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We don’t need no stinkin’ rule of law

29 May 2009

There could be a huge problem coming out of the Michoacan arrests.  Except on the grounds that the accused have rights to a fair trial, no one is going to defend corrupt officials… BUT…

Miguel Angel Rivera of La Jornada  translated by Kenneth Edmunds in The [Mexico City] News):

“…  there’s the question of whether it’s required by the Constitution of Michoacán to proceed first with the desafuero of the mayors.”

…  And there’s the inevitable political angle: What if some or all of the accused are freed on technicalities, but not until after the July 5 elections?

Desafuero may be an odd concept to those familiar with Ango-American jurisprudence, but it is meant to protect the elected official from the whimsy of the ruler. While it hasn’t historically been a problem in the United States, Latin America, especially, is full of examples of popularly elected local leaders being “punished” for political inconvenience, by leaders using the excuse of minor (or major) criminal behavior.   The most notorious was the attempt in 2004-05 to unseat Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as Jefe de Goberierno based on his allegations that he improperly violated a land-owners’ rights in the District’s acquisition of an access road for an emergency room for the ABC Hospital.

A criminal indictment disqualifies one from seeking public office, and it’s not clear that the Federal officials checked whether or not Michaocan’s own laws require disafuero for municipal officials.

This issue is coming up just as Amnesty International’s Annual Report on Human Rights (via “Gancho Blog“) highlights these specific problems with the Mexican federal legal system:

Serious human rights violations committed by members of the military and police included unlawful killings, excessive use of force, torture and arbitrary detention. Several journalists were killed. Human rights defenders faced threats, fabricated criminal charges and unfair judicial proceedings.

Patrick Corcoran, at Gancho Blog (who seems to be a bigger fan of the Calderon Administration than I am) writes:

But, knowing what we know now, the suggestion that the government should have waited until after the elections to execute the arrests is silly. In six weeks time, the offending politicions might have destroyed evidence and covered their tracks. They also almost certainly would have continued supporting murderous criminal organizations for another a month and a half. That could well have meant several tons of cocaine safely smuggled through the state, and several dozen dead bodies thanks to the gangs that these officials were protecting. Six days would have been one thing, but six weeks is quite another.

That sounds to me like the U.S. defenses of torture based on the “ticking time bomb” scenario… the bad guys (first accepting that the accused ARE the bad guys) COULD continue their nefarious plans while the niceties of the law are observed.  And, the elected officials arrested may have been crime victims, rather than active participants — forced to pick their security secretaries by the narcos under threat of violence — according to a story in today’s Latin American Herald Tribune.

Given the track record of Federal prosections in Michoacan in arresting people, making the news and then later saying “oops, we nabbed the wrong guys” (as followed the bombings in Morelia last Independence Day), the suggestion is not at all silly.  Nor unreasonable.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 29 May 2009 2:03 pm

    Your points are well taken, but the big difference in my mind between this and the ticking time bomb is that the latter case is worst case, almost Hollywood scenario. It is a 0.001 percent scenario, and therefore a disingenuous way to consider all interrogation policies. in contrast, drug smuggling and consequent killings are a constant fact of life in Michoacán. It wasn’t a possibility that such activity would continue, but a certainty.

  2. 29 May 2009 3:51 pm

    Also, “silly” was a poor word choice on my part, I should have just said “unconvincing” or something along those lines. I retract any accusation of “silliness” towards people who disagree with me.

  3. 29 May 2009 5:34 pm

    One thing that should also be noted is that the Feds are claiming they based the raid on information they received in 2007… AND, the mayors were picked up on a ministerial order for QUESTIONING, not apprehension. While there were more arrests today, it sounds like the Ministerial Police did time their strike with an eye to the election. The guys picked up may indeed be baddies, but this doesn’t help create a better legal climate.

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