A federal judge in Mexico has ordered the release of more than two dozen cartel members arrested on drug and weapons charges, ostensibly for lack of evidence to support their initial arrests, Reuters reported Friday.
The stunning decision came little more than a week after the Mexican government lost a ferocious battle with cartel gunmen that ultimately forced the release of the imprisoned son of Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, marking the second high-profile embarrassment for the Mexican judicial system in just the past few weeks.
Cartel suspects ordered free
On Tuesday, security forces in Mexico City conducted a raid on two suspected drug laboratories in the central district of the city and seized synthetic drugs, along with roughly 110 pounds of chemical, more than two tons of marijuana, and about 44 pounds of cocaine. In addition, authorities seized an unspecified amount of cash and various firearms and weaponry, including grenades and rocket launchers.
Unfortunately, an unnamed judge in Mexico City just ordered that 27 of the 31 arrested suspects must be released from custody. The news was revealed on Friday by Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in a regularly scheduled news conference.
“Here the important thing is to see what the arguments were that were used to release these people,” Lopez Obrador said. “Let’s not rush. If someone acted improperly, illegally, if there was corruption, we will condemn it.”
The president lamented that police were too often under-trained, ill-equipped, and largely ineffective at putting together solid cases with sufficient evidence to keep suspected criminals behind bars following an arrest.
“The case files are wrongly put together and this lets judges say, ‘This is wrong, there isn’t enough evidence, there are contradictions,’ and then they go free,” Lopez Obrador said.
The Mexican president declined to delve into any specifics on this particular case, but it is believed that the arrested suspects were members of the Tepito Union cartel. Thus far, the identities of the suspects — as well as that of the judge overseeing the case — and when exactly they will be released remains unknown.
Judicial reform in Mexico
The Mexican government has made attempts at judicial reform in the past that were designed to modernize the system and do away with secretive closed-door hearings in favor of public proceedings and ample evidence for arrests and convictions.
In fact, reform legislation was passed in 2008 and fully implemented in 2016, but as this case makes clear, there are drawbacks to the more stringent requirements that were put in place.
In response to this latest incident in which the suspected cartel members were allowed to walk free, Lopez Obrador criticized the police as needing to be “better trained” and called for judges to be “honest” and “incorruptible.”
Whether either of those things happens quickly in a nation with a long history of a government that is highly corrupt and incredibly inept remains to be seen.