pena 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.

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The Good
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¶3. (C) A review of files from various U.S. law enforcement agencies reflect a generally positive impression of Aguilar during his stint as the Attorney General of Chihuahua in the early 90′s (1993-1996). Back then, Aguilar 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 Javier Torres also went out of his way to underscore Aguilar’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.”

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The Bad
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¶4. (C) There are, however, reports that Aguilar could have played both sides in his effort to make progress against the cartels. The current Chihuahua Attorney General recently told us that Aguilar’s 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. Aguilar was also hindered by the unwillingness of then-Governor Hernando Benavides 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.

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The Ugly
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¶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. Javier Torres 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 Aguilar offering a “helpful hand” to certain cartel figures — but none of it refutes charges of serious missteps.

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The Why
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¶6. (C) State Secretary for Public Security (SSP) Carlos Echeverría told us that even though Aguilar was on the original list of five candidates. He said he did not know Aguilar well but he believed he could work well with him if he were confirmed. (Carlos Echeverría’s constant feuding with Javier Torres has complicated our joint law enforcement efforts in the past.) He described Aguilar as somewhat the opposite of outgoing AG Javier Torres: stronger as a jurist but weaker in the political skills required for working things through legal and political channels. Carlos Echeverría was uncertain that Aguilar would make it through the Senate given his political party affiliation. Several members in the opposing party have suggested President Ruiz-Pena’s nomination is only to gain much-needed political favor within his own party.

¶7. (C) Aguilar 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.

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Implications for Ruiz-Pena and the U.S.
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¶8. (C) For Ruiz-Pena, the Aguilar 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 Aguilar himself was not well briefed or prepared to make his own case to legislators. Ruiz-Pena will have to spend significant political capital to get Aguilar through. Even then, the opposition will likely badger and bloody him through the process. Aguilar is said not to have the legal or political skills to make much headway on needed security agenda reforms. Progress on that front will require Ruiz-Pena 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.

¶9. (C) Still, there is no way that any candidate in the Attorney general’s office will walk away from cooperation with the United States. Ruiz-Pena 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. Javier Torres 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.

¶10. (C) Most fundamentally, Aguilar’s confirmation will also present a difficult credibility challenge for Ruiz-Pena on the human rights front. His Chihuahua baggage will make it harder for Ruiz-Pena to get on the right side of this issue: criticism about the government’s resolve to address the problems will deepen. Not only will Ruiz-Pena 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 Javier Torres should have been fired — many said he had become ineffectual on the “big issues” — but on the handling of Aguilar the views of the Mexican elite are unanimous: questionable judgment, bad timing, and poor execution.

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