Oct 12, 2015

Why crimes are rarely reported in Mexico

El Daily Post: Don’t bother. Over at Vice News, Andrea Noel tells a horrifying story about getting mugged in Mexico and then trying to report the crime. Here’s a taste: “Back in Mexico, I went into my nearest prosecutor's office last Monday, hoping to file a new police report and lodge a complaint against the attendant who had pressed me into lying on official documents. When I got to where I needed to be, the official behind the counter told me I would have to go to a different district to try to file a complaint. I was informed that the process would take at least 20 days, and I would likely face charges for signing erroneous documents. I jumped into another cab and made my way to the next prosecutor's office, conveniently located in an area far sketchier than the one I was originally mugged in. "What you are admitting to is a very serious offense," one officer said, nodding for me to follow him toward the curb. "If you file that complaint you'll be in pretty real trouble. It is cause for automatic arrest." He then lowered his voice, adding: "I would go home if I were you."… I decided to call it quits.”

Explaining complexity. Why is it so darn difficult to file a crime report in Mexico? Two reasons:

1. Design: in most countries, to report a crime, you just walk to the nearest police station, fill out a simple form, answer a few questions, and off you go. You won’t be bothered again unless a suspect is caught. Not so in Mexico. First, you don’t go to a police station, but to the Agencia del Ministerio Público, i.e., a branch of the state Attorney General’s Office that corresponds to the location where the crime took place. Second, you have to go through an hours-long grilling, while someone transcribes your every word. Third, a few days later, you have to return to ratify the initial report. Otherwise, the Ministerio Público (MP) will not open an averiguación previa (preliminary investigation) or a carpeta de investigación (investigation folder), i.e., no one will lift a finger. Some states (and the Federal District) have tried to make the process simpler by allowing victims to file the initial report online, but even in those cases, the aggrieved party needs to ratify the report in person at the Agencia.

2. Policy: as Andrea Noel describes very well in her piece, pretty much everyone in the system will try to deter you from filing a crime report. Why? Because politicians and law enforcement officials, abetted by part of the media and some NGOs, use crime reports as a performance metric. From their perspective, fewer crime reports means success, even if the underlying crime rate is going up. And that attitude seeps down the system. Employees at the Agencias del Ministerio Público know they will be judged negatively (and maybe even fired) if they let too many reports in. So they create all sorts of artificial obstacles. Read more.

UN agency says Mexican soldiers tortured 4 crime suspects

World News Report: The United Nations Committee Against Torture has found that Mexican soldiers tortured four men they detained as crime suspects in a northern state in 2009.

A Mexican human rights group, which announced the ruling Friday, said it was the first time the U.N. committee issued a decision on an individual case in Mexico. Read more.

The Ugly Truth: Mexican-Americans Despise Mexico

El Universal (Translated by World Meets): There is an urban legend going around: Hillary Clinton asked some of her [Mexican] supporters a couple of years ago: Why don't Mexican-Americans get along with Mexicans in Mexico?

The befuddlement of the current democratic presidential hopeful over the mystery is widely shared. The Israeli, Irish, Italian, Cuban, Chinese, Indian, Colombian and Salvadorian diasporas – all far less numerous in the United States than the Mexican – provide support to their countries of origin. They support the agendas of their government in Washington, finance their candidate's campaigns for elected office, and strengthen their communities abroad.

Our case is very different. Among some second, third or fourth generation Mexicans grievances persist: my father, grandfather - my ancestors - were obliged to emigrate for lack of opportunity, and on top of that they called us traitors to our country and the Virgin of Guadalupe. It isn't so much a rejection of Mexico as it is of the class-related and racist codes that even today prevent upward social mobility in Mexico. Read more.

Oct 11, 2015

Response to New York Times Op-Ed on Why More US Aid to Mexico Equals More, Not Less, Injustice

As far as I can tell, the New York Times never published this letter. I think it's important to enter into this debate because the position of the author, a journalist who has worked in Mexico for years, is very common, probably well-intentioned, and extremely dangerous.

The author, Ioan Grillo, wrote one of the earlier books on the drug war called El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency, unfortunately echoing Hillary Clinton's insurgency language that has been used to justify the use of Pentagon counterinsurgency training in the country.

After running down some points on the human rights situation, especially from the IACHR Group of Experts report, the British reporter concludes:

And when the United States supports Mexico in fighting cartels, it cannot just provide hardware like Black Hawk helicopters. It needs to help Mexico rebuild its institutions from the bottom up.
It's essentially the same argument we hear from the State Department: continue with the "hard" security, but sugarcoat it with "institution-building" programs. These programs have been going on for years as a very small part of US aid to Mexico, as the human rights situation has deteriorated alarmingly. That should be the first clue that something is wrong with this reasoning.

At a recent meeting with representatives of the State Department in the US Embassy, one (it was not-for-attribution) expressed her view that to cut off aid due to serious human rights violations would be folly since the violation of human rights is a reason to be engaged in Mexico. The fact that the US government funds blatant human rights violators in the Mexican government, thus enabling them, was beyond her comprehension.

This is interesting, considering the State Department historically has used human rights criteria to withhold aid to nations considered major violators. The criteria, however, has always been highly political rather than humanitarian or principled. While countries on the left receive sanctions, nations like Mexico can --and do--get away with murder.

Here is the letter I sent:

The op-ed "Mexico's Fruitless Hunt for Justice" portrays the frustration we feel living in a nation where government and organized crime are often indistinguishable and the justice system functions largely to conceal that fact. However, the author's final prescription -- that the United States government must increase aid to 'fix' Mexico -- is both offensive and absurd. U.S. government aid to Mexico's drug war through the Merida Initiative has contributed to the deaths, disappearances and crimes that have resulted.  Every major victims' organization in the country has called for an halt to the Merida Initiative.

The power, wealth and brutality of the drug cartels derives from the millions they earn, and want to keep earning, from the US market for prohibited drugs. Instead of spending taxpayers' money to intervene in Mexico, this money could much better be spent on drug regulation, rehabilitation and treatment in the US. In this way we could show a real commitment to solving the problem, rather than a pretext for militarizing Mexico. 
Impunity thrives on business as usual. Continuing US Merida Initiative aid to corrupt and violent Mexican security forces is a strong message to maintain current policies and practices; it's a reward. Although the U.S. government knows the way these forces operate and how dysfunctional the justice system is, the militarization of Mexico has been a boon to both defense industry companies and Pentagon global reach strategies.

So what's a few hundred thousand dead Mexicans?

This patriarchal logic maintains that the US "needs to help Mexico" with its institutional problem, not put pressure on the Mexican government to stop executing its own citizens.  And as long as the aid keeps flowing, whether it's for military equipment or police training or what have you, and the world's super-power gives its unconditional support to the PRI government, there will be no changes and the Peña Nieto administration will consider itself vindicated.

And the torture, and extrajudicial executions and disappearances and murders will continue.

Oct 9, 2015

Mexico’s torture epidemic: “I saw big clots of blood coming out”

Amnesty International: When Tailyn Wang, a 34-year-old Peruvian woman living in Mexico City, was woken by a loud bang on her door in the early hours of the morning, she never imagined the horrific chain of events that would follow.

It was 4am on Friday 7 February 2014 when five federal police officers stormed into her house. The restaurant owner and mother of three was lying in bed with her husband, her children asleep in the next room.

“They ripped off my clothes. One of them forced himself on top of me in bed and started insulting me: ‘You whore, you fucking pig.’

“My husband screamed, ‘Don´t hit her, she is pregnant’ but they didn't care,” Tailyn told me. Read more.

Mexican soldiers should be questioned by expert panel - U.N. official

World News Report: Mexican authorities should allow international investigators to interview soldiers who may have witnessed the abduction and apparent massacre of 43 trainee teachers last year, a top United Nations official said on Wednesday.

The disappearance of the students in the southern town of Iguala and subsequent investigation into the attack has drawn sharp criticism of the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto for its inability to solve the case. Read more.

Report Accents Mexico's Jam-packed and Chaotic Prison System

Insight Crime: A new report from Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights documents the deplorable conditions in the nation's prisons, highlighting a fundamental obstacle to improvements in security.

The National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) recently published its annual examination of Mexico’s prisons and jails, and the 585-page report offers a detailed radiography of the system’s many ills.

The CNDH measured the state and national prison facilities according to five categories: how well a facility protects the physical and moral condition of an inmate; whether it guarantees a dignified stay; the facility’s governability; its success in preparing inmates for societal readaptation; and whether it protects at-risk groups, like HIV-positive inmates. Read more.