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Jury selection begins for Mexico's ex-security head accused of taking cartels' bribes

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Jury selection began today in Brooklyn for one of the men the U.S. had considered a partner in the war against drugs. Genaro Garcia Luna, Mexico's former secretary of public security, is accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes from drug cartels. Garcia Luna was arrested in December 2019. He is the highest-ranking Mexican official to ever face trial in the U.S. on drug trafficking charges.

Maria Hinojosa hosts a podcast about the case called "USA V. Garcia Luna," and she's with us from outside the courthouse. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MARIA HINOJSA: Hey, Ari. How are you? It's good to be with you.

SHAPIRO: Good to have you here. This is not a typical drug kingpin story, right? This connects the dots to deep inside the Mexican establishment, to some pretty deep-seated corruption. Tell us about it.

HINOJOSA: You know, Ari, that's kind of the narrative that the prosecution wants to put out there - right? - that this is high levels of corruption in the Mexican government. This is a person - Genaro Garcia Luna - who was the right-hand man for the Mexican president at the time, Felipe Calderon, but was also - the accusation goes - was working for El Chapo. But, you know, Ari, he was also working with the United States. He was working with the DEA. In fact, one of the things that Genaro Garcia Luna loved to talk about is the fact that he has all of these commendations and photographs with people like Hillary Clinton. And he says, look; I was trusted.

So interestingly, for us - my colleague, Peniley Ramirez, and I - for us, this is a broader case. It's not just that typical, oh, Mexican corruption. For us, in our podcast, "USA V. Garcia Luna," it really is pulling back a little bit more and saying, well, what is the role of the United States as well? And interestingly, today, Ari, that was something that came up. A number of...

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Tell us about what happened in court today.

HINOJOSA: Yeah. So the number - all day, we were listening to jurors. And interestingly, Ari, the number of jurors who were saying things like the war on drugs has failed; you know, drugs should be legalized; marijuana should be legalized; you know, this war on drugs just doesn't ever end - that, I think, is very different than, for example, what was happening when El Chapo was put on trial. So it's a different kind of vibe here. And many of those jurors - you know, some of them were excused. Others are going to be in the jury pot. And we expect the jury selection to probably continue through the end of this week.

SHAPIRO: Is there any sense of whether the government knew how corrupt this guy was while they were working with him?

HINOJOSA: And that's the $64 million question - right? - because there were doubts about Garcia Luna all the way back in 2002. And so the big question that we're raising is, how is it possible that somebody in Mexico, where the DEA is supposed to be distrustful of everyone - how is it possible that they didn't see the signs? How is it possible that they kept on working with Garcia Luna very closely? And I think this is one of the things that Garcia Luna's team is going to put out here, which is, look; he was trusted by the U.S. government, and that's the most important thing in terms of his credibility. But it's a very interesting trial, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

HINOJOSA: And what we did in our podcast is - you know, a lot of people are like, we don't want to talk about El Chapo - we're done with this - which is why we actually put a little bit of humor. And today, in court, we actually saw Garcia Luna, who, by the way, looks like a grandfather now. He's all gray. He's a little chubbier. He does not look like a powerful, you know, angry man. He looks like a grandfather, like...

SHAPIRO: Wow.

HINOJOSA: ...From a - you know - so I think that that's something that - the whole demeanor...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

HINOJOSA: ...Of what's going to come is going to be super interesting. And we're just saying, hey, this is a much bigger case...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

HINOJOSA: ...Than one corrupt Mexican government official.

SHAPIRO: That's Maria Hinojosa, founder of Futuro Studios and co-host of "USA V. Garcia Luna." Thank you very much.

HINOJOSA: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.