Mario Villanueva

Mario Ernesto Villanueva Madrid, aka "El Chueco",[1] (born 2 July 1948) is a Mexican politician who built an important political career within the ranks of Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). From 1993 to 1999 he served as the fourth governor of the state of Quintana Roo. Accused of drug trafficking at the end of his gubernatorial period, he did not arrive at the ceremony at which he was to hand the office over to his elected successor, Joaquín Hendricks Díaz, and remained a fugitive from justice for two years. He served a six-year prison sentence and was extradited to the United States on 8 May 2010.[2]

Mario Villanueva

4th Governor of Quintana Roo
In office
5 April 1993  4 April 1999
Preceded byMiguel Borge Martín
Succeeded byJoaquín Hendricks Díaz
Personal details
Born (1948-07-02) 2 July 1948
Chetumal, Quintana Roo
Nationality Mexican
Political partyInstitutional Revolutionary Party
Spouse(s)Isabel Tenorio

Professional and political career

Born in Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Villanueva studied agronomy at the Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua. He was elected presidente municipal (mayor) of Benito Juárez, Quintana Roo, in 1990 (the municipality that includes Cancún) but resigned that position the year later to fight (and win) a seat representing Quintana Roo in the federal Senate. He resigned as senator to run for governor of the state, to which he was elected in 1993.

Governor of Quintana Roo

During his time as governor he promoted the development of the Riviera Maya tourist area, located to the south of Cancún. In 1993 he created the new municipality of Solidaridad in that region, with its municipal seat in Playa del Carmen.

Criminal allegations

Criminal charges accusing Villanueva of involvement in cocaine shipments passing through his state were filed while he was still serving as governor. Federal Assistant Attorney General Mariano Herrán interviewed him at the governor's mansion in Chetumal. Fearing that he would be arrested at the end of his governorship, when his immunity (fuero) expired, he disappeared from public view two weeks before the hand-over date.[3]

He was arrested over two years later, on 24 May 2001, in a chance vehicle inspection near Cancún.[4] He was convicted of money-laundering offences (but cleared of drug-trafficking and organized crime charges) and spent six years in the Altiplano High-Security Prison in Almoloya de Juárez, Estado de México. He was released on 21 June 2007 but was immediately taken back into custody to face proceedings under an extradition request[5] filed by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on charges related to cocaine trafficking.[6] After a lengthy process that included the lodging of amparo constitutional relief remedies, the extradition request was granted by the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs on 7 November 2007.[7] On 4 June 2008, while in custody awaiting extradition to the United States, a federal judge found him guilty of the original drug trafficking charges and extended his original six-year sentence to 36 years and 9 months in prison.[8]

On 8 May 2010 Villanueva was extradited to the United States. He was arraigned in a New York court and pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking and money laundering charges.[2]

On 29 June 2013 Villanueva was sentenced in New York, United States to 11 years in prison after being accused of conspiring to import hundreds of tons of cocaine and launder millions of dollars in bribe payments. In 2012, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison but because he has been imprisoned since his 2001 arrest, he is expected to only serve three more years in prison.[9]


  1. Chueco is a Spanish adjective meaning "crooked"; it was originally a reference to Villanueva's facial features which are affected by some sort of facial paralysis. UNESCO.
  2. Mexican ex-gov pleads not guilty to US drug counts Reuters, 10 May 2010.
  3. Former Mexican Governor Could Face U.S. Drug Trial Washington Post, 22 June 2007.
  4. Ex-Mexico Governor Arrested and Linked to Cocaine Traffic, Tim Weiner, 26 May 2001.
  5. Ex-Mexico Governor Re-Arrested for Drugs Washington Post, 21 June 2007.
  6. Mario Villanueva Madrid Case Archived 5 April 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Procuraduría General de la República, 18 August 2007.
  7. Concede SRE extradición de Villanueva El Universal, 7 November 2007.
  8. Sentencian a Mario Villanueva a 36 años de prisión El Universal 4 June 2008.
  9. Mexican ex-governor is sentenced in NY to 11 years Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine WBNS, 28 June 2013.
Preceded by
Miguel Borge Martín
Governor of Quintana Roo
5 April 1993 to 5 April 1999
Succeeded by
Joaquín Hendricks Díaz
Preceded by
María Cristina Sangri Aguilar
Senator for Quintana Roo
1991 to 1993
Succeeded by
José Epifanio Godoy Hernández
Preceded by
José González Zapata
Municipal President of
Benito Juárez, Quintana Roo

1990 to 1991
Succeeded by
Jorge Arturo Contreras
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