The State of Anti-Corruption in Mexico

Credit: Alfredo Estrella/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Protesters outside the attorney general’s office. Credit: Alfredo Estrella/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

12/05/17 (written by Lucy Clement La Rosa) – The antithesis of democracy and good governance, corruption has repeatedly undermined development in Latin America and the Caribbean. Over recent years, the region has endured numerous corruption scandals; most recently, Colombia’s oil refinery embezzlement and Brazil’s Odebrecht scandal exposed the magnitude of political graft and crony capitalism. The multifariousness of corruption undermines the crucial building-blocks of society, including access to information, human rights protections, political processes, judicial institutions, and economic policies.

Although the recent exposure and prosecution of corruption schemes across Latin America has stimulated regional dialogue on rule of law, public assessment of countries’ anti-corruption capacity remains perturbingly low. According to Transparency International’s latest Global Corruption Barometer, People and Corruption: Latin America and the Caribbean, corruption is on an upward trend. An average of 62% of over 22,000 Latin American constituents answered that the level of corruption in their respective country has increased since 2015. Moreover, 53% of the survey participants answered that their country’s government is poorly addressing the problem of corruption. The civil functionaries identified by the public as the most corrupt were elected officials and law enforcement agents, both indispensable to rule of law (Transparency International).

However, in this case, bad news may be good news. The regional spotlight on perpetrators of corruption has stimulated public discourse and action; as Latin American countries increasingly acknowledge institutional voids in governance, the stage is set for reform. Notwithstanding, regional cooperation and anti-corruption capacity building will be essential in addressing the demands for transparency and accountability.

Mexico has especially felt the cancer of corruption with malignancies across economic and political sectors. According to a 2015 report by the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness corruption costs Mexico about 9% of its annual Gross Domestic Product (Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad, A. C.). Aside from draining Mexico’s pocketbooks, corruption has contributed to an increasingly disenchanted populous. Pew Research Center, identified Mexico’s top public concerns in 2017: crime, corrupt political leaders, and corrupt police officers. In a comparison between 2015 and 2017, these concerns have increased respectively by 10%, 12%, and 9% (Pew Research Center).  Moreover, Transparency International identified Mexico’s bribery rate as the highest in the region with 51% of the populace paying a bribe for public services in the past 12 months, followed by the Dominican Republic and Peru with 46% and 39%, respectively (Transparency International).

Highly publicized corruption scandals have only added fuel to the fire: including but not limited to, the massacre of 43 students and protestors from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero; the extended manhunt for the former governor of Veracruz, Javier Duarte, on charges of political graft and organized crime; the government surveillance spyware allegedly targeting a variety of high-profile human rights lawyers, anti-corruption activists and journalists; and allegations of negligence in the seismic wake of destruction following two earthquakes in September of 2017.

In response, the public voice in Mexico has increasingly clamored for transparency and accountability. The galvanized public paved the way for the creation of a National Anti-Corruption System (Sistema Nacional Anticorrupción, SNA), civil society organizations like Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (Mexicanos Contra La Corrupción y La Impunidad, MCCI) and Transparencia Mexicana, and citizen initiatives, including the “3for3 Law,” which calls upon elected representatives to disclose personal assets, conflicts of interest and taxes.

Juan Pardinas,President of the Mexico Institute for Competitiveness-Credit: Brett Gundlock, Bloomberg

Juan Pardinas, President of the Mexico Institute for Competitiveness -Credit: Brett Gundlock, Bloomberg

Nonetheless, the aforementioned anti-corruption stamina is arguably waning in the face of staunchly institutionalized corruption. The new anti-corruption system, SNA, has been hard-pressed to accomplish much against active government resistance, including, federal-level refusal to cooperate with corruption investigations, state-level inaction on constitutionally mandated deadlines, and multi-level withholding of information. Regardless of the government’s role in creating the SNA, critics argue that the initiative has been largely abandoned. Juan Pardinas, President of the Mexico Institute for Competitiveness, dubbed this abrupt turnabout a Mexican government placebo scheme, intended to quell public outrage without any substantial compliance (New York Times).

Although anti-corruption progress has been slow, there is hope for the future. With Mexico’s upcoming presidential elections in 2018, it is fair to assume that anti-corruption will be at the forefront of campaign platforms, seeking to allay public indignation and redeem government approval ratings. Likewise, this timely window of opportunity will offer the public a chance to demand pivotal action on anti-corruption reform and impress upon the future administration the strength of public will in Mexico.

For a recent, in-depth summary of anti-corruption efforts in Mexico, Justice in Mexico recommends reading the aforementioned New York Times article. See below.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/02/world/americas/mexico-corruption-commission.html

(in Spanish) https://www.nytimes.com/es/2017/12/02/mexico-enrique-pena-nieto-sistema-nacional-anticorrupcion-comite-ciudadano/?ref=en-US

 

Sources

Ahmed, Azam. “Anti-Corruption Drive, Commissioners Say.” The New York Times. December 2, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/02/world/americas/mexico-corruption-commission.html

Amparo Casar, M. “México: Anatomía de la corrupción. Instituto Mexicano para la competitividad A.C., Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas. May 2015. http://imco.org.mx/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2015_Libro_completo_Anatomia_corrupcion.pdf

People and Corruption: Latin America and the Caribbean. Transparency International. October 2017. https://www.transparency.org/whatwedo/publication/global_corruption_barometer_people_and_corruption_latin_america_and_the_car

Vice, M. and Chwe, H. “Mexicans are downbeat about their country’s direction. Pew Research Center. September 2017. http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/09/14/mexicans-are-downbeat-about-their-countrys-direction/

Justice in Mexico and USD School of Law co-host International Conference on Mexico’s Judicial Reform Efforts

6/24/16 (written by ncortes) – On June 10th, Justice in Mexico co-hosted “Promoting the Rule of Law in Mexico” International Conference with USD’s School of Law at the Hahn University Forums on campus. Approximately 100 students, faculty, legal professionals, and government officials from both sides of the border attended the international conference on Mexico’s judicial reform efforts just one week prior to the official full implementation deadline of the judicial reform.

The audience was welcomed by the heads of the organizations that made the conference possible: Dr. David Shirk, director of Justice in Mexico, Dr. Stephen Ferruolo, dean of the School of Law, and Justin Bird, vice president of Sempra Energy. In his brief opening address, Dr. David Shirk emphasized the critical time at which the conference was taking place: the conclusion of an eight-year process to reform Mexico’s justice system.

Dr. Héctor Díaz Santana, director of Inter-Institutional Coordination of the Council for the Implementation of the Criminal Justice System’s Technical Secretariat (SETEC), inaugurated the conference by offering an overview of what brought about the reform and the current challenges to its full implementation. Dr. Díaz Santana observed that the late publication of the national criminal procedural code, the lack of funding, and the tendency to procrastinate created a crisis that demanded renewed attention as the deadline approached. The government had to come up with clear plans, funding, and new indicators for evaluation. Moreover, the federal government had to acquire new technologies for investigation and help reluctant state governments assimilate to the inevitability of change. According to Dr. Díaz, there are still many issues that remain unresolved, including updating law school curriculums and informing the public. In his view, even though the implementation phase will be over by June 18, the system will need to continue to make adjustments over the long term.

Dr. David Shirk moderates first panel of "Promoting the Rule of Law in Mexico" international conference. Panelists include State supreme court justice Pablo Héctor González Villalobos (Chihuahua), State supreme court justice Alejandro González Gómez (Michoacán), Hon. Teresa Sanchez Gordon (Los Angeles Superior Court), and Hon. Runston Maino (San Diego Superior Court)

Dr. David Shirk moderates first panel of “Promoting the Rule of Law in Mexico” international conference. Panelists include State supreme court justice Pablo Héctor González Villalobos (Chihuahua), State supreme court justice Alejandro González Gómez (Michoacán), Hon. Teresa Sanchez Gordon (Los Angeles Superior Court), and Hon. Runston Maino (San Diego Superior Court)

Following Dr. Díaz Santana’s reflections on Mexico’s justice reform efforts was the panel “From the Bench: Judges’ Take on Justice Reform,” moderated by Dr. Shirk. The recurring themes included newly acquired responsibilities of judges, the importance of training judges, and the United States’ partner role in this transition. Pablo Héctor González Villalobos, state court justice in Chihuahua, discussed how the reform redefined the job of judges. In the past, a judge’s duty was to serve as an instrument to apply the law while oral trials now demand judges have a more dignified role as interpreters of the law. For him, this is a radical change not often spoken of but that nonetheless carries important consequences, such as the need to implement safeguards that guarantee the impartiality of judges. Alejandro González Gómez, state court justice of Michoacán, drew attention to the absence of an established procedure that outlines the process of appeals in the new system. He recommended training programs and clearly defining the appeals process under the new system.

Judges from the United States complemented the discussion by sharing their observations and recommendations. Hon. Teresa Sanchez Gordon (Los Angeles Superior Court) shared her experience participating in a successful program implemented by the California Judges Association (CJA) that allowed for judge-to-judge interactions between U.S. judges and their Mexican counterparts. As an advocate of judge-to-judge training, she invited Mexican judges to visit California where judges are willing to take their commitment to the next level. Hon. Runston “Tony” Maino (San Diego Superior Court) pointed to the magnitude of the transformation required under the new system to emphasize that change will take time and that one should not be discouraged. He also mentioned the importance of having more individuals buy into the change in order for the change to become real.

Anti-corruption panel moderated by Alejandro Rios Rippa. Panelists include Peter Ainsworth, Dr. Marco Antonio Fernández, and Benjamin Hill

Anti-corruption panel moderated by Alejandro Rios Rippa. Panelists include Peter Ainsworth, Dr. Marco Antonio Fernández, and Benjamin Hill

The next panel, moderated by Alejandro Rios Rippa, director of Corporate Ethics and Litigations at IEnova, focused on anti-corruption efforts in Mexico. Panel themes included the importance of prosecutorial independence, recent changes in the law, and future hopes to reduce corruption and impunity. Peter Ainsworth, senior anti-corruption counsel of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division emphasized the importance of having the tools, ability, capacity, and most importantly prosecutorial independence in order to fight corruption. In his view, people need to be able to bring cases against their bosses. Dr. Marco Antonio Fernández, associate researcher at México Evalúa, observed that public pressure is pushing the Mexican government to deal with corruption, which has resulted in new legislation. However, much work is required to implement the new laws at the state level. Dr. Fernández drew attention to the great level of impunity in Mexico and noted that unfortunately, “patrimonialism continues to be the name of the game.”

Benjamin Hill, head of the new Specialized Ethics and Conflicts of Interest Prevention Office of the Mexican Federal Government was hopeful about Mexico’s prospects to change. He observed that while the reactions to political scandals have usually been cosmetic in the past, there are signs that this time around is different. In addition to having a working democracy and a stronger civil society aided by social media, he noted that there is now a more robust body of knowledge on corruption from which Mexico can benefit. In terms of conflict of interest, he observed it is a difficult one to discuss in a society where it is often considered a moral obligation to help one’s relatives. Mr. Rios added that sometimes individuals are not aware of what conflict of interest entails and thus it is important to have an ongoing conversation that engages civil society.

Dr. Alfonso Pérez Daza, advisor for the Federal Judiciary (Consejo de la Judicatura Federal) gives his keynote luncheon address.

Dr. Alfonso Pérez Daza, advisor for the Federal Judiciary (Consejo de la Judicatura Federal) gives his keynote luncheon address.

During the luncheon that followed, the audience first heard from William Ostick, U.S. consul general in Tijuana. Mr. Ostick said Mexico’s effort to reform its judicial system required a generational change and reiterated the United States’ willingness to be Mexico’s partner in that process. Mr. Ostick also introduced keynote speaker Dr. Alfonso Pérez Daza, advisor for the Federal Judiciary (Consejo de la Judicatura Federal). He outlined five procedural changes that resulted from the reform: investigation, chain of custody, writing vs. oral, preventive detention, and alternative solutions. Dr. Pérez concluded that Mexico is facing one of the most important changes in its legal history and hopes the reform will improve the criminal justice system by shortening trial times and achieving victims’ restitution. According to Dr. Pérez, “the new criminal system is not a panacea, nor will it bring an end to crime, corruption, and injustice, but I am sure it is a better system than what we have already.”

Professor Miguel Sarre speaks to conference attendees about impunity and the prison system in Mexico.

Professor Miguel Sarre speaks to conference attendees about impunity and the prison system in Mexico.

As an introduction to the last panel “Improving the Administration of Justice,” Miguel Sarre Iguíniz, professor at the Instituto Tecnológico de México, gave a brief commentary on impunity, human rights, and the prison system in Mexico. To illustrate the prevalence of impunity in Mexico, he observed that only 0.49% of criminal cases are actually reported to and investigated by authorities. Moreover, he noted the number of crimes propitiated by the government in Mexico City alone is higher than the number of crimes handled by the justice system at the national level. According to Professor Sarre, 40,000 detainees in Mexico City are forced to pay a quota three times a day in order to avoid abuses. Subsequently, there are 120,000 daily extortion cases that result from the system itself. Mr. Sarre emphasized the importance of taking into account human rights in the prison system.

Octavio Rodríguez, Justice in Mexico program coordinator, moderated the last panel in which capacity building and training, U.S.-Mexico partnership, and institutional independence were recurring themes. Ray Allan Gattinella, senior legal advisor for the Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development of the Department of Justice observed that capacity building and training along with the professionalization of the police are the most important tasks to improve the administration of justice. Mr. Gattinella also noted the lack of institutional stability and an accreditation system for Mexican law schools may hinder progress.

Octavio Rodríguez moderates panel on improving the administration of justice in Mexico. Panelists include Ray Allen Gattinella, Judge Luciano Angulo, and Robert Ciaffa.

Octavio Rodríguez moderates panel on improving the administration of justice in Mexico. Panelists include Ray Allen Gattinella, Judge Luciano Angulo, and Robert Ciaffa.

Luciano Angulo Espinoza, judge in the state of Baja California, observed the importance of receiving ongoing training. He described his personal experience of having training discontinued at a moment were it was very much needed. Judge Angulo reflected on the importance of having an independent judiciary as well as job security in order to improve the administration of justice. He mentioned that Baja California judges are ratified every five years, which hurts judges’ independence. Robert Ciaffa, federal prosecutor pointed out that Mexico will not be the only beneficiary of the efforts made to improve the administration of justice. He observed that currently there are many barriers, including lack of trust, that prevent U.S. prosecutors from collaborating with their Mexican counterparts. He observed that while Mexico and U.S. share common targets, many times this results in competition instead of collaboration. In Mr. Ciaffa’s words, “we strive for the day when we can recognize each other’s orders.”

Dr. David Shirk gives closing remarks to conference.

Dr. David Shirk gives closing remarks to conference.

To conclude, Dr. Shirk offered his reflections regarding the outcomes of the conference. The conference will inform an upcoming Justice in Mexico report on judicial reforms and serve as a step towards further collaboration with UNAM, where Justice in Mexico will cohost a similar event September 8-9 to continue the conversation. Dr. Shirk also announced the creation of an anti-corruption course within the USD Master of Arts in International Relations and the School of Law that will hopefully attract both USD students and members of the legal community. The final and perhaps most important deliverable is the knowledge, hope, and optimism that all attendees take with them following the conference. According to Dr. Shirk, “all of us should look at this new system as an opportunity to improve the rule of law and the administration of justice in Mexico. All of us are part and responsible for helping achieve better results moving forward.”