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/

Congress approves Miscelánea Penal reforms to bolster New Criminal Justice System

Excelsior_Mateo Reyes_Senate vote Miscelanea Penal_2016

The Mexican Senate approved the Miscelánea Penal reforms in support of the New Criminal Justice System on June 14, 2016. Photo: Mateo Reyes, El Universal.

7/5/16 (written by sramirez) — The Mexican Senate recently approved the Miscelánea Penal reforms to support the New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP), thus ultimately putting into full force the new system. The package of ten legal reforms were heard in an extraordinary session by the Senate on June 14, 2016, just four days prior to the constitutional deadline for Mexico to implement the NSJP nationwide, the overarching reform to the judicial system. The Mexican Chamber of Deputies approved the Miscelánea Penal reforms on April 28 with a vote of 403 in favor, 0 against, and 24 abstentions. The Mexican Senate, meanwhile, voted 109 in favor and 5 against.

The articles in particular were intended to reconcile disputes between the NSJP vis-à-vis Mexico’s National Code of Criminal Procedures (Código Nacional de Procedimientos Penales), the Federal Criminal Code (Código Penal Federal), the General Law of the National System of Public Security (Ley General del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública), the Federal Law for the Protection of Persons involved in the Criminal Process (Ley Federal para la Protección a Personas que Intervienen en el Procedimiento Penal), and the General Law for Prevention and Sanctioning of Crimes of Kidnapping (Ley General para Prevenir y Sancionar los Delitos en Materia de Secuestro), among others.

The approval of the Miscelánea Penal reforms are not only important because of the timing of their approval just days before the constitutional deadline for the NSJP, but also because of the legal protections the package of ten reforms provide. For one, the reforms provide protection to the due process procedures for individuals involved in legal processes. They also clarify the role of the Control Judge (Juez de Control), one of the several new judgeship positions created under the New Criminal Justice System, thus, among other purposes, dividing the control throughout a legal procedure between several positions to keep power in check. As Excélsior writes, the reforms also bolster rights of the accused by giving them the option of presenting evidence in their case directly to the judge, thus removing the Attorney General (Ministerio Público) from the process. The reforms also take an important step forward for the rights of the accused by declaring that an individual cannot be held in preventative prison (prisión preventiva) for more than two years, thus expediting the legal proceedings. In addition, the reforms require a more active legal counsel for the accused during legal proceedings, promote electronic and technological advances in the judicial system, heighten protections for victims 12 years old and younger, and more clearly define police responsibilities when arriving at a crime scene, among others.

The Mexican government applauded the Miscelánea Penal’s approval. Congressman Manuel Espino, for example, argued that the reforms would comprehensively strengthen the judicial system. “We have evolved,” he said following the Chamber of Deputies’ approval in April, “to give judicial elements to the Executive and Judicial branches in order to better advance justice. But this is not sufficient,” he cautioned, “given that Mexico ranks as one of the countries in Latin America with the worst levels of impunity.” The president of the Senate’s Human Rights Commission, Angélica de la Peña of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido Revolucionario Democrática, PRD), also recognized the reform’s efforts to protect the human rights of the accused within the judicial processes, among other changes.

With the Miscelánea Penal approved, the Mexican government celebrated the closing of the eight-year implementation phase of the NSJP on June 18, 2016 in Mexico City. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Supreme Court President Luis María Aguilar, the heads of the Mexican Senate and Chamber of Deputies, and all 32 state governors, among others, attended the ceremony. While the heads of government recognized the importance of the closing of the NSJP’s implementation period, they also acknowledged that the work was just beginning, echoing Congressman Espino’s caution that Mexico still has significant work to do.

Sources:

Notimex. “Diputados avalan en lo general Miscelánea Penal.’” Excélsior. April 28, 2016.

Cámara de Diputados. “Boletín N° 1487: Aprueban diputados, con modificaciones, dictamen a la minuta que reforma la Miscelánea Penal.” LXlll Legislatura. April 28, 2016.

Morales, Alberto and Juan Arvizu. “Aprueba Senado Miscelánea Penal y la regresa a Diputados.” El Universal. June 14, 2016.

Robles de la Rosa, Leticia et al. “Habrá prisión preventiva, solo dos años; aprueban Miscelánea Penal.” Excélsior. June 15, 2016.

Criticisms surface against President Peña Nieto’s proposals for new reforms

police, mexico

Mexico’s Federal Police.

12/11/14 (written by sramirez) — President Enrique Peña Nieto announced on Thursday, November 27 his proposal for anew security planthat would include dissolving municipal police forces and placing them under state police, among other reforms that stimulate economic development. Although rallying support from the President’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) and other prominent government officials, overwhelming criticisms of the proposal arose. President Peña Nieto himself admitted that the route the government chose to transform the security and justice system would be “challenging” to complete, reports CNN México, and it appears many other Mexican voices agree.

Of the criticisms received, many of President Peña Nieto’s suggested that the measures have already been debated or are currently being debated in Congress. However, strong juxtaposing opinions have prohibited some reforms from being passed as legislation, and eight of these 14 measures do require Congress’ endorsement. The measures have also generated negative reactions from civil organizations that look at the proposals with skepticism. Organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, for example, labeled the proposal as superficial “cosmetic changes” that will ultimately be insufficient in avoiding human rights abuses such as those that transpired in the events of Ayotzinapa in September.

Public figures such as Father Alejandro Solalinde, who is a defender of human rights and immigrants and who declared that he had information that the 43-normalista students disappeared in Ayotzinapa had been assassinated, also criticized the proposal on his Twitter account. “The captain is still fixated on navigating a ship that the people are tired of rowing. #GlobalActionForMexico,” reports CNN México. Carlos Navarrete, the national leader of the opposition party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido del la Revolución Democrática, PRD), stated that the reforms lacked necessary components, and that his party would help in the discussion of them. “The measures announced today through EPN are a mandatory first response to the situation that the country is in. They aren’t complete, but they are on the right track,” said Navarrete, quoted in CNN México. “They still need to be completed, particularized, extended, and defined on how and when. There are subjects that aren’t present and others that fall short. We will soon evaluate the 10 points in detail and make suggested proposals. We will participate in Congress.” More critical of the proposals, the Senate leader of the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN) has signaled that the proposals do not resolve the grave problems of justice that Mexico suffers. “It should not have remained a meditative and electoral message. There is no change in the Cabinet, it has not called upon any civil servant to take responsibility,” said Jorge Luis Preciado, quoted in El País.

As to the economic reforms, the enterprise sector received Peña Nieto’s proposals with some reservations. The President of Mexico’s Employer Association (Consejo Coordinador Empresarial), Gerardo Gutiérrez Candiani, while agreeing that the states in which President Peña Nieto focused on—namely Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Michoacán—are important, believes that rest of the Mexican states also in need of an economic boost to better their security to guarantee that investments are safe, writes El País.

Furthermore, political analysts remain skeptical as to how dissolving municipal police and creating a unified state police will eliminate inefficiency and the “entangled relationship in between corrupt authorities and Mexican cartels,” questions BBC Mundo, which also notes that the actual procedure of unification is also rather convoluted. In the same article, analyst Alejandro Hope added “It is not clear if they are talking about eliminating 1.800 municipal police or passing them over to state police. It is not the same.” Further criticisms arise over the constitutional change that would allow the federal government and the executive branch the power to dissolve local governments accused of infiltration by drug trafficking. Also, some argue that this centralization of power that the federal and executive branches would be given could ultimately be more harmful than helpful, writes BBC Mundo.

The Peña Nieto administration hopes that this plan will mark the start of a new chapter befalling the crisis of the 43 missing students in Iguala. “After Iguala, Mexico must change,” President Peña Nieto admitted. Supporters of the reforms state that the proposals will help administrations to overcome problems with police inefficiency and justice overall. However, those in opposition of the reforms believe that the proposals do not reach the center of the problem of corruption and impunity in Mexico.

Sources:

“Las reacciones a las reformas de seguridad anunciadas por Peña Nieto.” CNN México. November 27, 2014.

“8 de las 14 nuevas medidas de Peña en seguridad, sujetas al Congreso.” CNN México. November 28, 2014.

“Peña admite que implementar su plan de seguridad será tardado y difícil.” CNN México. November 28, 2014.

Corona, Sonia. “El plan de Peña Nieto contra la impunidad desata críticas.” El País. November 29, 2014.

“President Peña Nieto proposes unified state police commands, among other reforms.” Justice in Mexico. November 30, 2014.

Grant, Will, “México: Puede reforma de Peña Nieto superar la crisis de Iguala?” BBC Mundo. December 1, 2014.