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Supremes 2, Governors 0

26 June 2007

Everyone knows that Ulises Ruiz of Oaxaca is a scumbag, but outside of Mexico, you don’t hear much about Puebla’s Mario Marín Torres. Marín, a buddy of convicted pedophile Jean Succar Kuri, was mentioned by writer Lydia Cacho as one of Succar’s protectors in her blockbuster Los demonios del Edén .

On Marín’s orders, Cacho was arrested in Cancún for slander, a criminal offense. She was kidnapped off the street, driven to Puebla and tossed in the slammer, where she was raped.

In a huge victory for the press, Congress has changed the criminal code, making slander a civil matter. The Governor couldn’t hold Cacho for a criminal trial, and he wasn’t going to win in civil court. Cacho then sued the governor for violating her civil rights.

As with Ulises Ruiz, there is movement in Congress to impeach Marín, but as with Ruiz, PRI needs to protect its own, and PAN is deathly afraid of losing the majority they only enjoy with PRI-support. The FAP (PRD-Convergencia-PT-independent coalition) is the main opposition, but can’t peel off enough PAN or PRI or Green delegates to push through the measure.

PAN’s previous attempts to impeach Lopez Obradór a few years back for very minor technical violations (not filling out the right paperwork during the expropriation of a small property for a hospital access road) make it more problematic for the “de facto President’s party” to justify NOT impeaching the two governors, but so far they’re standing firm.

Into the breach has stepped the Supreme Court. Ruiz is the easy case, since another court (the Human Rights Commission) has already ruled in the matter, and the Supremes are merely upholding a lower court decision. In Marín’s case, they are breaking new ground. As of today, they haven’t made a ruling, still considering what the ground rules are for an investigation of abuse of authority are.

In the long run, the Marín case is the more historic one. Just hearing a citizen’s complaint against a sitting governor is unprecedented. As Hector Tobar wrote in last Friday’s (subscription required) Los Angeles Times, the Mexican Supreme Court is suddenly becoming a major force in the country’s governance:

MEXICO CITY — In a series of dramatic televised hearings over the last month, 11 men and women in black robes have given the Mexican people something they are unaccustomed to seeing — an activist Supreme Court.

Key rulings by the court have produced a subtle but important shift in Mexico’s political landscape. The court has reined in one of the nation’s most powerful business interests and is moving against two rogue governors.

… Several times this month, the chambers have been filled with a noise rarely heard since the modern court’s creation in 1917: the sound of applause.

On Thursday, the court agreed to create a committee to investigate the political violence and disorder in the southern state of Oaxaca, ruled by the almost universally reviled Gov. Ulises Ruiz.

On Monday, it’s scheduled to begin considering whether it should form a similar panel to investigate Puebla Gov. Mario Marin, absolved by lower courts of abuse-of-power charges in the case of an investigative journalist arrested in his state.

“Oaxaca may no longer be in flames, but it still burns internally,” Justice Genaro Gongora Pimentel said from the bench as the court discussed the chaos that enveloped the state capital last year, in which 20 people were killed. “Oaxacan society is waiting for justice…. Our intervention is necessary.”

Analysts say the court is acting because President Felipe Calderon and a divided Congress have failed to move against entrenched interests and corrupt local leaders. Though most of its members were appointed by Mexico’s previous two presidents, and all were confirmed by Congress, public outrage has forced the court to act, analysts say.

“The court is stepping up to the plate to fill a worrisome void,” said John Ackerman, a law professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Ackerman said the court’s recent actions were unprecedented in Mexican history.

Several commentators have drawn comparisons in recent days between Mexico’s Supreme Court and the activist U.S. court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren in the 1950s and 1960s, whose landmark decisions transformed American society.

“The court is intervening to ensure that Mexico’s democratic transition isn’t stalled,” said Denise Dresser… “The court has become an instrument of last resort in the face of a political class that won’t change the status quo.”



The court this week formally created the panel to investigate the violence in Oaxaca city, set off by Gov. Ruiz’s attempt to quash a teachers strike and demonstrations in support of it. Despite calls for his impeachment, Ruiz has held on to power in large measure because his party, the PRI, controls the state legislature. PRI legislators in the federal Congress have used their influence to prevent Ruiz’s impeachment by that body.

“In Mexico, politicians are used to circling the wagons around corrupt leaders,” Dresser said. In years past, the very worst leaders were simply “persuaded” to leave office by PRI party leaders. Rarely were they subjected to due process because doing so probably would expose the widespread corruption from which most of the political class benefited, she said.

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