Justice in Mexico Director Provides Testimony on Capitol Hill

Dr. David Shirk, Maureen Meyer, and Richard Miles (from left to right) spoke on January 15, 2020 at the Committee on Foreign Affairs’ subcommittee hearing, Strengthening Security and the Rule of Law in Mexico. Photo: YouTube.

01/27/20 (written by kheinle) — Justice in Mexico Director Dr. David Shirk recently provided expert testimony on Capitol Hill. On January 15, 2020, the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade, which falls under the House of Representative’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, held a hearing on “Strengthening Security and the Rule of Law in Mexico.” Dr. Shirk spoke alongside two other distinguished experts in the field, Maureen Meyer with the Washington Office on Latina America and Richard Miles with the Center for Strategic & International Studies. The written remarks submitted for the hearing can be found on the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee Repository site.

The Resurgence of Violence

Dr. Shirk’s presentation looked specifically at the public security in Mexico. He began by contextualizing today’s historic levels of violence, which have been on the rise the past decade despite a brief lull from 2012 to 2014. While final figures are still being tabulated by the Mexican government’s National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP), the number of homicide cases reported for 2019 increased to a record of more than 34,000 victims, up from the previous peaks of 33,341 victims in 2018 and the 28,734 in 2017.

There have also been several high-profile displays of extreme violence this past year, noted Dr. Shirk, including the November 4, 2019 killing of nine women and children with dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship in two ambush attacks by an organized crime group in Northern Mexico. The botched catch and eventual release of Ovidio Guzman, son of notorious Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, in October in Culiacán was also highlighted, which showcased the serious levels of corruption ingrained in Mexico. Thirteen individuals were also killed during that incident. Read more about the record-breaking levels of violence in 2019 here.

Contributing Factors

The presentation then turned to outlining several systemic factors that contribute to this violence. Dr. Shirk first noted the impact of market shifts and innovations in the production of illicit drugs. Changes in the market for illicit psychotropic drugs (including the proliferation of synthetic drugs, like methamphetamine and fentanyl), have led to a restructuring of Mexican drug production and trafficking networks, resulting in newfound competition and violence.

Second, he pointed to the unintended consequences of counter-drug measures. The policy targeting high level leaders for arrest, known as the “kingpin strategy,” has long been questioned by security experts. It often fails to dismantle the mid-level organizational structures and ancillary support that allow organized crime groups to thrive in Mexico. This leads to newfound competition and violence.

Third, one must consider the changing strategic dynamics among organized crime groups, he said. The last few years have seen greater competition, splintering, and diversification among Mexico’s organized crime groups seeking profitability through extortion, kidnapping, robbery (including fuel theft), and local drug dealing.

Finally, Dr. Shirk called attention to the impact of the changes in Mexican government and policy, which has had disruptive effects on existing organized crime and corruption networks, thus leading to greater violence. He specifically highlighted President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s election in December 2018, as well as the unprecedented number of Mexican federal, state, and local offices that also turned over that year. In addition, the president had promised a new, more benevolent approach than his predecessor’s militarized security strategy, dubbing his plan “hugs, not gunfights” (“abrazos, no balazos”). With President López Obrador’s first full year in office as the most violent on record, the effectiveness of the government’s security strategy has certainly been called into question. 

Dr. Shirk concluded his testimony with ten key recommendations for U.S. authorities:

  1. Promote better monitoring and analysis of Mexico’s rule of law challenges;
  2. Assist Mexico in enhancing police and prosecutorial agencies;
  3. Aid Mexico’s fight against corruption;
  4. Strengthen controls to prevent illegal exports of firearms to Mexico;
  5. Establish better controls on money laundering and DTO financial operations;
  6. Strengthen cross-border cooperation and liaison mechanisms;
  7. Prevent blowback from U.S. deportations of criminal aliens;
  8. Allow Mexico to focus its scarce law enforcement resources on domestic security;
  9. Develop explicit performance measures for the fight against organized crime; and
  10. Evaluate alternatives to current counter-drug policy.

Other Observations and Recommendations

Maureen Meyer, WOLA’s Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights, also shared her expertise testimony on security and rule of law in Mexico. Her presentation focused more on justice in Mexico, specifically looking at the country’s “weak rule of law.” She covered topics including human rights violations, the National Guard, criminal justice reforms, the autonomy of justice institutions, government collusion, and the role of U.S. engagement in Mexico.

Richard Miles, the Senior Associate of the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ Americas Program, spoke about the 2008 Merida Initiative – the shared agreement between the United States and Mexico that seeks to decrease violence and curtail drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico. Although the Merida Initiative has failed to reach its goal, he argued, it has certainly improved bilateral security cooperation. This in turn has led to further commitments from the U.S. government to continue supporting Mexico’s security and stability – commitments that he recommended need to be dutifully “tracked and measured.”

Conclusion

The three expert testimony witnesses approached the question of strengthening security and rule of law in Mexico from their own lens: Dr. Shirk emphasizing patterns of crime and violence, Maureen Meyer focusing on the weak rule of law and judicial angle, and Richard Miles noting the need to evaluate and reinvigorate efforts under Merida Initiative. Yet there was strong consensus in the hearing on the idea of “shared responsibility” between the United States and Mexico. There was also general agreement that recent discussion about designating Mexican organized crime groups as “terrorist” organizations were misplaced and could lead to an unnecessary diversion of funds from current U.S. counter-terror efforts. When asked why the U.S. government should not deploy all available tools to fight the cartels, Dr. Shirk noted that it is unwise to try to fix a cell phone with a hammer.

Moreover, there was general agreement that the approaches taken by the U.S. and Mexican governments to reducing violence in Mexico have not worked. This includes the failure to address systemic challenges like southbound firearms trafficking coupled with high demand for illicit drugs (United States), the kingpin strategy and “hugs, not gunfights” strategy (Mexico), and the Merida Initiative (bilateral). Given Mexico’s deadliest year on record in 2019, it is clear there is a long road ahead to strengthening the country’s security and rule of law.

Sources:

“Homicides and Disappearances Reach New Levels in 2019.” Justice in Mexico. January 14, 2020.

Meyer, Maureen. Testimony for the House Committee on Foreign Affair’s Sub-Committee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade hearing on “Strengthening Security and the Rule of Law in Mexico.” U.S. House of Representatives. January 15, 2020.

Miles, Richard. Testimony for the House Committee on Foreign Affair’s Sub-Committee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade hearing on “Strengthening Security and the Rule of Law in Mexico.” U.S. House of Representatives. January 15, 2020.

Shirk, David A. Testimony for the House Committee on Foreign Affair’s Sub-Committee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade hearing on “Strengthening Security and the Rule of Law in Mexico.” U.S. House of Representatives. January 15, 2020.

Website. Committee Repository. “Hearing: Strengthening Security and the Rule of Law in Mexico.” U.S. House of Representatives. Last updated January 15, 2020.

Washington Office on Latin America. “WOLA’s Maureen Meyer Testifies to House Subcommittee of Rule of Law, Security in Mexico.” YouTube. January 16, 2020.

Second OASIS workshop of 2018 is completed at UANL

03/09/18 (written by Genesis Lopez) – Justice in Mexico’s Oral Adversarial Skill Building Immersion Seminar (OASIS) program held its second oral advocacy workshop of 2018 from February 23- March 3, 2018, working collaboratively with the Department of Law and Criminology (Facultad de Derecho y Criminología, FACDYC) at the Autonomous University of Nuevo León (Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, UANL) in Monterrey. The OASIS program, funded through the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, emphasizes oral litigation skills, which are provided through these workshops.

The extensive two-week workshop provided critical instruction regarding the oral techniques central to Mexico’s Criminal Justice System. Approximately 85 participants, law professors and students from UANL, attended the workshop. OASIS Training Director Janice Deaton led a diverse team of instructors from Colombia, Mexico, and the United States. These instructors included: Christopher Pastrana, Bertha Alcalde, Anthony Da Silva, Jorge Gutiérrez, Michael Mandig, Albert Amado, Adriana Blanco, Carlos Varela and Iker Ibarreche.

The instructors addressed seven major topics:

Theory of the case: The strategy behind the decisions and actions a lawyer takes. This assists the participants in making strategic decisions, which help solve a case.

Opening Statements: Understanding the importance opening statements have in regards to the trial, specifically the jury. Participants learned how to prepare and present an effective opening statement.

Interrogation: Establishing the credibility of the witnesses, laying out the scene, and introducing the events that took place in relationship to the case.

Cross-Interrogation: Questioning of a witness where the opposing party looks to discredit their testimony and credibility.

Introducing Evidence: Determining whether or not the evidence one wishes to present is real, testimonial, demonstrative, or documental.

Use of Depositions: Understanding how to utilize previous statements, especially to refresh a witness’s memory during trial.

Closing Statements: Reiterating the important arguments, theories, and evidence that are relevant to the case. Participants learned how to structure their closing arguments and strengthen their communication skills.

At the conclusion of the workshop, the participants attended a plenary session on ethics and applied the skills they learned in a mock trial. The simulation was designed specifically for the OASIS program and gave the participants the opportunity to showcase what they earned over the course of two weeks. They adopted specific roles and the instructors acted as judges, overseeing the trial and providing feedback.

At the closing ceremony, the FACDYC Director, Oscar Lugo Serrato spoke with Justice in Mexico’s Program Coordinator, Octavio Rodriguez and discussed the importance of practical trainings like the OASIS workshop. They also discussed the significance of bi-national relationships between universities. The next OASIS workshop will take place at the (Universidad de Guadalajara, UdeG), ­­­from April 13 –April 21, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Justice in Mexico Director Dr. David A. Shirk presents the winners of the Justiciabarómetro Infographic and Essay Contest

Participants of the Justiciabarometro Infographic and Essay Contest

Participants of the Justiciabarómetro Infographic and Essay Contest

12/07/17 (written by Ashley Ahrens-Víquez)- On December 5, 2017, Justice in Mexico Director Dr. David A. Shirk presented the winners of the Justiciabarómetro Infographic and Essay Contest to students at the Autonomous University of Baja California (Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, UABC).

The contest was conducted by Justice in Mexico in  collaboration with UABC professor, Zulia Orozco. Dr. Shirk presented the findings of the 2016 Justiciabarómetro to the students in October 2017, giving them two months to prepare their submissions.

Justice in Mexico organized the contest to encourage students to analyze the report and to generate a submission based on the information that interested them the most. It provided the students with an opportunity to utilize practical methodological skills such as data analysis and graphic generation.

The students had the option to submit either an infographic or essay. The infographics were judged based on the clarity of the message, an innovative interpretation and visual impact. A prize winning essay had to analyze the Justiciabarómetro data in a sophisticated manner, drawing some conclusion based on the research. There were more than 100 submissions to the contest. Students’ submissions were notably centered on data pertaining to gender, corruption and crime.

The two winners of the infographic contest are Edna Adriana Palomera Hernández and Yatziri Jannette Lugo Félix. Runners up include Dalia Arreola Carabao, Tania Abigail Suárez Arvizu, Karen Estefani Reyes Olivera, Carmen Saray Hernández Ortíz.
The winner of the essay contest is Itzel Rivera Villanueva. Second place was awarded to Esmeralda Hernández Cervantes and the third place winner is Jessica Guadalupe Cobian Cortez.

The winning infographics can be found below. To view all of the submissions, visit our Facebook page (here).

Edna Adriana Palomera Hernández

Edna Adriana Palomera Hernández

Yatziri Janette Lugo Félix

Yatziri Janette Lugo Félix

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Justice in Mexico presents findings from 2017 Justiciabarómetro report to a Mexican delegation

11/22/17- On Thursday, November 16, 2017 the Justice in Mexico program welcomed a delegation of Mexican law professors and experts sponsored by the U.S. State Department and hosted by the San Diego Diplomacy Council and offered a presentation of the results of the 2016 Justiciabarómetro survey of Mexican judges, prosecutors, and public defenders.

The State Department-sponsored visit was organized by the San Diego Diplomacy Council through the Global Ties network. The delegation comprised a group of twenty law professors, judges, researchers, and administrators from several institutions located in ten different states throughout the country, including law schools and graduate degree programs.

On behalf of the Justice in Mexico program, David Shirk and Octavio Rodriguez presented a  PowerPoint presentation of the results of the 2016 Justiciabarómetro survey of Mexican judges, prosecutors, and public defenders. A full list of the members of the delegation is provided below.

The Justiciabarómeter is an innovative diagnostic tool for analyzing the criminal justice sector through the eyes of the professionals who serve in key positions within the system, including judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and police.

Members of the delegation were especially interested in the research methodology and raised several questions about the findings, which generally noted the increased support among judicial sector professionals for the country’s transition to a new oral, adversarial model of criminal procedure in 2016.

Universidad Autonomá de Baja California (UABC) delegate Jorge Díaz Zazueta, who collaborated with Justice in Mexico for the implementation of the survey, noted that the Justiciabarómetro provides invaluable policy insights on the Mexican criminal justice system. Specifically, he noted, the survey results were useful in identifying areas of need for further training of judicial sector personnel in the state of Baja California.

The delegates also made several suggestions for future iterations of the survey, including the possibility of partnering with their home institutions to replicate the survey with other criminal justice sector operators in 2020. Overall, the visit provided an important opportunity to share the results of the study and allow a fruitful exchange of ideas among experts working to improve Mexico’s criminal justice system.

Justice in Mexico Celebrates 15th Anniversary

8/23/17- (written by Lucy Clement La Rosa) On August 11th, Justice in Mexico commemorated 15 years of promoting bilateral cooperation between Mexico and the United States, specifically related to rule of law challenges in Mexico. The significant milestone was celebrated with a daytime seminar of several panel discussions at the University of San Diego, followed by an evening reception and award dinner.

The seminar, Justice in Mexico: An Agenda for the Future, was attended by various professional and academic individuals involved in U.S.- Mexico bilateral relations, including the UNAM Law School (Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) participants of Justice in Mexico’s third 2017 OASIS study trip. Several distinguished guests from Mexico attended the discussion sessions, including: Minister Amando Vázquez, Magistrate Alejandro Gonzalez, Magistrate Luciano Angulo, and Dr. Maria Candelaria Pelayo.

Justice in Mexico commemorated their 15th anniversary with a seminar of several panel discussions focused on rule of law challenges in Mexico.

Justice in Mexico commemorated their 15th anniversary with a seminar of several panel discussions focused on rule of law challenges in Mexico.

The panel contributors included: Dr. David Shirk, Dr. Wayne Cornelius, Dr. Max Langer, Dr. Hugo Concha, Mag. Gonzalez, Dr. Pelayo, Dr. Octavio Rodríguez, Lic. Alex Ríos, Dra. Layda Negrete, Mstra. Janice Deaton, Mstro. David Fernández, and Mstra. Susana Peña. The speakers discussed a variety of topics related to the Justice in Mexico agenda, including: the accomplishments and challenges of Justice in Mexico and the initiatives needed to strengthen judicial reforms, combat corruption, and improve legal education in Mexico.

In particular, Dr. Cornelius spoke at length of Justice in Mexico’s achievement in creating the Justiciabarómetro, a database focused on gauging the level of criminal justice reform and the perspectives of judicial officials within Mexico. Although Dr. Cornelius acknowledged that serious challenges remain in Mexico, he pointed out that the Justiciabarómetro 2016 dataset indicates an encouraging increase of favorability for the recent criminal justice reforms. Mexican magistrate of Michoacán state, Alejandro González Gómez, expounded on the remaining challenges, such as the lack of training for judges, magistrates, etc. and the low salary of Mexico’s police officers. Additionally, Maestro David Fernández Mena emphasized the important role of Mexican education institutions in strengthening criminal justice reform.

Following the seminar sessions, the participants were invited to an evening reception, followed by an award dinner. The following individuals were honored for their efforts in promoting democracy and rule of law in Mexico: Edna Jaime (founder and Director General of México Evalúa), José Ramón Cossío Díaz (Minister of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation and professor at the Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology, ITAM), Dr. Miguel Basáñez Ebergenyi (ex-Mexican ambassador to the United States and professor at Tufts University), Dr. Denise Dresser (political analyst and professor at ITAM), and Dr. Cornelius (expert on immigration and Mexican politics).

The awarded individuals, sans Dr. Dresser who was unable to attend, led an informative dialogue moderated by Dr. Shirk. The discussion focused on Mexico’s recent establishment of an oral, adversarial criminal justice system and the dual role of judicial operators and legal education in ensuring positive progress. Namely, the panelists discussed the strategies and resources necessary to ensure the success of this judicial transition, as well as expounding on Justice in Mexico’s impact in providing trainings and workshops for judicial operatives.

Justice in Mexico extends the sincerest gratitude to their sponsors and donors for their contributions and support in making the anniversary event possible. The commemoration of Justice in Mexico’s accomplishments and the informative contribution of each individual who dedicated their time to the event inspire Justice in Mexico to continue strengthening and improving rule of law in Mexico.