WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
5 Apr 2021 | Publication

Mexico: A Closer Look at State Anti-Corruption Prosecutors


Washington, D.C.—Mexican state-level anti-corruption prosecutors have unrealized potential in the country’s fight against corruption, according to an analysis published today by WOLA. Many anti-corruption prosecutors, a key piece of Mexico’s National Anti-Corruption System face legal and institutional limits on their autonomy and capacity to prosecute those responsible for corruption. At the same time, civil society stakeholders point to prosecutors’ failures to live up to their potential notwithstanding such obstacles. Meanwhile, impunity continues for the majority of crimes committed by Mexican officials.

WOLA’s report focuses on the states of Coahuila, Jalisco, Nuevo León, Sonora, and Veracruz. The report analyzes statistics from these prosecutors’ offices and draws on conversations with anti-corruption prosecutors and members of civil society to identify some of the common challenges in anti-corruption investigations. 

The study notes that a large network of anti-corruption prosecutors has joined together to seek legal reforms to guarantee their autonomy, presenting the potential for collaboration across a range of issues relevant to improving their work. Prosecutors in the network report that their legal mandates sometimes fail to give them efficient and comprehensive authority to investigate corruption crimes. They also signal the need for more fluid collaboration between the state and federal levels and among different institutions with anti-corruption roles.  

Civil society actors familiar with the work of state anti-corruption prosecutors generally echoed concerns over prosecutors’ autonomy. Beyond this common ground, some reported positive experiences with anti-corruption prosecutors’ offices, but a number of stakeholders’ assessments were critical of anti-corruption prosecutors’ work and results. They cited political bias in the investigations pursued by the offices, a lack of transparency with the public and other pieces of the National Anti-Corruption System, and too much emphasis on small cases of corruption instead of high-level corruption schemes. 

“The federal corruption cases we’ve been seeing in the headlines are important to watch, but we can’t forget that most crimes in Mexico fall within state jurisdiction,” said Stephanie Brewer, WOLA Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights. “It’s essential that anti-corruption prosecutors’ offices at all levels have the political will, autonomy, capacity, and accountability needed to deliver results. Otherwise, impunity will continue to perpetuate corrupt acts that do enormous harm to society.”  

Indeed, despite the important role they have to play in Mexico’s anti-corruption fight, prosecutors’ results are often far from encouraging: as of late 2020, three of the five offices analyzed in the report had yet to secure a single conviction. Without concerted efforts to consolidate the work of these offices, overcoming both external and internal obstacles, Mexico’s National Anti-Corruption System will continue to struggle to break the cycle of corruption and impunity at the state and local level.