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Guilty: Mexico’s Ex-Top Cop García Luna Convicted in U.S. Drug Trafficking Case

StoryFebruary 22, 2023
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Image Credit: Tomas Bravo/Reuters

A New York court on Tuesday convicted Genaro García Luna, Mexico’s former secretary of public security and a close ally of U.S. law enforcement for decades, of drug trafficking and money laundering, among other charges. Prosecutors said García Luna accepted millions in bribes from the very criminal groups he was meant to be fighting, including the infamous Sinaloa Cartel formerly led by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. García Luna faces up to life in prison and is the most high-ranking Mexican official ever tried in the U.S. For more, we speak with award-winning journalists Peniley Ramírez and Maria Hinojosa, co-hosts of Futuro Media’s podcast USA v. García Luna. They say the case exposes how corrupt the so-called war on drugs has been on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. “The U.S. government, the DEA, the entire security apparatus failed here,” says Hinojosa.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We end today’s show on another subject, the bombshell case here in New York, as Genaro García Luna, Mexico’s former top security official, once charged with leading the fight against narcotrafficking, was convicted Tuesday for accepting millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel under the former leadership of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who’s serving a life sentence in the United States. In exchange, García Luna protected cartel members from arrest, gave them safe passage for cocaine shipments and tip-offs about law enforcement operations.

García Luna served under former President Felipe Calderón, who launched Mexico’s U.S.-backed so-called war on drugs, that’s led to the killing and disappearance of tens of thousands of people. García Luna also worked closely with U.S. counternarcotics and intelligence agencies as part of the crackdown on drug cartels.

For more, we’re joined here in New York by Peniley Ramírez, an investigative journalist who’s been covering this closely, is the co-host of Futuro Investigates podcast series USA v. García Luna. And we’re joined by the great Maria Hinojosa, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, founder of Futuro Media, host of Latino USA.

We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Peniley, your team has been getting up before the sun rises to go to the court and be ready if the verdict comes down. And Tuesday, it finally did. Lay out the significance of this verdict, and what you investigated and exposed.

PENILEY RAMÍREZ: Well, as you said, yesterday we were there at 3 a.m., outside of the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, and we were waiting for the verdict. There were five counts, and he was found guilty to all charges, which is a big thing, because he is this highest Mexican ever faced and now found guilty in the United States. He was once the person — the architect of the so-called war on drugs. He was the most trusted person of the DEA in Mexico. We saw — in the trial, we saw pictures of him with different high-ranking members of the U.S. government, like Hillary Clinton, like Barack Obama. So, the U.S. government and the U.S. agencies really trusted this guy for years, while Mexico was becoming the most dangerous place on Earth for journalists, and thousands of people were dying and dying, and continue dying, in Mexico because of the violence, and here in the United States because of the overdoses.

So, now we know that the so-called war on drugs was false, was completely a way to operate, to justify. And this was part of the closing arguments from the prosecution, who said — Saritha Komatireddy, the lead of the prosecution team, said that they created this false war on drugs to have a way to justify that they were pursuing all the cartels and favoring the Sinaloa Cartel, led by El Chapo Guzmán. So, it’s a big thing. And it’s a trial that involves — and we should hold accountable both countries, because this person was sort of a triple agent. He was working with the Mexican government, he was working with the DEA, and he was working for the Sinaloa Cartel.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Maria, I wanted to ask you — the impact, obviously, in Mexico of this trial is far greater than here in the United States, especially given the fact that under the former President Felipe Calderón there was this enormous war on drugs unleashed. Has the trial shown any indication that it went beyond García Luna to other people in the Calderón administration?

MARIA HINOJOSA: I mean, there were names thrown out there, but, no, really, this was not — I thought, actually, you were going asked me whether or not the trial went beyond and that the United States and the prosecutors began to look inwardly and realize that the U.S. government, the DEA, the entire security apparatus failed here. I mean, Juan and Amy, we are sold a bill of goods of U.S. intelligence. We are made to believe that the DEA is lawful and knows what it’s doing. In fact, there were rumblings about Genaro García Luna over 20 years ago. There were questions about him. So, intelligence? What exactly are you talking about?

And by the way, you cannot — what we heard in the trial — right? — is the level of the narco-state in Mexico. Yes, this is very depressing as a Mexican, of course. But you can’t assume that you’ve got planeloads of cocaine making their way from Mexico City out of the Mexico City airport into New York and that there is no — no corruption on the U.S. side? No corruption on the New York side? What does that mean? And that’s why Peniley and I decided to do this podcast, that has become this sleeper cult hit, both in English and in Spanish, because it’s not about just pointing the finger and saying, “Oh, corrupt Mexican.” That’s a very simple narrative. What we’re trying to say is that — who’s really at fault here? And what is this war on drugs really about? And who’s paying the costs, by the way? The thousands of lives of Mexican folks, people murdered in this, people dying here in the U.S., but also the number of Black and Brown people, we all know, who are spending time in jail now that shouldn’t be there.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this comes as the Biden administration on Tuesday announced a new border policy to take effect in May that would allow the U.S. to quickly deport asylum seekers who fail to first request asylum on their way to the United States and to use a mobile app to seek asylum. Maria, you’ve covered these immigration issues along the border for so many years. Your reaction to this new decision of the Biden administration?

MARIA HINOJOSA: I’m disgusted, Juan. I’m absolutely disgusted. The fact that Joe Biden, who you and I know, have been around long enough, that he knows exactly what’s going on. He knows that the people who are coming to seek asylum deserve that opportunity. And he knows what it’s like to be in a caravan or in the jungles in Colombia. And to attempt to have internet service to download an app, before you leave Haiti, to request asylum, it’s completely illogical.

And that’s why I’m glad that you brought it up, because we cannot — we cannot allow ourselves to be gaslit by this kind of ridiculous policy. By the way, let’s remember that this country had the capacity to turn away Jewish refugees at the height of the Nazi era. What we are saying is, remain true to who you say you are as a country of immigrants and refugees, and, of course, our indebtedness to all of the enslaved people who were brought before.

AMY GOODMAN: And I want to follow up on that with Peni Ramírez, this issue of how immigration, how migration, people coming over the border from Mexico into the United States, is directly connected to the U.S. support for people like García Luna, as you were just talking about, the close relationship that the Obama administration, the Clinton administration, all of them had with this man who ultimately now, working with El Chapo, is convicted on most all counts.

PENILEY RAMÍREZ: Yeah, exactly what you said is right, because it’s all connected. We learned during the trial, for example, that García Luna — we knew it because of my investigative work, that the same day when he left office in Mexico, he didn’t move to other country. He moved to the United States. He moved to Miami to a $3 million house. Then he was living here with his family. He got a green card. He got a Global Entry card. So he was allowed to be here and stay here. And now part of this guilty verdict that we learned this week was that he was continuously working with the Sinaloa Cartel even after he left office, so even after he was living in the United States. And they presented — the prosecution [inaudible] — we saw that he was going back to Mexico all the time. So he was taking advantages of both countries, living in both countries.

And at the same time, the violence in Mexico during those years, it came so big, that still it’s growing and growing. And what happened when you have all this violence in Mexico, violence also goes to the south. And we have been repeating this. And you have more and more people seeking asylum, trying to come to the United States to be safer, because in their own countries they have no opportunities. They have no — the economy is not good, because you don’t have investments. You don’t have people coming in. You don’t have entrepreneurs coming in or trying to start a business, because the crime, it’s so big. And it’s about everything. Everything is corrupted.

And something that we learned in this trial, as — if you have a person like him, who was leading the federal police, he was leading the prison system, so he was leading the whole apparatus, and he was helping one cartel and facing the other cartels to help this cartel. So what he was creating was this horrible place to live in so many places in Mexico, and people were forced to leave their towns, leave their cities, seek asylum. So we should analyze also the crisis, the immigration crisis, that we have in this country and in Mexico, and all the people looking for asylum, under — also under the perspective of this war on drugs, this so-called war on drugs, now we know this the false war on drugs. And the responsibilities of people that the U.S. government trusted and created a horrible crisis, and that crisis impacted not just in Mexico but in the region, in Central America, and, of course, also here in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you both for your incredible reporting on this, Peniley Ramírez and Maria Hinojosa, co-hosts of the podcast USA v. García Luna. Episode 10 is out on Friday. They’re laying out the tracks today.

That does it for our show. To go to, you can see Democracy Now! in English and also headlines and highlights in Spanish. Special thanks to Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Charina Nadura, Sonyi Lopez. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks so much for joining us.

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