Luis Rubio

The decisive challenge for major powers, according to historian John Lewis Gaddis, is perfecting the “alignment of potentially infinite aspirations with necessarily limited capabilities.” Every government around the world faces complex security challenges. Unfortunately, Mexico is not even in the phase of “aligning aspirations with capabilities” as Gaddis suggests. In Mexico, security is not a priority, nor has there been the slightest intention of building a suitable justice system that is compatible with the circumstances and needs of the country.

The core message of films and television series such as Presumed Guilty and, more recently, The Cassez-Vallarta Case: A Criminal Novel, constitutes a true and documented indictment of the entire security and justice apparatus of the country. What is described there is a politicized justice system without suitable structures for its (supposed) mission: accusations are made but no investigation is carried out; the rights of the victims and perpetrators are violated; illegal and uncivilized methods, such as torture, are used to extract confessions; and judges tend to follow the guidance of prosecutors (who do not investigate). Nobody cares about the victims, while the accused, guilty or not, can go decades without being sentenced or released. In a word, justice is absolutely non-existent.

The same thing happens in terms of security: the police, with few exceptions, are not professionals and have not been trained to ensure the safety of the population. Much more importantly, the vision that has prevailed in this arena is a direct heir to the old authoritarian political system of the 20th century, which was never reformed. Instead of reforming (or, really, creating) a security system, the army, the only asset in the hands of the Mexican State, was used to cover the sun with a finger, and that has gone on for more than half a century.

The point is very simple: the political system became institutionalized throughout the 20th century, but it never developed checks and balances or qualified institutions to make effective governance possible. It was not done for two reasons: the most obvious, because the real objective was the centralized control of power from the presidency. In the matter of security and justice, what kept the country relatively calm was the enormous power of the federal government and its tentacles through the PRI and shock forces such as the Federal Security Directorate, whose objective was to maintain control, not the development of a stable, secure and prosperous society.

Second, the country grew, society diversified, the economy liberalized, and the political system democratized, but security and justice lagged, along with (almost) the entire state apparatus. Starting in the 1990s, there were some projects to reform the security apparatus, but they never came to fruition, partly because these were not a priority and, perhaps more to the point, because political competition and, eventually, the alternation of parties in the presidency, prevented political circles from understanding the changing context in which the security issue was evolving. Although kidnappings multiplied and criminality grew, the priority of Mexican society -and, certainly, of its rulers- lay elsewhere.

For its part, organized crime underwent a profound mutation after the Colombian government took increasing control of its territory and of its mafias, which Mexicanized the drug business, increasing its criminal capacity and violence within the country. The once all-powerful federal government suddenly found itself confronting a growing power without the means and ability (or willingness) to counter it.

Instead of building police and judicial capacity at both the federal and local levels, Mexican politics veered towards idyllic scenarios of democratic competition, decentralization of power and the budget, opening the door to criminal organizations without a plan to confront them. In retrospect, President Calderón’s response was inadequate, but not for that lacks merit for the very fact of recognizing the presence of an existential threat to the Mexican state. That was in 2006 and nothing has been done since then.

The aforementioned films show all the vices of the judicial and security reality. The nature of the police and of the prosecutors guarantee that criminals go free, as might have happened in the Cassez case, because all the procedures established by law, but which nobody respects, are regularly violated. The due process or law, the essence of legality and the rule of law, is crucial in any country, but in Mexico it is the main weapon in the hands of those who commit crimes. The victims of extortion, kidnapping and homicide are right: nobody cares about their rights or welfare. As one of the interviewees in the video says, in Mexico even injustice is egalitarian.

President López Obrador had everything to change this reality, but he never had that inclination. Now it is imperative that Mexican society demands whoever intends to govern in 2024 to propose a serious and responsible strategy in this regard.