Seeking to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship.
10/2015 by Robert Joyce – Innovation for Successful Societies, Princeton University
Mexico’s 2012 presidential transition tested the durability of the country’s democracy. Outgoing president Felipe Calderón ceded power to longtime political opponents. The new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, had to gather information on government programs, select a Cabinet and top aides, and set priorities—with no guarantee of significant cooperation from his predecessor’s administration. But to the surprise of some Mexicans, Calderón ordered his staff to cooperate by gathering and organizing information to brief their incoming counterparts. The process the two leaders put in place ensured an effective handover and helped pave the way for a landmark political deal early in Peña Nieto’s term. The 2012 transition, only the second between opposing parties in eight decades, followed steps other countries could find helpful for ensuring the continuity of core government functions during transfers of power.
Guerrero is one of the most violent and dangerous states in Mexico. According to the latest data published by the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System (SESNSP), Guerrero had the second-highest rate of intentional homicide in the country for 2014, with 1,394 intentional homicides taking place between January and November of 2014. Guerrero’s crime rate for 2013 is a matter of great concern, especially when taking non-reported crimes into account. Specifically, the 2014 ENVIPE survey estimates that 1,198,471 crimes took place in 2013, with 26 percent of Guerrero’s inhabitants being victims of crime at least once. The state’s dangerous conditions are adversely affecting inhabitants’ safety: 78.9 percent of persons residing in Guerrero feel unsafe living there. Meanwhile, fewer and fewer tourists visit the state each year, despite the fact that tourism is the state’s top productive activity.
One of the most pressing issues for the state’s security situation may very well be that the authorities responsible for law enforcement are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. This was made evident when 43 students from the Normal Rural School of Ayotzinapa were forcefully disappeared on September 26, 2014. Iguala’s municipal police officers, together with the municipality’s mayor, actively participated in the event in collusion with the criminal organization Los Guerreros Unidos, which was allowed to operate in the area in exchange for bribes.
In light of the gravity of the issues at hand, this article will aim to answer two closely related questions: Why did violence in Guerrero escalate over the last few years, and what can citizens and the authorities do to check the state’s worrisome levels of violence? In response to these questions, the article will conduct an in-depth study of each of the factors that have contributed to the spike in violence Guerrero has faced over the last few years. In addition, the article will provide several public-policy recommendations to help check and reduce Guerrero’s violence levels in the medium term.
Victor Manuel Sánchez is researcher at the Inter-American Academy of Human Rights at the Autonomous University of Coahuila. PhD student in Public Policy at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE); expert in public safety and drug trafficking.
This is the seventh part in Francisco Goldman’s series on the missing students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School. He has also written “The Disappearance of the Forty-Three,” “Could Mexico’s Missing Students Spark a Revolution?,” “The Protests for the Missing Forty-Three,” “An Infrarrealista Revolution,” “Who is Really Responsible For the Missing Forty-Three?,” and “The Government’s Case Collapses.”
Could it be that the still far-from-solved mystery of the forty-three disappeared Ayotzinapa Normal School students occurred only to prevent the students from leaving Iguala with a bus that the students had no way of knowing was laden with, or was specially outfitted to clandestinely transport, heroin?
The GIEI experts report is historic because it has opened up breaches in the way the Mexican government has always operated. The challenges represented by the report can’t be wished away or denied or buried by the usual waves of media propaganda and calumnies. The struggle for justice in the Ayotzinapa case is likely to last longer than Peña Nieto’s term in office, which ends in 2018; it is likely to hang over and haunt him, and members of his government, for a long time. The Ayotzinapa family members are certainly never going to stop fighting to find their sons and brothers, or to achieve justice, but unlike so many thousands of other Mexicans also searching for their disappeared loved ones and despairing of ever seeing justice accomplished on their behalf, the cause of Ayotzinapa, which in some ways stands for all those other cases, too, is now internationally visible as the preëminent symbol and test of whether entrenched institutional impunity can be challenged and justice achieved in Mexico, or not. Mexico will somehow have to make way for the case, which implies reforming itself, even despite itself. If it doesn’t—and it very well might not—the case will go forward anyway, in a venue such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, where a harsh verdict against the Peña Nieto government and international censure would seem almost inevitable. There is an authoritative five-hundred-page record of an investigation for prosecutors to build a case from now.
“IN ESTABLISHING the rule of law, the first five centuries are always the hardest.” For much of the past two decades, that quip by Gordon Brown, a former British prime minister, has seemed not just dour, but wrong. Buoyed by China, by trade growth and capital inflows, by talk of new middle classes and the bottom billion, it was easy to forget old truths about how hard it is for poor countries to become rich. A breezy assumption took hold: that emerging markets would surely follow the likes of South Korea and Taiwan on the path to wealth.
That view of development has crumbled of late, along with emerging markets’ growth rates. China, the locomotive to which many are still hitched, is slowing. Russia, South Africa and Brazil are in reverse gear. Their currencies drop with every fall in commodity prices; they will no doubt weaken further if the Federal Reserve raises American interest rates in a meeting due to end after we went to press. Trade is growing more slowly than global GDP, a trend that seems unlikely to reverse soon. All of this makes the trajectory taken by the East Asian tigers seem ever more exceptional.
A more realistic model of development is Mexico, a country that has parlayed its considerable advantages into patches of modernity but has singularly failed to eradicate poverty nationwide. Some of its disappointments can be laid at the door of specific policies. But they also reflect the difficulties countries face throughout the emerging world.
The Mexican economy isn’t surging, but it’s surviving — and that’s a success in a year of tough economic times for the region. Low commodity prices, plunging currencies and a stock market sell off across emerging markets have hit Latin America particularly hard this year. But Mexico’s economy is growing, unemployment is falling and its debt was upgraded earlier this year.
That’s exactly the opposite situation in Brazil, which had been the region’s biggest success story until recently. Brazil’s economic size, performance and potential surpassed all others in the region. But now its economy is in recession, its debt has beendowngraded to junk status and the future outlook appears dim.
Mexico’s economy is closely aligned with the U.S. economy — they’re major trade partners. And Brazil has dramatically increased its trade ties with China over the past decade. As China’s economy slows down, it’s weighed on Brazil’s growth potential. Likewise, as the U.S. economy continues its economic recovery from the Great Recession, Mexico benefits too, says Axel Christensen, BlackRock’s chief investment strategist for Latin America.
By: Eric Olson, Associate Director of the Latin America Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center
Co-authored by: Georgia R. Baker, Outreach & Communications Intern at the Mexico Institute
On June 26, the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute hosted a discussion about the current status and future prospects of Mexico’s justice sector reform. Since 2008, Mexico has been implementing a series of reforms that will transform the nation’s criminal justice system to make it more transparent and accountable, thereby improving the nation’s administration of justice and public security. Here are key aspects of that reform:
Introduction of oral trials using adversarial procedures, the creation of alternative sentencing options, and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms;
Greater emphasis on the rights of the accused (i.e., the presumption of innocence, greater due process guarantees including adequate legal defense);
Modifications to police agencies and their role in criminal investigations;
Tougher measures for combating organized crime.
According to Wilson Center Global Fellow and panelist David Shirk, central to Mexico’s reforms, “is a package of ambitious legislative changes and constitutional amendments…that are to be implemented throughout the country by 2016. Together, these reforms touch virtually all aspects of the judicial sector, including police, prosecutors, public defenders, the courts, and the penitentiary system.”
With the deadline for implementation just around the corner, an update on the reform’s status seems timely. As the map below shows, twelve of Mexico’s 31 states and the Federal District have adopted the new judicial system. Of the remaining states, 14 have reformed their constitutions and adopted the new criminal procedures but have not yet fully implemented the reforms. Only 6 states have yet to begin the reform process. Mexico is also in the process of adopting a unified criminal code that all state and federal courts will have to follow. Overall, it’s been an ambitious and complex process of reformation that is still unfolding.
In his presentation, David Shirk argued that while the introduction of oral trails in Mexico’s justice system are important, in his view, the most transformative aspect is the shift from an “inquisitorial” model of justice – where trails and judgements are made based on the written record – to an adversarial system of justice – where defense attorneys and prosecutors argue their cases before a judge in open court. This system, for the first time, also allows for alternative sentencing mechanisms, such as a juicio abreviado, or plea-bargaining. The panel was hopeful that these alternatives would reduce the number of cases heard in court, and thereby reduce court congestion and back-log.
A second key factor in the reform’s success is the transformation of law school curriculum to train new and future officers of the courts, as well as retrain those already in practice. According to David Shirk, a great deal of money and time still needs to be invested in training, as well as professional oversight of many of the current and future officers of the court that will be involved in putting the reforms into practice:”We have not properly prepared the other actors that operate in the new criminal justice system.” Ultimately, the success of the reforms will depend on revising the educational requirements and vetting procedures for applicants to practice law under the new system. Moreover, since federal, state, and local law enforcement officers have been delegated more responsibility within the reformed system, such as responsibility for the protection of the crime scene, the vetting procedures in each branch of government will also need to be reevaluated to incorporate higher standards of transparency and accountability.
To date, one important element of that retraining has been exchanges between law schools and legal experts from other countries (including the U.S.) with experience in the adversarial justice system. Still, according to David Shirk:
“Efforts to promote professionalism among lawyers are needed, as they will be primarily responsible for ‘quality control’ in the Mexican criminal justice system. Although Mexico has recently adopted a new code of ethics, Mexican lawyers are not presently required to receive post-graduate studies, take a bar exam, maintain good standing in a professional bar association, or seek continuing education in order to practice law. All of these are elements of legal professionalism that developed gradually and in a somewhat ad hoc manner in the United States, and mostly in the post-war era.”
Finally, according to another panelist, Leoba Castañeda, the Dean of the Law School at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, in order to ensure that the reforms are being implemented there should be a transparent evaluation done within five years of the 2016 deadline: “We have to change the way we administer justice now, but what is equally important is that in four or five years, an evaluation done.” With time running out on the 2016 deadline, it will be up to the new generation of lawyers in Mexico to ensure that these reforms are taken seriously and implemented properly in the future.
Mexican central bank Governor Agustin Carstens doesn’t rule out keeping interest rates at a record low even after the Federal Reserve begins to tighten, given slow growth and inflation in Latin America’s second-largest economy.
He also said the country will benefit from faster growth in the U.S., and that the peso is undervalued as investors focus on the outlook for higher U.S. rates rather than Mexico’s economic potential.
“All options are open” for monetary policy, Carstens said Sunday in an interview in Washington after the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.