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.

Supreme Court determines Law on Internal Security unconstitutional

Supreme Court building

Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation. Source: Wikipedia.

12/30/18 (written by kheinle) — Mexico’s Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional, SCJN) made a significant decision in November regarding the proposed Law on Internal Security (Ley de Seguridad Interior). The law was meant to address Mexico’s notoriously high levels of crime and violence. It sought to expand safety on the domestic front, minimize threats towards internal security, and increase the role of the military in domestic affairs. The latter includes the military’s capacity to gather intelligence and evidence in proposed crimes.

On November 15, 2018, however, the Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional, arguing that it went against both the Mexican Constitution and international treaties to which Mexico is a signatory. The Court also said that Mexico’s Congress, which had approved the law, should not legislate on matters of internal security. When the draft law was published in December 2017, Congress was controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), the party of then-President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). On December 1, 2018, the new government took over under now-President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, MORENA) took office.

Critics of the Law on Internal Security

Despite its Congressional support, the law received pushback from civilian institutions and human rights activists. The Washington Office on Latin America shared its concern in a communication just weeks before the Supreme Court’s decision. WOLA noted the control it would have given the military in overseeing civilian authorities in domestic affairs, as well as its expanded role in investigations. “Paired with the absence of effective controls and accountability mechanisms to oversee those actions, this will limit the power of authorities within the civilian justice system, resulting in impunity,” WOLA stated. The law also drew ire from the public. A Change.org petition was submitted a month after the draft law was initially published with over 467,000 signatures urging the Mexican government to reject the law. WOLA summarized that the five main reasons for the public’s rebuke included:

  1. “Lack of accountability mechanisms and civilian oversight;
  2. Expanding the military’s jurisdiction over civilians;
  3. Insufficient regulation of the military’s use of force;
  4. Lack of transparency in how the Internal Security Law will be implemented; [and]
  5. The Internal Security Law disincentives police reform.”

The high court’s decision is one that Esmeralda Arosema de Troitiño, the spokesperson for Mexico’s Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, CIDH), argued set a precedent for President López Obrador’s incoming government. The Court’s decision “constitutes an indispensable judicial precedent as the base for the new government to present a concrete plan to gradually draw down military in public security matters…,” she said.

The developments with the Law on Internal Security paralleled President López Obrador’s ongoing push for a National Guard, which has also raised concerns about human rights and public safety.

Sources:

Cámara de Deputados del H. Congreso de la Unión. “Ley de Seguridad Interior.” Diario Oficial de la Federación. December 21, 2017. PDF.

Suarez-Enriquez, Ximena and Maureen Meyer. “Multiple Sectors Push Back Against the Implementation of Mexico’s New Internal Security Law.” WOLA. January 25, 2018.

Joint Statement. “International Observatory on Mexico: The Decision of Mexico’s Supreme Court on the Internal Security Law Will Set a Fundamental Precedent on Militarization in the Country and in the Region.” Washington Office on Latin America. November 2, 2018. 

Ferri, Pablo. “La justicia mexicana tumba la ley del gobierno saliente que perpetúa el papel policial del Ejército.” El País. November 16, 2018.

Roldán, Mariluz. “CIDH celebra invalidación de Ley de Seguridad Interior.” El Universal. November 26, 2018.

“Critics voice concerns over Mexico’s proposed National Guard.” Justice in Mexico. December 24, 2018.

Hoover Institution report analyzes successful security strategies in Mexico

Cover image for "Security Strategies" report

Source: Hoover Institution.

10/05/16 (written by kheinle) — A report released in late August by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University provides an in depth look at security strategies in Mexico, an important contribution to the ongoing conversation about a country embroiled in crime and violence for years. In “Security Strategies: Experiences Of The Mexican States Of Chihuahua And Nuevo León,” co-authors Arturo Ramírez Verdugo and Reyes Ruiz González found that the state and local policies implemented in Mexico to combat insecurity related to drug trafficking organizations (DTO) have been more effective than efforts taken at the national level.

The report focuses on case studies in Chihuahua and Nuevo León, two states on the U.S.-Mexico border that have been hotspots for drug trafficking, crime, and violence. Chihuahua and Nuevo León have had some of the highest levels of ejecuciones, homicides related to organized crime, since 2007 when former President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) launched the nationwide campaign against drug trafficking and related violence. The Hoover Institute report examines both states’ administrative policies implemented to reduce levels of violence, which resulted in clear decreases in Chihuahua’s and Nuevo León’s homicide rates, kidnapping rates, and the number of vehicle thefts from their peak in 2010-2011.

Overall, the public’s perception of state insecurity, and the absolute number of victims and crimes in both states declined between 2010 and 2014. Specifically in Chihuahua, for example, homicide rates per 100,000 inhabitants declined from 111 to 30 between 2010 to 2014, and from 7 to 0 inhabitants per 100,000 for kidnapping rates between 2009 and 2014. Similarly, Nuevo León saw homicide rates peak at 42 per 100,000 in 2011 and decline quickly to 10 per 100,000 in 2014, though the state’s kidnapping rates did not begin declining until 2012, decreasing from 1.25 to 0.80 by 2014. Extortion rates also declined in Chihuahua, although they increased steadily in Nuevo León from 1 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2008 to 8 per 100,000 in 2014. That said, the cifra negra (black number, or the number of unreported or uninvestigated crimes) decreased in Nuevo León during this time period, but increased in Chihuahua, an interesting finding considering that state’s otherwise positive strides in other areas.

2015 Drug Violence in Mexico-PortadaThe authors drew from Justice in Mexico’s research as a primary source of information, specifically from “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2014” released in April 2015. That publication is part of a series Justice in Mexico releases annually that compiles and analyzes the latest available data on crime and violence in Mexico as it relates to organized crime. The Drug Violence in Mexico series seek to inform a U.S. and English language audience, as international news media coverage of Mexico tends to be fleeting and gravitates toward sporadic sensationalistic incidents rather than the analysis of broader issues and longer-term trends. Justice in Mexico’s latest such report can be found here.

The Hoover Institute also relied on data from Mexico’s Executive Secretariat of the National System of Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP), the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI), the National Population Council (Consejo Nacional de Población, CONAPO), and the National Survey of Victimization and Perception about Public Security (Encuesa Nacional de Victimización y Percepción sobre Seguridad Pública, ENVIPE), among others.

In the end, Ramírez Verdugo and Ruiz González found that strategies were most effective when several factors are incorporated into security strategies. First, “the state’s actions have a multiplicative effect when the civil society is involved.” Second, local law enforcement institutions must be strengthened, while, third, new procedural common law must be reformed. Next, convicted criminals must be better reinserted into society so to address recidivism and repeat offenders. Lastly, “strategies require a true commitment to fiscal discipline from [Mexican] states to make [them] viable and sustainable.” As Ramírez Verdugo and Ruiz González argue, Chihuahua and Nuevo León demonstrate that the rule of law can be improved when following strategies that prioritize and incorporate these factors.

Sources:

Heinle, Kimberly et al. “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2014.” Justice in Mexico. April 2015.

Hoover Institution. “Security Strategies: Experiences Of The Mexican States Of Chihuahua And Nuevo León.” Stanford University. August 24, 2016.

Ramírez Verdugo, Arturo and Reyes Ruiz González. “Security Strategies: Experiences Of The Mexican States Of Chihuahua And Nuevo León.” Hoover Institution. August 2016.

Public’s perception of security in Mexico stays same despite rise in homicides

INEGI logo02/14/16 (written by kheinle) – Homicide rates in Mexico rose in 2015 for the first time since 2011, according to Mexico’s Secretary of the Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB). The number of homicides nationwide increased from 17,324 in 2014 to 18,650 in 2015, a 7.6% jump. Alejandro Hope, former Mexican intelligence officer, commented at a “Mexico Security Review 2016” conference at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexican Institute in Washington, D.C. that, “At the current rate, there will be more homicides under [current President Enrique] Peña Nieto than under [previous President Felipe] Calderón.” Despite the rise in homicides, however, SEGOB’s data reflects a 29.0% decrease in kidnappings, dropping from 1,840 in 2014 to 1,306 in 2015, and a 14.5% reduction in cases of extortion, from 6,155 cases in 2014 to 5,262 in 2015, both positive news for the Peña Nieto administration, as it conti­nues to battle crime and violence in Mexico.

While crime rates varied in 2015, one constant was the public’s perception of security. According to Mexico’s National Institute for Statistics and Geography’s (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI) annual report on public security, “Encuesta Nacional de Seguridad Pública Urbana (ENSU),” the percentage of Mexican’s 18 and older surveyed who felt safe living in their respective city was 32.3% in December 2015, barely up from 32.1% in December 2014 and 32.0% in December 2013. In fact, between September 2013 and December 2015, the public’s perception of security varied only 5.4%, oscillating between 27.6% and 33.0%. That still means, however, that at the end of 2015, 67.7% of Mexican felt unsafe living in their city.

Released in January 2016, ENSU data also shows a growing disillusion that the security situation will improve. From 2013 to the close of 2015, the percentage of those surveyed who believe the security situation will stay the same increased from 18.4% to 21.8%, while those who perceive security will improve decreased from 18.8% to 13.7%. The public’s feeling of insecurity stems not just from high profile crimes like murder, kidnapping, and extortion, but also from smaller crimes occurring more regularly in their neighborhoods. ENSU respondents reported that, “in the last three months of 2015, they saw or heard in and around where they live: consumption of alcohol in the streets (69.8%), theft or assault (67.1%), and vandalism (55.9%)…”

The public’s perception of insecurity in Mexico is not surprising considering the rising rates of homicide, the declining optimism that security will improve, and, among other factors, the public’s lack of confidence in police. According to ENSU results, at the end of 2015, 32.7% of Mexicans believe the Municipal Police (Policía Preventiva Municipal) are “very or somewhat effective” in their ability to combat crime, while 39.5% and 55.7% think that of State Police (Policía Estatal) and Federal Police (Policía Federal), respectively. The public expressed the most satisfaction with the National Gendarmerie (Gendarmería Nacional), rising from 61.9% saying the Gendarmerie is “very or somewhat effective” in March 2015 to 69.2% in December 2015. The Gendarmerie is an elite force of specially trained police that President Peña Nieto pledged when launching the units in August 2014 would “contribute to the protection of Mexicans, their goods and sources of employment when these are being threatened by crime.” The force has received mixed reviews since its launch.

Sources:

Dibble, Sandra. “New gendarmerie in Baja California.” San Diego Union-Tribune. September 5, 2014.

Centro Nacional de Informe. “Informe de víctimas de homicidio, secuestro y extorsión 2014.” Secretaría de Gobernación. June 19, 2015.

Press Release No. 9/16. “Encuesta Nacional de Seguridad Pública Urbana (Dic-2015).” Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía. January 11, 2016.

Centro Nacional de Informe. “Informe de víctimas de homicidio, secuestro y extorsión 2015.” Secretaría de Gobernación. January 20, 2016.

Mexico Institute. “Mexico’s Security Review 2016: Assessing the Outlook for the Rule of Law.” Conference. Woodrow Wilson Center. January 21, 2016.

Planas Roque. “Murder Rate Climbs in Mexico, Even As The Government Celebrates El Chapo’s Recapture.” Huffington Post. January 21, 2016.

“INEGI: Encuesta Nacional de Seguridad Pública Urbana (ENSU).” Consulta Mitofsky. Año XIII, No. 609. February 2016.