As Felipe Calderon enters the last two years of his presidency, his unwavering commitment to the war against the drug cartels and organized crime and his mission to impose the rule of law to every square meter of Mexico’s territory has begun to face eroding support among the population and the political spectrum, including his own party, the PAN.
The sacrifice has been enormous in terms of eroded state institutions, increasing insecurity and crime, and the unquenchable thirst for violence by organized criminal gangs.
And there is no end in sight to this tragedy, at least for this generation of Mexicans.
The achievable goal at this point is only to close the door on the near absolute impunity enjoyed by organized criminal gangs as they rob, extort, kidnap and traffic in drugs.
This view comes from President Calderon himself and this accomplishment would be a huge first step on the road to a better nation for the next generations. But the key phrase here is next generations
Even if one accepts the fact that the vast majority of the deaths occurring during the last four years have been borne by rival criminal gangs as a result of the conflicts over drug trafficking markets and profits, it cannot be denied that the social costs to the Mexican people have been enormous.
It is within this path for a better future that President Calderon has held a National Security Dialog (Dialogo por la Seguridad) this past week with representatives from all sectors of the nation an effort to reach a consensus on the way forward for Mexico.
Calderon has met with business leaders, NGO’s, the clergy, leaders of the political parties, the judicial branch and the governors and has offered to incorporate valid ideas and modifications into his security strategy in the fight against lawlessness.
Although there has been support for his policies, there have also been criticisms. Even the President has admitted to some failures in his policies.
One of the main criticisms has been that this Dialog is the first step in Calderon institutionalizing his security strategy as a matter of state policy that will limit the freedom of action of future political actors.
Even though all the talk is of defending democracy, some critics see an authoritarian shadow being cast.
Whatever the reality of Calderon’s intentions, the truth is that something must be done to impose the rule of law and diminish the power and impunity of the drug cartels. This is the only way forward to reach the level of security required for a healthy society.
It is above all an absolute truth that the other necessary road forward towards the rule of law and security is for Mexico to transform itself into a more economically just society.
Among the most important fundamental components of Calderon’s security strategy are the judicial reforms that are being implemented to modernize Mexico’s justice system into an efficient institution free from the influence of organized that can safeguard the security of the population, and administer justice and punishment to criminals.
Where implemented, these judicial reforms have largely failed.
Although these reforms are sound and necessary, their implementation has been impeded by inertia, corruption and improper funding. The planning has not gone well.
Among these reforms are the presentation of cases before the courts by oral arguments in a public setting with set rules of evidence and the right of cross-examination. The presumption of innocence until proven guilty and the prohibition against indefinite detention of suspects are also addressed in these reforms.
Traditionally, judicial cases are handled behind closed doors through the process of written legal briefs being reviewed by a judge and a verdict rendered thereafter. In many cases, years thereafter.
This closed setting has been an arena extremely fertile to corrupt influences and is the reason that the judiciary is held in contempt by so many Mexicans and one of several factors that permits organized crime to operate unimpeded.
On Thursday, President Calderon, Attorney General Arturo Chavez and the President of the Supreme Court body, held a conference to address the failures of the judicial reforms in the states where they have been implemented.
From the podium President Calderon asked why the state of Chihuahua suffers from the highest levels of violence when it is the entity that to date has implemented the judicial reforms most completely.
The president also asked why there are so few criminals sentenced in comparison to the great number of those detained.
In response, Supreme Court Chief Ortiz stated the reforms must be coordinated among all the different levels within the judicial system. He answered, in effect, that the police have still not been fully trained in the procedures necessary for real investigative police work in legal proceedings where proper rules of evidence apply.
He also added that prosecutors still have very little experience in the new justice system.
In other words, the reason that criminals have gone unpunished is that the reforms have not been implemented in a well planned, comprehensive manner.
The Attorney General of the Republic, Arturo Chavez, said the new criminal justice system is flawed in states where implementation has begun and that public support has turned against the reforms that they see as a failure to stem the growing violence and lawlessness.
The Attorney General also acknowledged that the Forfeiture Act, a cornerstone of the criminal law reform designed to seize the assets of convicted drug traffickers, has run into problems and will need to be re-drafted. The Supreme Court President also conceded that the Forfeiture Act is very rarely used.
The frank answers given in the conference are a stark reminder that the battle for the rule of law in Mexico is not in the hands of the President but is at the mercy of the men and women he appoints to carry out his policies.
If he does not find the people fit for the endeavor, the fight may be doomed to fail.