2019 Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico Report

 

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04/30/19- Justice in Mexico, a research-based program at the University of San Diego, released its 2019 report on Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico, co-authored by Laura Calderón, Kimberly Heinle, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk. This report analyzes the latest available data to broadly assess the current state of violence, organized crime, and human rights in Mexico. The tenth edition in a series is published under a new title to reflect the gradual shift that has occurred to the restructuring illicit drug trade and the rise of new organized crime groups.

In 2018, Mexico saw record violence with 28,816 homicide cases and 33,341 victims reported by the Mexican National Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP). This reflects the continued augmentation in violent crime in Mexico for more than a decade with a notable increase in the last few years. The homicide rate has dramatically escalated from 16.9 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015 as reported to UNODC to 27.3 per 100,000 in 2018 based on SNSP figures. In this and past reports, the authors attribute much of the violence, between a third to a half, to the presence of organized crime groups, particularly drug trafficking organizations.

According to the report, violence has become more pervasive throughout the country but remains highly concentrated in a few specific areas, especially in the major drug trafficking zones located in the northwest and the Pacific Coast. The top ten most violent municipalities in Mexico accounted for 33.6% of all homicides in Mexico in 2018, with 24.7% concentrated in the top five: Tijuana (2,246), Ciudad Juárez (1,004), Acapulco (839), Cancún-Benito Juárez (537), Culiacán (500).

 

 

Tijuana’s rate of 115 homicide cases per 100,000 inhabitants ranks second to Acapulco’s rate of 127 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. According to Baja California State’s Secretary of Public Security (SSP) reporting, Tijuana saw a significant increase in 2018 of 41% victims up from 2017.

The authors have found that Mexican organized crime groups have become more fragmented, decentralized, and diversified in their activities. Notably, violence in the Mexican state of Guanajuato appears to have risen due to the increased presence of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel and an increase in the prevalence of petroleum theft (huichicol). At least nine municipalities in Guanajuato had a murder rate of more than 100 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

Record violence in Mexico has disproportionally affected certain populations (e.g. politicians, journalist, and men). In 2018, a major election year, there were 37 victims among mayors, mayoral candidates, and former-mayors. These numbers are up slightly from 35 cases in 2017 but demonstrate a significant increase from 14 victims in 2015 and 6 victims in 2016. A 2018 Justice in Mexico study found that in recent years Mexican journalists were at least three times more likely to be murdered than the general population, while mayors were at least nine times more likely. There were 16 journalists and media workers that were killed in 2018. Additionally, the report finds that men are 8.3 times more likely to be homicide victims than women, with 28,522 male homicide victims.

All told, the authors of the report estimate that over 150,000 people were murdered during the six years of the Peña Nieto administration, the most homicides during any presidential term in recent Mexican history. The current Lopez Obrador administration has proposed a new security agenda centered on citizen security, changes in federal law enforcement, and efforts to minimize tensions in U.S.-Mexican relations. Two of the most important measures that the new government has put forward are the creation of a autonomous federal prosecutor and a national guard.

 

 

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Responses to the Critics of the Judicial Reform in Mexico

05/21/18 (written by Lucy La Rosa)- Amid unprecedented levels of violence, the criminal justice reforms in Mexico are facing renewed criticism from political opponents. The oral adversarial system, fully implemented across the nation by 2016, remodeled the country’s trial system in an effort to reduce corruption, protect the rights of the accused and overall, strengthen the capacity of rule of law in Mexico.  However, as of late, opponents have re-articulated their disapproval, accusing the adversarial system as the cause and culprit of rising violence levels.

Miguel Angel Mancera, critic of the oral adversarial system. Source: Saúl Ruiz

Miguel Angel Mancera, critic of the oral adversarial system. Source: Saúl Ruiz

Said criticisms echo statements such as those by Miguel Angel Mancera, the former Mayor of Mexico City and current Senate candidate, who remarked last year: “There is an increase [in violence] that coincides with the large number of people who used to be imprisoned, this is a factor that has to be analyzed (El País).” According to Octavio Rodriguez Ferreira and David Shirk from the University of San Diego, even the sitting Mexican administration has principally set aside their support of the reform, which was originally one of the touted accomplishments of the incumbent President Enrique Peña Nieto. The Technical Secretariat for Judicial Reform Implementation, which provided institutional support for the reform, was abandoned only one year after the implementation of the reform and since, many political representatives have lobbied for the old, mixed-inquisitorial system that fostered the widespread use of pre-trial detention.

However, proponents of the criminal justice system reform, continue to argue that these reforms are essential to strengthening functional democracy in Mexico and that a reversal of the reforms would merely led to further infringement on the rights of the accused. The reformed system intends to promote a greater standard of accountability for judicial system operators in their investigations and prosecutions and emphasized a strong legal defense for the accused. Moreover, as Rodriguez Ferreira and Shirk point out, it is illogical to assume that the criminal justice system can entirely resolve issues of crime and violence, which are caused by “underlying social and economic conditions” which are not necessarily remediated by judicial structure.

In an article published last year by Animal Politico- an independent and pioneering Mexican news source largely focused on increasing transparency and access to reliable information- remains relevant today. The article, “The Accusatorial System and Violence: What the Data Says,” offers a detailed, data-focused response to naysayers and reiterates the need for the oral, adversarial model. Using data and information from the Executive Secretary of National System of Public Security (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP), the authors argue that opponents’ assertions are based on skewed and inaccurate data manipulations.

The article first points to the fact that the escalation in violence precedes the implementation of the reform. As a matter of fact, the uptick in violence began in late 2014, almost two years before the full effects of the criminal justice transition. The authors also emphasize that the majority of the rise in violence has been concentrated in a select number of states, specifically states that had already experienced high levels on violence during the Calderon administration’s war on drugs. Yet, not all states who previously recorded high homicide rates are re-experienced growing violence. Hence, a blanket accusation incriminating the criminal justice reform cannot reliably account for varying levels of violence across Mexican states. Finally, the article concludes by illustrating that there is no verifiable indication that petty criminals released on their own recognizance go on to commit violent crimes and contribute to increased homicide levels.

 

A Lack of Capacity

Mexican Supreme Court of Justice. Source: Open Society

Mexican Supreme Court of Justice. Source: Open Society

Regardless of the lack of empirical evidence, opponents continue to decry the criminal justice shift that strengthened the standard of innocence until proven guilty, which under the old system had been negligible at best. These political adversaries particularly highlight the number of criminals released or at liberty due to a lack of sufficient evidence, arguing that these individuals contribute to rising levels of violent crime. This argument, however, is a tipping point for advocates of the criminal justice system who caution against hasty conclusions.

“The [adversarial] system is not the problem; the problem is in the lack of capacity among institutions,” responded Karen Silva from the Center of Investigation for Development (Centro de Investigación para el Desarrollo, CIDAC), one of the leading institutions in assessing the performance of the new judicial system (El País). She continued, emphasizing the irrationality of opponents’ logic, which does not take into account that the majority of those released from prison populations were detained for petty, non-violent crimes. Rather, she argues, that the rise in violence can be attributed to a lack of knowledge and skill among criminal justice operators, including police, prosecutors, public defenders and judges, that perpetuates high levels of impunity. In turn, impunity reinforces a precedent that violent crimes are wont to go unpunished and uninvestigated and deteriorates citizens’ faith in the judicial sector.

Viridiana Rios, a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson’s Mexico Institute, expands on the low institutional capacity of judicial operators and institutions, especially in the face of a progressively fragmented organized crime network. As organized crime groups fragmented and scattered geographically following the militarized “king-pin” strategy, judicial and police institutions failed to adjust correspondingly. Rios further argues that military units should stand down from providing security that should be done at a local police level because their presence only further limits police capacity and resources. Instead, she advocates more localized policing that can better address small-time, street-level drug trafficking and measures to install greater accountability among judicial institutions. In sum, she concludes, “What Mexico needs is a local and targeted strategy to fight crime that is more fractured (Wilson Center).”

Regardless of the lack of causality between judicial reform and rising violence in Mexico, the country is experiencing a lack of capacity among judicial institutions. Justice in Mexico’s research initiative, Justiciabarómetro, was established to identify areas for improvement within the justice system by evaluating the professional development of judicial actors, and their perceptions on the functioning of the judicial system. The most recent 2016 survey results, which covered 11 Mexican states, identified several persisting challenges within the judicial system including: a lack of training in oral litigation and a persisting belief that authorities can operate above the law in the pursuit of punishing alleged criminals. However, the survey also revealed some positive changes in comparison to the first Justiciabarómetro report in 2010. For example, about 80% of the survey participants believe that the judicial reform will reduce corruption and about 95% prefer oral, adversarial trial procedures to the mixed-inquisitorial system.

The overall intention of the Justiciabarómetro project is to provide baseline measures for the evaluation of the Mexican judicial system and a jumping-off point for Mexican policymakers in their capacity-building efforts. A visual factsheet of the 2016 Justiciabarómetro study can be found here.

Rather than regressing backwards to an old judicial system that often undermined the rights of the accused, Mexico should focus on strategic capacity building among judicial operators, including police, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges. Without institutional support and trainings, judicial operators do not have the tools or knowledge to fully protect rule of law in Mexico.

 

Sources

Cortes, Nancy G., Octavio Rodriguez Ferreira and David A. Shirk. “2016 Justiciabarómetro-Perspectives on Mexico’s Criminal Justice System: What Do Its Operators Think?.” Justice in Mexico. April 2017. https://justiceinmexico.org/justicebarometer-2016/

Gallegos, Zorayda. “Las autoridades mexicanas, incapaces de adaptarse al Nuevo Sistema de justicia.” El País. April 11, 2017. https://elpais.com/internacional/2017/04/07/mexico/1491521857_742926.html

Becerril, Andrea. “Un descaro, culpar del aumento de la violencia al Sistema penal acusatorio.” La Jornada. July 8, 2017. http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2017/07/08/politica/009n2pol

Merino, José and Carolina Torreblanca. “Sistema acusatorio y violencia: lo que dicen los datos.” Animal Politico. July 12, 2017. https://www.animalpolitico.com/blogueros-salir-de-dudas/2017/07/12/sistema-acusatorio-y-violencia-lo-que-dicen-los-datos/

Rodriguez, Octavio and David Shirk. “Mexico’s badly needed justice reforms are in peril.” The San Diego Union Tribune. August 11, 2017. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/commentary/sd-mexico-justice-utak-commentary-20170811-story.html

Rios, Viridiana. “New Crime, Old Solutions: The Reason Why Mexico is Violent Again.” The Wilson Center. February 4, 2018. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/new-crime-old-solutions-the-reason-why-mexico-violent-again

“Sistema Penal acusatorio aumentó la violencia en México: Especialista.” Letra Roja. March 8, 2018. http://www.letraroja.com/sistema-penal-acusatorio-causa-aumento-la-violencia-en-mexico-especialista/

“Inadmisible, Nivel de violencia en México: SEGOB.” El Manaña, por Agencia Reforma. April 27, 2018. https://www.elmanana.com/inadmisible-nivel-violencia-mexico-segob-violencia-mexico-segob/4390571