The corruption trial against Genaro Garcia Luna, one of Mexico’s most powerful former officials, begins in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Tuesday.
Garcia Luna, Mexico’s former minister of public security, is charged with drug smuggling and accepting bribes from the Sinaloa drug cartel, all while being the face of Mexico’s anti-drug efforts.
He is the highest ranking Mexican ex-official to stand trial in the U.S. on the country’s legal front in the “war on drugs.”
Here’s a quick recap on who Garcia Luna is -- and why his trial is such a big deal.
The mastermind behind Mexico’s anti-drug efforts
Once the head of Mexico’s FBI equivalent, Garcia Luna served as minister of public security under former President Felipe Calderon, from 2006 to 2012.
He was largely responsible for carrying out Calderon’s militarized response against the country’s powerful drug cartels. He was also instrumental in coordinating tactics and resources between Washington and Mexico City.
After he left office, Garcia Luna moved to Miami where he used Florida-based shell companies to acquire a multimillion dollar property and a yacht, and to pay for private school education for his children, prosecutors allege.
Authorities arrested Garcia Luna in Dallas in 2019 and charged him with conspiring to traffic cocaine into the U.S.
Later, during the trial of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, a Sinaloa cartel member revealed he had handed a briefcase to Garcia Luna with millions of dollars in cash in exchange for the cartels to continue business as usual.
Prosecutors subsequently charged Garcia Luna with bribery, alleging that he would tip off cartels about potential arrests, allowing some members to walk free if caught, and sometimes assisting the gangs to carry out attacks against rivals.
He faces life in prison if convicted. Garcia Luna has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Because of Garcia Luna’s critical role in the “war on drugs,” and his former ties with both Mexican and U.S. leaders, many security analysts believe the trial has the potential to implicate high-profile figures on both sides of the border, The Guardian reports.
As many as a dozen former cartel members are expected to take the stand as witnesses, prosecutors said, which could reveal the inner workings of systematic corruption under the previous presidential administrations, the New York Times reports.
Mexico’s war on drugs was launched by Calderon in 2006, under pressure by the U.S. government.
More than 360,000 people have been killed in conflict since then, with thousands more missing.
In recent years, incompetency from Mexican officials has pushed the U.S. government to take over some of the more high-profile cases. El Chapo was extradited to the U.S. in 2017, after having previously escaped a maximum security prison in Mexico. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2019.
More recently, El Chapo’s son, Ovidio “El Raton” Guzman Lopez, was captured in northern Mexico.
The View From Mexico
Unlike previous revelations of corruption, which have been largely shrugged-off by the Mexican public, Garcia Luna’s potential to reveal systematic corruption within the federal government has put his case in the spotlight.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador -- a rival of Calderon who has framed himself as a tough-on-corruption leader -- has eagerly been updating the public on the case, at one point chastising Mexican media for not covering the trial more extensively.
On Twitter, some who were disillusioned with the Calderon administration have re-shared a video of the former president in Spain recently singing the traditional mariachi song, “On Tuesday, they shoot me,” with comments suggesting the Tuesday trial is the beginning of his party’s downfall.