The LA Times has an opinion piece this morning entitled “What Mexico Really Needs From Obama” written by John M. Ackerman who is a professor at the Institute for Legal Research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and a columnist for Proceso magazine and La Jornada newspaper.
From my observations of Mexico AND the U.S. he is right on on all accounts. In other words Obama should focus on helping Mexico reform it’s institutions and rule of law instead of supplying weapons to fight the drug cartels. “Only 15% of the funds in the $1.4-billion Merida Initiative signed by President Bush last year,” says Ackerman, “is earmarked for “institution building and rule of law.” If Obama hopes to contribute to long-term solutions, he should dramatically increase this percentage in future aid packages.”
“The Obama administration seems to be unaware of these deeper institutional issues. During her recent trip to Mexico, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton didn’t push Calderon on corruption control, human rights, freedom of the press, institutional reform or political reconciliation. She also went out of her way to cater to conservative constituencies. Her visit to Mexico’s principal basilica implied a nod to Calderon’s efforts to narrow the traditional separation between church and state. Her choice to travel to the city of Monterrey, home to the most powerful members of Mexico’s corporate oligarchy, also sent a clear signal about the priorities of the U.S. government.”
President Obama should not focus exclusively on short-term military goals during his visit to Mexico this week. The violence there, which has taken the lives of 10,000 Mexicans over the last two years, must be stopped. But the helicopters, weapons scanners and listening devices that have been the cornerstone of promised U.S. support will only go so far. The real solution lies in effective institution-building.
It does no good to capture drug kingpins if they don’t go to jail. During 2008, only one out of every 10 suspects arrested in Mexico for drug offenses was convicted, according to official statistics. In Chihuahua, one of the bloodiest states in the country, only 1,621 out of the 5,674 suspects arrested over the last 12 months have even had to stand trial, because of the weakness of the prosecutors’ cases.
Almost a decade ago, the U.N. special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Param Cumaraswamy, discovered fundamental problems of inequality and inefficiency with Mexico’s system of criminal justice. Today, the grim picture he painted has changed little. Mexico’s jails remain full of petty thieves while serious criminals with money and connections roam the streets.
Last year, Mexico passed a major constitutional reform that would introduce oral trials — to replace trials conducted only through written documents — and transform the role of government prosecutors. The goals are to reduce case backlogs by speeding up trials, to prevent corruption by increasing transparency and to improve criminal investigations by dropping the requirement that prosecutors issue a preliminary judgment on the culpability of suspects. With this latter change, prosecutors would be able to dedicate themselves exclusively to investigating cases and avoid conflicts of interests. But the authorities have dragged their feet on implementation. Congress has delayed passing all of the necessary follow-up legislation, and the commission created by the reform, with representatives from the executive, judiciary and legislative branches, has not convened.
Corruption at the top all the way to the bottom. Nothing will change until the institutions and rule of law are reformed. The problem is they are all on the take and no one wants to give that up.