By Edward V. Byrne for The Yucatan Times
July 20, 2011
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A former mayor of Cancún, Gregorio (“Greg”) Sanchez, has been arrested for the second time in a year by Mexican federal authorities, this time charged with the illegal trafficking of Cubans who entered the country without lawful documentation.
Sanchez was detained the first time in May 2010, while attempting to board an aircraft in Cancún bound for the United States. At the time, he was a highly visible PDR candidate for the governorship of Quintana Roo. He was accused of having connections to drug traffickers and of money laundering during his tenure as mayor from 2002 to 2008. According to federal prosecutors, Sanchez was linked to the Beltrán Leyva and Los Zetas organizations, the latter of which is one of the most feared criminal enterprises in Mexico. The PGR, Mexico’s federal prosecutorial office, says that the Zetas (“Zs”) are comprised of former elite military forces who have switched sides and joined the lucrative narcotics industry. The group has also performed contract work as an “enforcer” for other drug dealers, eliminating competitors and carrying out hired killings throughout the country. The Zetas are known to be strong in Quintana Roo, just a few hours east of Mérida.
Sanchez maintained his innocence during the more than one year that he was incarcerated, while awaiting a preliminary legal determination of his case in Mexico City. Federal prosecutors were embarrassed several days ago when a judge found insufficient evidence to hold Sanchez any longer, and ordered his immediate release. One official said that he would be re-arrested “the moment he set foot on the street,” on new charges of human trafficking. That’s exactly what happened. Instead of jailing Sanchez again, however, his attorneys persuaded prosecutors to allow him to remain free, subject to wearing an electronic monitoring device and not leaving Mexico City. Mexico’s PGR head, Patricia Bugarin, said in a live nationally broadcast news conference today that this is the first time in the country’s history that electronically monitored “house arrest” had been permitted for a person under serious criminal investigation.
The illegal trafficking of Cuban nationals in Mexico strikes particularly close to home in Mérida, which was the center of a major immigration scandal two years ago. The Mexican National Institute of Migration (INM) has a busy regional office here, and in 2009 Hernán Vega Burgos, then a local INM chief of operations, was implicated in a scheme to arrange false identification and work documents for women who had been smuggled into Mexico from several neighboring countries, including Cuba. Some of those women were later found to be working as prostitutes at a residence located in Mérida’s Colonia Mexico. Authorities investigated but declined to file criminal charges, despite finding that Vega Burgos had participated in extortion. He lost his INM position, was fined $5,000 USD and was banned from any form of public employment for 15 years. There has been no allegation that Greg Sanchez, the former mayor of Cancún, was connected to the immigration scandal here, but trafficking in undocumented persons remains a major problem throughout Mexico, often involving women and minors in the sex-for-hire industry.
In Mexico City Sanchez said today, “I am innocent; I trust in my attorneys and in the word of God.” He has claimed that the charges against him are politically motivated, and were pressed by his opponents in PRD who want to keep him out of Quintana Roo’s governor’s office. It is unclear when a second judge will make a preliminary ruling on the new human trafficking charges, or consider an appeal of the dismissal of the original organized crime claims, which prosecutors have also said they will pursue. The agreed-upon order allowing Sanchez to be under house arrest and monitored by the electronic bracelet is valid for 20 days, unless extended.