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Seventy-five points to consider

25 August 2008

The Acuerdo Nacional por la Seguridad, la Justicia y la Legalidad isn’t a bad document, but it is not — by itself — going to create a Perfect Union… with liberty and justice for all.

The seventy-five point document is a compromise of sorts among the elites: the federal, state and municipal executives, the political parties, the church and the “mainstream media”.  While the kidnapping and murder of a rich kid (as Blogtitlan carped) — and the (largely media created, and wel-organized) public reaction to that murder was the impetus for the Acuerdo,  the few “public voices” in the discussion were from organizations controlled by the parties to the agreement.  From the beginning, there was political posturing — and still is — with dramatic promises to resign if goals are not met, and challenges by one set of politicos to their rivals to join them in making these kinds of statements.

The agreement itself is very good. Although most U.S. reporting has just focused on increased criminal penalities for crimes like kidnapping, Dudley Althous of the Houston Chronicle was the only U.S. reporter to get to the heart of the proposed reforms.

Facing public outrage over runaway crime, Mexico’s federal and state leaders on Thursday unveiled a coordinated plan to purge police forces nationwide and rebuild the country’s justice system.

“The truth is we are all responsible,” President Felipe Calderon told the National Conference on Security, Justice and Legality. “The proliferation of crime could not have happened without years of protection and impunity.”

The objective, Calderon said, was to create police forces “that protect citizens — not the criminals.”

Calderon and his senior public security officials, in a 75-point agreement with the country’s governors, congressional members and judicial leaders, committed themselves to investigate all local, state and federal police forces within a year, purging officers found to be corrupt.

They agreed to create state anti-kidnapping units, impose harsher sentences for kidnappers and draw up a national strategy to reduce abductions.

They pledged to set up a national system of standards for police and create federally assisted agencies in each state to continually vet police forces.

They called for programs to better select and train judges and the prosecutors who direct criminal investigations.

“We must stop criminality,” Calderon told the meeting held at the ornate National Palace in the heart of the Mexican capital. “And the first step is getting it out of our own house.”

Also highly important — and groundbreaking — is the attention to be paid to financial crimes. Money laundering, like gun-running, are basically ignored by the United States, and Mexico will have to, for the most part, try and control the situation from their own end. More border security was included in the plan. Agreements to introduce legislation lengthening prison sentences for kidnapping and murder — and those dealing with criminal punishment (a promise to build some more prisons) are fairly minor points.

A few — including more identity checks and tracking cell phone use — have some civil rights implications. A very few look at social issues — promising more treatment and rehabilitation for drug addicts, and a call by the Bishops to excommunicate kidnappers and murderers might marginally effect things (though the death penalty, backed only by the Greens [oddly enough] never was seriously considered, I suppose the thought of eternal damnation might dissuade a few desperate characters from criminal action). I would have liked to have seen more attention paid to the social issues — education and job creation — that leads to less glamorous, but much more common street crime — but it is a great start.

None of these are going to happen overnight, and the six month to three year time frame for measurable results might be unrealistic, though that should be enough time to push through the basic reforms. Just setting up better police vetting procedures (and citizen review boards) needs to be thought through. I don’t see where — and I don’t know how — rural municipios will get the funding they need to make these changes (or where they’ll find cops), or what is going to be done with the police and public ministers who are removed… the last thing Mexico needs is a bunch of new recruits for the criminal classes.

The ministerial (“prosecutor”) proposals are excellent. If I understand correctly, public ministers and judges will have special training, and federal officials will be regularly rotated throughout the country. I don’t know a lot about the Spanish court system, but Spanish lawyers who want to be judges and ministers go through special training and are tested to determine their strengths… then assigned to progressively more challenging assignments through their career. This creates ministers who are specialists in one or two areas of prosecution — labor violations or money laundering, for example — who can be dispatched to special needs areas.

As many on the streets, and one important dissenting faction has noted (quite rightly), without an equal commitment to dealing with  impunity and economic injustice the package is incomplete.  The big downfall of the plan is the expectation of immediate results. American historian Rick Perlstein recently wrote about the “Liberal Shock Doctrine” in the United States:

…most of the reforms that have advanced our nation’s status as a modern, liberalizing social democracy were pushed through during narrow windows of progressive opportunity — which subsequently slammed shut with the work not yet complete.

Perlstein is talking about Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” and Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights packages and “Great Society”… but the same conditions seem to apply in Mexico.  Long-range reforms in Mexico usually come with a lot more shocks than in the United States.  The United States only had one civil war, and that one took years to materialize.  Here, reforms like nationalizing the oil industry in the 1930s, or opening the political system to a strong multi-party system in the 1980s and 90s were accompanied by violent reaction.  On the other hand, Mexican political culture (and Mexican culture in general) has always come down to coopting opposition, and a consensus among the elites.

Just creating new laws is not going to be enough:

As it is, half of the signers in the agreement would  be in jail if the laws in this country were enforced.  What can we expect from a pact signed by [Puebla Governor] Mario Marín, {PEMEX union leader] Romero Deschamps, {Teachers’ Union boss] Elbe Esther Gordillo and a dozen others who are perfect examples of impunity?

Jorge Zepada Patterson, writing in El Universal (my translation)

Will Mario Marín, who had journalists arrested on bogus charges, and protected pedophiles be brought to justice? Probably not. Will the police suddenly become warm and cuddly? Probably not. Will corrupt policial bosses like Elbe Esther still shape the national agenda? Afraid so. But… with some noise, and some drama (already seen in Baja Califonia Norte), this will at least reduce crime as an overwhelming national issue, and open a space for serious work on pressing long-range problems with environmental degradation, economic equality and democracy…

2 Comments leave one →
  1. ElGato permalink
    25 August 2008 9:38 am

    Lots of luck, Felipe!! You will need it. The root cause of the tradition of impunity and corruption begins at an early age when one sees he can be ‘forgiven’ for his sins of the week by his friendly priest and by donating to the Church. There is nothing illegal– some things are more expensive than others.

  2. 26 August 2008 11:25 pm

    Good information, thxs because I had just read somewhere that Mex is doing nothing regarding the money laundering: I guess the question is, will these items actually be addressed? It seems overwhelming.

    But, I guess they don’t have much choice, eh?

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