Don’t Give Me That…

Luis Rubio

“Don’t give me that the law is the law,” said President López Obrador. In this, his approach does not constitute a break with the reality of Mexico’s recent past, except that the president does not express the minimal unease concerning the law being the guide for the functioning of the relations between the government and society and among the distinct members of the latter. The difference is that in the past, the written letter of the law was abided by -for the sake of formality, to keep up appearances, in Mexican political jargon-, while now the reality of arbitrariness has been laid bare. But contempt for any concept of legality by the Head of State constitutes a license to break the law.

When a government assumes itself to be the sole proprietor of the truth and its way of acting as a model of proper behavior, all this without rules known by all, its actions become the law of the jungle and an invitation to everyone to behave as it does. Last week’s elections demonstrated that very behavior on both poles of the Mexican political spectrum, the product of that extraordinarily pernicious way the president conducts himself.

The law is not a black and white issue: it is not as if one day there is the Rule of Law, and the next day it disappears. It is also not a matter of degrees: instead, it is an accumulative process that secures practices, institutions, and experiences until complying with the law becomes inevitable, thus obligatory for all. In the opposite direction, when practice and experience constitute unfailing evidence of the absence of a framework of laws that are known, respected and made to be complied with by all, the whole institutional lattice collapses in on itself and the country enters into the realm of permanent uncertainty.

Historically, the Rule of Law has always been addressed with enormous laxity, generally in rhetorical fashion, but the political discourse is important because it entails consequences, above all before the reality of judicial lack of definition -and frequently defenselessness- that affects all Mexicans. The law (and regulations) is argued about, but the reality is one of permanent arbitrariness in their application, judges suffering political pressure, and public prosecutors are corrupted. The government does not conceive of the law as an instrument for protecting the citizenry, but rather as a mechanism to harass it, thus hindering it from becoming a relevant political factor.

When a president -in terms of his position as Head of Government but, above all, as Head of State- relinquishes even the pretension of complying with the law, when the president attacks other the other branches of government accusing them of treason (because they didn’t vote the way he preferred), the pertinent question is whether he considers that his word or his will are above any basic principle of social coexistence.  Because one thing is the historical laxity with which these affairs are treated, and it is another thing to eliminate them completely from the panorama: two very distinct worlds.

For most Mexicans, justice and the law are two entelechies that serve only in their capacity for abuse or to benefit the rich and powerful, a key element of the president’s public support. Whosoever has been subjected to a judicial process knows that the latter are not designed to achieve “swift and expeditious” justice as promised by the Constitution, a circumstance that renders the presidential rhetoric attractive. However, the correct solution would be to transform the judicial system to make it effective and at the service of all of the citizenry, without distinction of economic or social condition.

Mexican politicians have always changed laws to fit their objectives, without realizing the implications of their actions. Rather than strengthening their mandate, they dilute it, evidencing that they merely adherence to the proper forms, but with a total disdain for the Rule of Law. López Obrador doesn’t even pretend.

The basic principle of the Rule of Law lies in protecting the citizen with respect to the arbitrary actions of the authority. That is, it implies above  all else  the political and legal protection of individual and property rights; the existence of an efficient judicial power that effectively limits the predatory behavior of the authority and that is accessible to the entire citizenry independently of their socioeconomic status; and the existence of an environment of legal safety with rules known before the fact and with the certainty that the authorities will not employ coercive power against citizens in arbitrary fashion.

In practical terms, the Rule of Law implies that laws are known beforehand, that they cannot be modified easily and without effective counterweights and that the authority cannot employ its instruments of pressure, including the threat of jail (as the preventive prison without the intervention of a judge is now being utilized) as a means to impose the will of the government on citizen rights.

The objective of a regime of legality is pacific coexistence among the members of a society with the purpose of making possible economic development and social peace. There’s hardly any doubt of the prodigious lacks that hinder the consolidation of the Rule of Law that is equal for all in Mexico, but that is no excuse to hold it in disdain, because the alternative is the law of the jungle, at whose door Mexicans manifestly find themselves.