Mexico’s Attorney General Raúl Cervantes Resigns Under Pressure

Mexico’s attorney general, a close ally of President Enrique Peña Nieto, resigned on Monday, handing victory to a broad coalition of social groups that have demanded an autonomous prosecutor.

From the moment he was appointed a year ago, Attorney General Raúl Cervantes was a lightning rod.

He leaves office as Mexico’s homicide rate has climbed to its highest level since officials began keeping comparable records 20 years ago. Seventeen former state governors are under investigation on corruption charges, but only three cases have gone to trial.

Many Mexicans have lost faith in their police and prosecutors; a government survey shows that about nine of 10 crimes go unreported. Even the highest-profile cases, like the disappearance of 43 teachers college students in southern Mexico three years ago, seem to defy resolution.

“If there is impunity, if there is violence, it’s because it isn’t being investigated,” said Ana Lorena Delgadillo, executive director of the Foundation for Justice and Democratic Rule of Law in Mexico City.

Mr. Cervantes’s resignation, she argued, should be only the first step to remaking the attorney general’s office. “It’s wrong to say that we have we want,” she said.

A former senator from the president’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, Mr. Cervantes was viewed by anti-corruption activists as Mr. Peña Nieto’s attempt to shield the party’s power brokers from investigations into graft.

Over a succession of presidencies, “the attorney general’s office has administered the prosecution of crimes and the administration of justice to protect the friends and cronies of the president or wield prosecution as a political tool,” said Juan E. Pardinas, the director general of the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, a Mexico City research group.

Ms. Delgadillo and a constellation of other activists have been fighting for an independent attorney general, someone who would have no political allegiance who could lead a justice ministry staffed by a professional prosecutors and investigators using science and data to pursue cases.

“I think this is a huge opportunity to relaunch the debate on the need to have an autonomous and efficient prosecutor’s office,” Mr. Pardinas said.

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