Mexican Security Law Reforms May Impact Bilateral Initiatives on Organized Crime

01/11/21 (written by tmcginnis) — The National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, MORENA), President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) ruling party, passed a new law that curbs the role of foreign law enforcement agents operating within the country. This legislation calls into question the durability of the U.S.-Mexico bilateral efforts to combat the presence of powerful organized crime groups (OCG) exercising significant control over the Mexican state.

Source: InSight Crime.

Understanding the Legislation

“Con 329 votos a favor, 98 en contra y 40 abstenciones, aprueban dictamen por el que se adicionan diversas disposiciones de la Ley de Seguridad Nacional.” Author’s translation: “With 329 votes in favor, 98 against and 40 abstentions, they approved an opinion that incorporates several provisions to the National Security Law.” Source: Twitter – Cámara de Diputados (@Mx_Diputados).

As reported by InSight Crime, the law and subsequent reforms, approved on December 9 and 15 by the Senate and Congress respectively, strip diplomatic immunity from foreign officials, necessitate that foreign officials secure permits from the Defense Ministry (Secretaría de Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) to carry firearms, and require the aforementioned officials to share any and all security-related intelligence gathered while in Mexico with their proper Mexican counterparts. Concerning information exchanges, Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at Brookings’ Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology, further details that both Mexican officials and law enforcement officers, whether it be at the local, state, or federal level, must report all communication with foreign law enforcement, intelligence agents, etc. within three days of the initial occurrence. Furthermore, meetings with foreign agents must obtain prior approval from high-ranking federal officials and require the presence of a member of the Mexican Foreign Ministry (Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, SRE). 

Possible Initial Impetus

Although the legislation does not overtly single out agents or officials from any particular country, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which has maintained a strong operating presence in Mexico since the 1970s, will likely constitute one of the most impacted actors. According to Proceso, President AMLO put forth an initial proposal to regulate foreign officials in early December. As El Universal notes, this opening push came seemingly as a result of the arrest of Mexico’s former defense minister, Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, which occurred in October of 2020. Cienfuegos was arrested by DEA agents on U.S. soil on October 15 for alleged connections with drug trafficking and organized crime. At the time, El Universal reported that Mexican officials were unaware of the United States’ plans to arrest Cienfuegos. In fact, InSight Crime reports that Mexican officials had no knowledge of the multi-year investigation or the indictment filed in August of 2019. Furthermore, seeing that Cienfuegos represents the first senior Mexican military official to face arrest in the United States in connection to organized crime groups and drug trafficking, these gaps in intelligence simply compounded the existing shockwaves. 

General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda. Source: Brookings.

In attempting to rectify what Rita Kukertz of Justice in Mexico deems the “breach of trust” caused by the discrepancy in intelligence, the United States, in a move clearly breaking with decades of international law enforcement procedures and practices, dropped the charges and allowed Cienfuegos to return to Mexico. However, according to Brookings, this unprecedented action was predicated on the “premise of a bargain” to not expel U.S. law enforcement officials and agents from Mexico — a move the Mexican government had threatened in the past. Thus, the new law may be seen as a “double-cross” from Mexico, in that its significance or “practical impact” remains similar to expulsion. “Essentially, the law paralyzes Mexico’s cooperation with international law enforcement counterparts and eviscerates any remaining trust and meaningful law enforcement cooperation between the United States and Mexico,” writes Vanda Felbab-Brown of Brookings.  

Predicted Impact

U.S. agencies have long engaged in joint operations with their Mexican counterparts to combat organized crime groups. Unfortunately, these efforts, working in tandem with billions of dollars in U.S. assistance, have not always achieved the desired outcomes and have, at times, resulted in serious missteps by the United States, as in the case of Cienfuegos or the 2011 attack on Allende by the Zetas cartel. However, it remains of critical importance to highlight that U.S. intelligence-gathering operations have been instrumental in arresting, prosecuting, and convicting high-profile individuals, such as Joaquín Guzmán Loera (“El Chapo”), the former Sinaloa Cartel kingpin. Thus, the security reforms have raised concerns for several actors. For example, in a formal statement, former U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr expressed that the United States is “troubled by legislation currently before the Mexican Congress.” He continued, arguing that the “passage of this legislation can only benefit the violent transnational criminal organizations and other criminals that we are jointly fighting.” 

In assessing the principal impacts, a substantial amount of information sharing and intelligence gathering occurs at lower levels through potential informants and cooperative witnesses. However, actors like the DEA, who are now restricted and vulnerable to prosecution in Mexico, will be less willing to put themselves in danger to acquire and relay mutually beneficial intelligence. As detailed by Cecilia Farfán-Méndez, the Head of Security Research Programs at the University of California, San Diego’s Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, with little incentive to engage in those conversations or coordinate exchanges, crucial information channels will begin to dwindle and wane, eventually drying up the evidentiary ammunition previously used to disrupt organized crime operations. Furthermore, as noted by Brookings, with the previously discussed condition necessitating the presence of a member of the Mexican Foreign Ministry during meetings with foreign agents, the ability to secure the attendance of a Foreign Relations official in an urgent time frame or complicated location (e.g. deep in Guerrero, Jalisco, etc.) could be rather unfeasible.

President López Obrador’s Motivations

Though a previous section discusses the arrest of Cienfuegos as a possible impetus for the law, one can also think of it more as a tipping point. President AMLO has several possible and more complicated motivations in pursuing such legislation. Firstly, and arguably most directly, AMLO faced pressure from the Mexican military to prevent further investigations and shockwaves, akin to what was witnessed regarding General Cienfuegos. AMLO has additionally privileged the presence of the Mexican military, SEDENA, in many traditionally civilian-run operations, such as the construction of airports, repairs of hospitals, etc. Analysts continue to raise concerns about the Mexican military’s ever-expanding power and influence. 

Second, the president could be utilizing the legislation as a “bargaining chip.” AMLO still has to sign off on the law in order for it to reach formal implementation. However, if he delays signing, he could possibly generate leverage to hinder the U.S.’ incoming Biden Administration’s initiatives that will likely be controversial in the context of bilateral relations, such as energy reform and the mitigation of climate change. 

Though the impact of this legislation on the U.S.-Mexico bilateral effort to combat organized crime is rather apparent, AMLO should remain wary of the possible unintended consequences as well. Brookings notes that by restricting the operations of U.S. law enforcement, this includes those U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials in Mexico who authorize the preclearance of cargo. Their limited presence will lead to a bottleneck of trucks waiting for inspection, creating issues in the supply chain and putting significant revenue, such as produce, at risk.

Sources

Asmann, Parker. “What Do Security Law Reforms Mean for US-Mexico Organized Crime Fight?” InSight Crime. December 18, 2020. 

Cámara de Diputados (@Mx_Diputados). “Con 329 votos a favor, 98 en contra y 40 abstenciones, aprueban dictamen por el que se adicionan diversas disposiciones de la Ley de Seguridad Nacional. Pasa al Ejecutivo federal.” Twitter. December 15, 2020. 

Coordinación de Comunicación Social. “Aprueba Senado reforma a Ley de Seguridad Nacional.” Senado de la República. December 9, 2020. 

Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs. “Statement by Attorney General William P. Barr on Mexico’s Proposed Legislation.” The United States Department of Justice. December 11, 2020. 

El Universal. “Por qué la reforma exprés de la Ley de Seguridad de México desafía a EU?” BBC Mundo. December 16, 2020. 

Felbab-Brown, Vanda. “A dangerous backtrack on the US-Mexico security relationship.” Brookings. December 21, 2020. 

Gaceta Parlamentaria. “De las Comisiones Unidas de Gobernación y Población, y de Defensa Nacional, con proyecto de decreto por el que se adicionan diversas disposiciones de la Ley de Seguridad Nacional.” Cámara de Diputados. December 15, 2020. 

Keefe, Patrick. “The Hunt for El Chapo.” The New Yorker. April 28, 2014. 

Kuckertz, Rita. “Former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda Arrested by U.S. Officials.” Justice in Mexico. October 19, 2020. 

Kuckertz, Rita. “United States Will Drop Charges against Former Mexican Defense Minister Cienfuegos.” Justice in Mexico. November 18, 2020. 

Linthicum, Kate and Patrick J. McDonnell. “Mexico’s military gains power as president turns from critic to partner.” Los Angeles Times. November 21, 2020. 

Pedro Villa y Caña. “No investigamos a Cienfuegos porque no teníamos información contra él: AMLO.” El Universal. October 17, 2020. 

Reuters Staff. “Mexican lawmakers vote to restrict foreign agents despite U.S. pressure.” Reuters. December 15, 2020. 

San Martín, Neldy. “Senado recibe iniciativa de AMLO que regula presencia de agentes extranjeros en México.” Proceso. December 4, 2020. 

Sheridan, Mary Beth. “Perdiendo el control: Mientras la seguridad en México se deteriora, el poder de las fuerzas militares crece.” The Washington Post. December 17, 2020. 
Thompson, Ginger. “Anatomía de una masacre.” ProPublica. June 12, 2017.

Feminists symbolically occupy MORENA headquarters amidst sexual assault accusations

11/10/20 (written by vrice) – Feminist activists mobilized on October 12th, blocking the entrance to the Mexico City headquarters of the National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, MORENA/Morena), the political party of current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). The women gathered to prevent candidate Porfirio Muñoz Ledo from declaring himself the winner of contested elections for the party presidency, due to numerous allegations of sexual assault against him. 

Feminist protestors outside Morena’s headquarters. Sign reads “Nuestra primera militancia es la feminista #YoTeCreoHermana” (“Our first affiliation is feminist #IBelieveYouSister”). Photo: Carlo Echegoyen via Animal Político 

Occupation of MORENA headquarters

On October 16, the National Electoral Institute (Instituto Nacional Electoral, INE) declared that elections for Morena’s next president had resulted in a technical tie between candidates Muñoz Ledo and Mario Delgado, requiring that a new poll be conducted. In response, Muñoz Ledo accused the INE’s Councilor President, Lorenzo Córdova, of refusing to acknowledge his victory, and demanded that Córdova rectify the decision or resign. Via virtual conference Muñoz Ledo also denounced the Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Electoral) as corrupt, and stated that he would not accept the results of the next poll as he had already won. Two days after these accusations, Muñoz Ledo then published a tweet calling on his supporters to accompany him to the headquarters the following afternoon to forcibly assume the presidency of Morena. 

Given the numerous accusations of sexual assault against Muñoz Ledo in the preceding weeks, feminist activists mobilized in response to his statements in order to, “prevent an abuser from taking over Morena” (“para impedir que un acosador se apropie del partido”). At 8:00am on October 12, feminist activists gathered outside the gate of Morena’s headquarters in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City to pressure the party to take action against Muñoz Ledo. The protestors prevented any entry or exit by placing red tape that read “peligro” (danger) and numerous signs on the building’s entrance, with phrases like, “Aquí no entran violadores” (“rapists cannot enter here”) and “Morena será feminista” (“Morena will be feminist”). They also wrote “clausurado” (closed) with pink chalk on the sidewalk outside the gates. 

A few hours after the demonstration began, primarily male Muñoz Ledo supporters gathered to challenge the feminist activists, demanding that the women file formal complaints if their accusations against Muñoz Ledo were truly legitimate. Also in attendance were federal representatives of Morena, Lorena Villavicencio and Irma Juan Carlos. Via megaphone the representatives echoed requests for the demonstrators to present formal accusations, and asked that Muñoz Ledo’s attempt to assume the presidency not be impeded. Despite the fact that shortly before 12:00pm Muñoz Ledo announced via twitter he would no longer visit the headquarters, groups of protestors remained outside the building until 1:00pm. Muñoz Ledo accused his opponent in the election, Mario Delgado, of organizing the feminist protest—which he described as a “violent assault.” Other Muñoz Ledo supporters, including Villavicencio, attributed the protest’s orchestration to Delgado.

Mario Delgado presenting a letter to the INE on October 12th urging acceleration of the third survey to decide Morena’s president. Photo: EFE via Forbes México

Silence amidst assault allegations

While Muñoz Ledo has denied the numerous accusations of sexual assault that surfaced on social media in the last few weeks, Morena has yet to release a statement regarding the allegations. In a videoconference with Animal Político, Muñoz Ledo reiterated that the denunciations were “false” and questioned the credibility of his accusers, asking why many of the women who claimed to have suffered abuses years ago had still not filed formal complaints. Muñoz Ledo further defended himself, saying he was a “family man” who has always protected women, and thus the accusations were ill-founded and “stupid.” The aspiring Morena president also shared with Animal Político that individuals like Delgado are guilty of mismanaging Morena’s finances, and that he has already submitted a request to the Financial Intelligence Unit (Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera) to investigate Delgado for money laundering. Muñoz Ledo has also accused Delgado of aspiring to the Morena presidency to usurp AMLO’s power.

Morena’s interim president, Alfonso Ramírez Cuellar, took to Twitter the morning of the protest to encourage supporters and leaders to prioritize the party’s unity and institutionality above all else. In the Chamber of Deputies, female representatives affiliated with Delgado announced they would submit a formal complaint to the Comission of Honor and Justice (Comisión de Honor y Justicia) regarding the feminist occupation and allegations against Muñoz Ledo. Despite founding Morena and having used the headquarters as the home base for his 2018 presidential campaign, AMLO refused to release a statement on the demonstration or the conflict between Delgado and Muñoz Ledo. In a press conference on Monday, AMLO told the aspiring presidential candidates to come to an agreement, and justified his silence as abstention from partisan matters and due to other pressing obligations.

Sources

Jiménez, Horacio. “Diputadas afines a Mario Delgado denunciarán a Muñoz Ledo por acoso.” El Universal, Oct. 14, 2020.

Chávez, Víctor. “Muñoz Ledo no acepta otra encuesta e insiste en asumir dirigencia de Morena.” El Financiero, Oct. 13, 2020. 

Jiménez, Néstor. “A la sede de Morena llegan protestas y hasta acusaciones de acoso.” La Jornada, Oct. 13, 2020. 

@ArturoCanoMx. “Dos pequeños grupos, uno de mujeres jóvenes y otro integrado mayoritariamente por hombres mayores, sostienen duelo de consignas frente a la sede de 

@PartidoMorenaMx, pese a que @PMunozLedo ha anunciado que no vendrá.” Oct. 12, 2020, 9:41 am CDT. Tweet. 

Domínguez, Pedro. “AMLO llama a aspirantes a dirigencia de Morena a ponerse de acuerdo en proceso.” Milenio, Oct. 12, 2020.

Dorantes, Rodolfo. “Feministas ‘clausuran’ sede de Morena en la colonia Roma.” Excélsior, Oct. 12, 2020.

“Feministas toman sede de Morena ante llegada de Porfirio Muñoz Ledo.” El Universal, Oct. 12, 2020. 

Jiménez, Néstor. “Desiste Muñoz Ledo de asumir mando de Morena por toma de la sede.” La Jornada, Oct. 12, 2020. 

“Mujeres toman sede de Morena, acusan a Muñoz Ledo de acoso; Delgado pide a INE agilizar encuesta.” Animal Político, Oct. 12, 2020.

@PMunozLedo. “Hoy a las 12:00hrs iba a rendir protesta como presidente legítimo del partido. Sucede que fue tomada la sede del mismo en un asalto violento provocado por el candidato al que derroté. Demando el cese de hostilidades y la inversión multimillonaria en la vida del partido. (1/2).” Oct. 12, 2020, 9:13 AM CDT. Tweet.

@FridaGomezP. “Feministas convocan a la clausura de MORENA para impedir que ‘un acosador se apropie del partido.’” Oct. 12, 2020, 7:14 am CDT. Tweet.

Lastiri, Diana. “Muñoz Ledo califica declaraciones de Mario Delgado de graves y estúpidas.” El Universal, Oct. 11, 2020.

@PMunozLedo. “Tomaré la Presidencia de Morena mañana 12 de Octubre a las 12:00hrs. Invito a la militancia a que me acompañe. Nos vemos en Chihuahua 216, Col. Roma Norte, Delegación Cuauhtémoc 06700, Ciudad de México. Confío en su solidaridad. Los espero.” Oct. 11, 2020, 1:27 pm CDT. Tweet. 

@PMunozLedo. “Lorenzo Córdova, responsable de la democracia mexicana afirmó que la contienda interna está empatada por .5 décimas porcentuales, debiera saber que por un solo voto se gana. Supina ignorancia o mala fe. Se negó a reconocer mi victoria. Lo invito a que rectifique o que renuncie.” Oct. 10, 2020, 8:15 am CDT. Tweet.

Governor elect in BC seeks to extend his term

Jaime Bonilla Valdez, governor elect of Baja California

Jaime Bonilla was elected Governor of Baja California on June 2nd, 2019. Source: El Tamaulipeco

08/06/19 (written by lcalderon) — Jaime Bonilla Valdez was elected governor for Baja California on June 2, 2019, along with five mayors and 25 state Congress representatives. He was initially elected for an extraordinary term of two years, from November 1, 2019 to October 31, 2021. This extraordinary period of governorship was set forth by a Constitutional reform in 2014 that established that the governor elected in 2019 would serve a term of two years (instead of six) in order for the federal midterm elections and state governor elections to coincide, exactly three years after the presidential election.

However, on July 8, 2019, Baja California Congressman Víctor Moran (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, Morena) called for a secret, unscheduled session, which was held in Playas de Rosarito –about two and a half hours from the state’s capital, Mexicali. At said session, Congressman Moran passed a motion to extend governor-elect Bonilla’s term from two to five years, ending in October 31, 2024 instead of 2021. Mr. Moran’s argument was that having another election in two years would impose a grave economic burden on Baja California’s economy, which is already facing a serious public spending deficit, thus making it more desirable to postpone it until 2024. He also emphasized the importance of giving the government-elect enough time to complete their long-term projects, specifically those designed to address public security concerns at the state level. The motion passed with 21 out of the 25 votes in favor, only three of which were affiliates of the Morena Party. Congressional representatives voted through concealed voting slips and only one National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional, PAN) Congressman expressed his disagreement with the procedure and the motion. Congressional representatives from the local party, Baja California’s Party (Partido de Baja California, PBC) were not present at the session; allegedly, PBC representatives were not even summoned.

During that same session, State Congress also approved to create two important positions: Counselor for the Instituto de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información Pública (Institute for Transparency and Access to Public Information, ITAIP) and Superior Auditor for the State. Sources such as El Economista and Sin Embargo allege these positions were Morena’s negotiating assets to convince PAN and PRI’s Congressional representatives to vote for the initiative. Allegations grew stronger when the appointment of Carlos Montejo Oceguera, a longtime PAN member and collaborator of current Baja Calfornia Governor Francisco Vega de Lamadrid, as Superior Auditor was deemed official immediately after the confidential session. Montejo’s appointment became notably suspicious when he was declared to be in charge of auditing the state government’s performance during the last three years. This came just weeks after the Federal Superior Auditor declared that Governor Vega’s government was involved in the embezzlement of over $4.5 billion Mexican pesos (roughly $240 million USD).

Initial reactions

Citizens' protests

Citizens protest against “Bonilla Law.”
Source: Diario de Mexico

Public opposition to what is now being called “Bonilla Law” manifested soon thereafter. Citizens throughout Baja California called for protests at the local office for the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH), demanding that the national Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional, SCJN) evaluate the reform. They also requested that Congressmen who voted in favor of what they perceive as an unconstitutional action be politically tried. Additionally, they argued that the opinion expressed on June 2nd must prevail, which is when citizens elected Bonilla for a term of just two years – not the expanded five years.

Bonilla’s decision to extend his term made it to the national headlines almost immediately, and the reactions came from all political levels. One of the first institutions to show its discontent was the National Action Party (PAN). The PAN’s national management expressed its condemnation of the term extension, highlighting its discontent with the state Congressman representing their party who voted in favor of extending Bonilla’s governorship. A few weeks later, the PAN started removing its state Congressmen from Baja California.

For his part, Bonilla argued that the term’s extension eliminates the need to have another round of elections in two years. Regardless of the vote on the governorship, Baja Californians still have to vote in five mayors and 25 Congressmen in 2021. The Morena Party also threw its support behind Bonilla’s term extension, noting that the two-year term represents a violation of Bonilla’s political-electoral rights, a claim that Bonilla already submitted to the Electoral Court. This challenge was successful at the state court, but not at the federal court.

Government Response

When concerns began to be raised, President Andres Manuel López Obrador during his morning address to the media and public said, “If [Jaime Bonilla] would have asked, I would have not approved it” (Jimenez, 2). According to López Obrador, Bonilla’s policy does not does not align with his political ideology;. It is important to note, however, that such topics are often not the types of issues brought before the president. Still, President López Obrador did weigh in given the gravity of the situation. For one, the president clarified that extending the governor’s term did not mean that Bonilla would seek reelection, as  he was not looking to violate the Constitution. Similarly, he stressed, this was certainly not implying that he would seek presidential reelection when his sexenio expires (2018-2024). López Obrador finished by saying that he would not intervene in the matter. It is up to the Judiciary’s Electoral Court to decide whether the term extension is valid in an impartial process that is not deserving of presidential influence, he said.

In response, the federal Congress approved a resolution asking state Congressmen to revert the approval

Congress of Baja California confirms term extension

State Congress confirms “Bonilla Law” after being called to a session to re-consider it.

of the “Bonilla Law.” Doing so would  respect the two-year term that citizens chose for governor-elect Bonilla. In return, the Congress of Baja California decided to have an extraordinary, closed-door session in Playas de Rosarito with only 14 Congressmen present. Instead of revesting their decision during this session; state Congressional representatives instead confirmed Bonilla’s term extension from two years to five years. They justified their decision by arguing that the economy of the state had to be preserved and that it was of outmost importance to prioritize state sovereignty in this matter.

After reconfirming “Bonilla Law,” federal legislators started a movement to take the matter to the national Supreme Court arguing that this extension is an act against the Constitution.

State Status

In the meantime, outgoing Governor Vega de Lamadrid announced that he would not declare the new reform in the State’s Official Newspaper out of respect for the citizen’s decision to vote for a two-year term. This statement is Governor Vega’s declaration of support for public opposition to the “Bonila Law” since the State’s Official Newspaper is the medium to publish State legislation.

The President of the PAN in Baja California also noted that it would have been possible for Bonilla to challenge the 2014 two-year term reform within the state legal frameworks if he followed the proper procedure 90 days before the election. Bonilla failed to meet the dates and conditions to submit his disagreement, however, thus removing that possible course of action.

Sources

“AMLO se habría pronunciado en contra de ampliación de mandato de Bonilla,” El Sol de México, July 12, 2019.

“Ciudadanos protestan contra ‘Ley Bonilla’ en BC; piden la intervención de la CNDH,” Milenio, July 15, 2019.

“El ‘agandalle’ de Bonilla en BC es parte de un pacto de protección al Gobierno de ‘Kiko’ Vega, acusan,” Sin Embargo, July 18, 2019.

“El pacto: ampliación de mandato a cambio del auditor,” El Economista, July 21, 2019.

“En 2021, BC elegirá a cinco alcaldes y 25 diputados,” La Jornada, July 9, 2019.

“Impunidad a ‘Kiko’ Vega, entrega de cargos públicos y ‘sobornos’ millonarios, a cambio de la ‘Ley Bonilla’,” Proceso, July 16, 2019.

“Jaime Bonilla gobernará cinco años en Baja California en medio de controversia,” San Diego Union Tribune, July 23, 2019.

“‘Kiko’ desvió 4 mil 600 mdp, ocultó 802 en deuda y pagó intereses sin razón,” Zeta Tijuana, March 4, 2019.

“Kiko Vega no publicará en Diario Oficial ampliación a periodo de Jaime Bonilla en BC,” Proceso, July 9, 2019.

“Mexico border state extends governor’s term amid criticism,” Washington Post, July 24, 2019.

“PAN inicia expulsión de diputados que ampliaron la gubernatura de Jaime Bonilla en Baja California,” Aristegui Noticias, July 11, 2019.

“Panistas regalan gubernatura de cinco años a Bonilla,” Zeta Tijuana, July 8, 2019.

 

 

 

 

Mexican Congress approves changes to bail system, drawing criticism

Results of Senate vote on December 6, 2018.

The Senate voted 91 to 18 in favor of amending Article 19 of the Mexican Constitution on December 6, 2018. Source: Noticias Acapulco News

12/10/18 (written by Kimberly Heinle) — The Mexican Senate approved reforms to Article 19 of the Mexican Constitution on December 6 that expands the crimes for which one can be held without bail. Individuals accused of misusing public funds for electoral means, sexually abusing minors, and forcibly disappearing persons, among others, may now be held without bail. The reform passed the Senate with 91 votes in favor and 18 against.

Despite the broad approval, the legislation faced some opposition within the Senate, namely from those outside of the ruling political party, MORENA (Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional). Only one MORENA Senator, Nestora Salgado (Guerrero), voted against the reform. Salgado agreed with concerns expressed by the United Nations that the reform could lead to human rights abuses, particularly that of Mexico’s vulnerable populations. While debating the law, Salgado took to Twitter to express her stance. She said, “We are debating the new law #FiscalíaEficiente / Morena does not want more violence nor more impunity. We are in the Fourth Transformation, acting with ethics and respecting the task with which the public has entrusted us.” For its part, the United Nations argued that the practice of being held without bail goes against “the humans rights of liberty, personal security, a fair trial, due process, and judicial guarantees.”

CNDH President

National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH) President Luís Raúl González Pérez. Source: La Jornada.

Luís Raúl González Pérez, president of Mexico’s National Commission of Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH), also criticized the reform. He called it a “regressive” initiative, arguing that Congress should have prioritized the training and professionalization of the justice system operators first. Otherwise, he added, any charge brought forth opens the door to the suspect being held indefinitely due to the inefficiencies of the system’s operators to provide swift justice.

Mexico’s court system has long been criticized for the lengthy times that the accused have been detained while their case is processed. The New York Times, for example, recently highlighted one individual who has been held without sentencing for over 16 years. One element of the Accusatorial Criminal Justice System (Sistema de Justicia Penal Acusatorio, SJPA) that seeks to mitigate situations like that is the limit it places on the amount of time a suspect can be detained before trial. This appears to now be at odds with the Senate’s recent approval.

Congress will evaluate the reform’s success and effectiveness in five years.

Sources:

Villegas, Paulina. “La justicia en México: dieciséis años en prisión, preventiva sin sentencia.” The New York Times. November 13, 2018.

Olivares Alonso, Emir. “Regresiva’, reforma para ampliar prisión preventiva: CNDH.” La Jornada. December 4, 2018. 

Ballinas, Víctor y Andrea Becerri. “Ampliar en el país la prisión preventativa, peligroso: ONU.” La Jornada. December 5, 2018. 

“Nestora Salgado, la única senadora de Morena que votó contra reforma de prisión preventiva.” SDP Noticias. December 6, 2018. 

Panel analyzes the 2018 Mexican Election

From left to right, moderator Dr. David A. Shirk and election panelists, Amb. Jeffrey Davidow, Dr. Victor Espinoza, Dr. Clare Seelke, and Dr. Emily Edmonds-Poli.

From left to right: moderator Dr. David A. Shirk and panelists, Amb. Jeffrey Davidow, Dr. Victor Espinoza, Dr. Clare Seelke, and Dr. Emily Edmonds-Poli.

10/03/2018 (written by Rita Kuckertz) – On Thursday, September 20, 2018  Justice in Mexico, in collaboration with the University of San Diego’s Master of Arts in International Relations (MAIR) program, hosted a panel of experts in order to discuss the significance of Mexico’s 2018 Presidential Election and what to expect from the incoming administration. Panelists included Clare Seelke of the Congressional Research Service; Dr. Victor Espinoza, Director of the Department of Public Administration at the Northern Border College (El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, COLEF); Amb. Jeffrey Davidow, former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico; and Dr. Emily Edmonds-Poli, faculty member in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of San Diego (USD). Dr. David A. Shirk, Director of Justice in Mexico and the Master of Arts in International Relations program, moderated the panel discussion.

A Watershed Election

Each guest speaker shared their expertise on the topic of Mexican politics in order to reflect on the nature and outcomes of Mexico’s July 1st vote. Given the exceptional nature of these elections, Dr. Shirk asked the panel of experts to especially consider the historic upset of traditional party alignments, the future of the U.S.-Mexico relationship, and the observed increase in political violence leading up to July, 2018.
Clare Seelke explained the triumph of Morena party candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador as the result of the public’s desire for radical political change. Seelke posited that other candidates running for the Mexican presidency, including Ricardo Anaya and José Antonio Meade, were essentially the same in the public eye. According to Seelke, the simple fact of López Obrador’s singularity amidst other traditional candidates may explain the “magnitude of the victory” at approximately 53% of the total vote.

The Future of U.S.-Mexico Relations

Reflecting on the implications of this outcome, Seelke questioned the future of U.S.-Mexico relations in the context of the shared drug and security crisis, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and Mexico’s energy reform enacted during President Enrique Peña Nieto’s tenure. While Mexico has collaborated with the United States on each of these dimensions under Peña Nieto’s term from 2012 to 2018, Seelke expressed uncertainty regarding future bilateral cooperation on these matters.

The Vote from Abroad

Dr. Victor Espinoza from COLEF spoke at length about the significance of votes from abroad during the 2018 election. He explained that since 2006, there have been a total of twenty-six presidential, senatorial, gubernatorial, and local elections that allowed voters to participate from abroad. However, increasingly, the percentage of eligible voters living outside of Mexico has declined since 2006. In the July elections, Dr. Espinoza noted that this figure was “infinitesimal,” at less than 1% turnout. With 97% of eligible abroad voters living in the United States, this raises questions about the specific factors that have so drastically reduced the participation of eligible Mexican voters there. However, as Dr. Espinoza explained, other trends characterizing the abroad vote in previous elections were reversed; while Mexican voters living outside the country typically opt for conservative candidates, in 2018, the vote leaned left with Morena’s López Obrador.

Radical Change or Return to Ruling Party Politics?

While a historic election, Former Ambassador to Mexico Jeffrey Davidow argued that, in general, we tend to overanalyze the election of politicians. According to Amb. Davidow, López Obrador won the election because the vast majority of Mexicans who registered to vote were disillusioned with traditional political parties. Concerned about high levels of corruption and what they perceived to be a “rigged” system, the Mexican public opted for a new approach to politics. As such, Amb. Davidow argued that voters did not necessarily stand behind all of López Obrador’s policies; they simply wanted to prevent traditional party candidates from entering office.

However, despite his candidacy representing a change in the political order to many Mexicans, Amb. Davidow argued that López Obrador’s policies are reminiscent of the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (Partido Revolucionario Insitutional, PRI) “ruling party” politics of the 1970s and 1980s. In his words, Amb. Davidow described López Obrador as “[tending] to view Mexican politics and policies not as a radical, but as someone who has never really accepted the modernization of Mexico.” Thus, while some have likened the incoming president to Hugo Chávez, Amb. Davidow argues that López Obrador hardly fits this characterization. Much like his PRI predecessors, López Obrador’s platform rests on the centralization of authority and the invigoration of state enterprises. As such, recent reforms, such as the historic energy and criminal procedure reforms, may see changes under the new administration. As Amb. Davidow put it, “Will it be devastating? We don’t know. But it will be different.”

Looking Ahead: Implications of an AMLO Presidency

Dr. Emily Edmonds-Poli, adding to Amb. Davidow’s analysis, reminded those in attendance that López Obrador was once a “staunch priista,” and much of his political behavior today is similar to that of thirty years ago. However, despite López Obrador’s steadfastness, Dr. Edmonds-Poli argued that his election was unprecedented in Mexico’s democratic era. As she explained, historically, those observing Mexican politics have argued that no candidate would ever win with a majority in the multi-party system, especially with a majority in Congress. Thus, the July 1 election was unprecedented in and of itself.

Given his election by majority, Dr. Edmonds-Poli contended that López Obrador does indeed have a mandate. However, what remains to be seen is whether the future president will be able to successfully fulfill this mandate. According to Dr. Edmonds-Poli, the stakes are certainly high; with the “groundswell of excitement” that accompanied the rise of Morena, López Obrador supporters (i.e., the majority of those who participated in the July 1 elections) are expectant of change. Should the future president remain in his 1970s political mold, this could severely damage not only his base of support and future legacy, but also, Mexico’s democracy itself. As Dr. Edmonds-Poli reminded viewers, recent public opinion polls found that only 49% of people expressed faith in democracy in Mexico. As such, given this fragile perception, any failure by the incoming government to fulfill its imperatives could inflict significant wounds on Mexican democracy. As with all matters discussed throughout the course of the panel, analysts will have to wait until December 1 to reevaluate Mexico’s course moving forward.

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