Monday, June 18, 2012
Merida Initiative, Crime and Evolving Reforms in Mexico
On March 28th, 2012, former President of Mexico,
Vicente Fox, delivered a speech (YouTube video here) at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. One of President Fox's primary
speaking points was that due to Mexico's geographic sandwiching between one of the largest producer's of illicit drugs
in the world (Colombia), and the largest consumers of illicit drugs in the world (the US), his country was suffering from
increasingly powerful drug cartels seizing the opportunity to create money and power out of Mexico's proverbial, middleman
location. Additionally President Fox stated that Mexico's current President, Felipe Calderón, was making
bold and commendable decisions but was still losing the war against drug cartels. It is in this light that we should
attempt to look at Mexico's war against their drug cartels as a war they cannot win by themselves, and that in part we
must take some responsibility. (Referring to this war as only Mexico's war, and "their" drug cartels is
over-simplistic and ignores the spirit of this paper, but for clarification purposes and to maintain an appropriate level
of distinction vocabulary must be used that does not sufficiently articulate the issues involved.)
In October 2007, The United States Congress passed the Merida Initiative as a collaborative partnership between the United States and Mexico as a vital step in a unified war against
drugs and the subsequent violence and crimes attached with it. This was an important move from Mexico's standpoint
because it signified an almost unprecedented willingness to cooperate with the United States, which from a cultural standpoint
had not always been a favored approach. The Merida Initiative is but one, albeit highly visible, example of Calderón's
approach to fighting the drug wars.
President Calderón has
insisted that Mexico is not a failed state and it appears that he is willing to apply any approach to work towards the truth of this
statement. Coupled with the Merida Initiative's changes in funding, cooperation, and strategy, Mexico has implemented
changes to their Constitution, as well as overhauls to their judicial process and police forces.
If Mexico is not a failed/narco
state, as President Calderón has suggested, then it is most certainly on the verge of becoming one with over 6,200
drug-related killings in 2008 alone and cartels gaining zones of complete impunity against the law. The operations of drug cartels in these zones raise one very
important question; why do cartels create zones of impunity? The answer is simple. They do so in order to establish
their own law and operate outside that of the government's. Therefore it follows that in order to affect real and
permanent change, Mexico must strengthen its rule of law. There must be a complete overhaul of the entire judicial system
in order to diminish both the size and the influence that drugs and the drug cartels have in Mexico.
President Calderón's action and policies seemed to have aligned themselves with
this idea. There is an inherent flaw in one very crucial aspect of the Mexican criminal justice system -- no one trusts
the police. A recent study found that 90% of Mexicans who had been victims of a crime never reported the
crime to authorities. Worse yet, the reason for not reporting these crimes was because the victims felt it would do no good.
The Mexican police task force is, and essentially always has been, under-paid and overworked. The combination of a heavy
and dangerous workload, as well as the lack of appropriate compensation, has created fertile ground for bribery, which has
surfaced by way of the "mordida" which translates to "small bite." The mordida is
a cultural implant in the police force in Mexico, and for this reason, President Calderón had to initially use the
Mexican army to impart justice on the drug cartels. However, it appears that through the funding and training of the
Merida Initiative, Mexico may eventually have a more trustworthy and competent police force, which would hopefully lead to
a more optimistic population that is willing to report crimes.
changes to the Mexican police service are just one piece of the puzzle and judicial reforms are also being implemented. In 2008, just 1-2% of all crimes reported resulted in sentencing. That same year Mexico began implementing a series of legislative, as well as constitutional,
changes to its criminal justice system which include:
- Procedural changes comprised
of the introduction of new oral and adversarial procedures, alternative sentencing, and alternative dispute resolution (ADR);
- A greater emphasis on raised standards of the due process rights of the accused (i.e.,presumption
of innocence, ensuring the accused has adequate legal defense, more impartial roles for the presiding judges, etc.);
- Modifications to police agencies and their role in criminal investigations, making it easier
and more reliable for prosecutors to procure evidence for trial;
use of "arraigo" to detain members of organized crime for 40 days without criminal charges, as well as
other measures to aggressively target organized crime.
An early marker to use as a litmus test gauging the success of the implemented procedures and laws is not just the
estimated drug-related violence or drug-related money laundering, but whether or not crimes are actually being reported, because
as impunity goes, so does the power of the drug cartels. Power is taken out of the hands of the cartels and returned
to Mexico's citizens when faith is restored in the rule of law, and this is the first step towards eradicating the presence
and over-whelming power of the drug cartels in Mexico.
Carlos Nash Licona is a graduate of The University of Georgia, and is finishing his final
year of law school at Stetson College of Law where he will graduate with a concentration in International Law. He has
traveled and lived in countries around the world ranging from Mexico, Costa Rica, and Argentina, to Spain, England, and Portugal.
This past summer, Nash was in Buenos Aires studying Argentina's Dirty War and the issues surrounding The Disappeared.
His current scholastic focus is on terrorism and national security issues.
commentary, "The Merida Initiative and Mexico's Legislative and Constitutional Reforms," by Carlos Nash Licona, was first published in Small Wars Journal on Jun. 12, 2012, and reposted per a Creative Commons authorization.