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Peña Nieto's Tangled Security Reforms

  • Written by Alejandro Hope*
  • Monday, 11 March 2013
Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto (second left) Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto (second left)

The new Mexican government has promised major reforms to the country's security apparatus, but these seem to be getting tangled up in bureaucracy, legal problems, and disagreements among officials, argues analyst Alejandro Hope.

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Elba Esther Gordillo was arrested for allegedly making purchases using illegally obtained funds (a round of applause for rigor, and let's hope that they prove the crime and not just the purchases).

In other news, muddles continue forming in the Interior Ministry (SEGOB). Here are the basic facts of the issue:

1. National Security Commission: We finally have a National Security Commissioner. Last week, Manuel Mondragon y Kalb was ratified by the Senate as the first person to hold this title. Sadly for him, he is a commissioner without a commission. Two months after enacting the legal reform that liquidated the Public Security Ministry (SSP), the National Security Commission remains an imaginary entity (although it does have an Internet page): the Interior Ministry's regulations have not yet been altered to give this body a legal grounding and structure. I don't know the reasons for the delay, but it occurs to me that perhaps they still haven’t decided what the legal nature of the commission will be (an administrative unit of the Interior Ministry? An autonomous body? A decentralized body?). If after 59 days there is no clarity on this basic point, if they don’t have the administrative set-up even minimally defined, could it be that they rushed a tiny bit in performing the biggest merger of public agencies in more than 20 years?

2. The Head of the National System of Public Security (SESNSP): On January 15, Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong nominated ex-Representative Jose Ramon Martel to hold the post of head of the National System of Public Security (subject to ratification by the Senate). Just one month later, Martel resigned from the post, for “personal reasons,” according to the official version, and for “marked differences” and “deficiencies in communication with Minister Osorio,” according to non-official versions collected by La Jornada. It appears that he will be replaced by Monte Alejandro Rubido, former occupant of this position in the SESNSP and current secretary general of the Center for Research and National Security (CISEN). And I say "appears" because, so far, there has been no official announcement, only rumors in the media. In the meantime, a key part of the public security structure remains without a head.

3. Crime prevention: Roberto Campa, deputy minister of prevention and citizen participation, has a program that is not a program, but rather, the basis of a program with the objective of defining objectives. Worse still, as the regulations of the Interior Ministry haven’t been reformed, Mr. Campa’s administrative unit does not formally exist and, as such, does not have powers or premises or a structure or deadlines or a budget. Paralleling this, the National Center for Crime Prevention has not had a director for more than two weeks, following the resignation of Enrique Betancourt, a good official who came from the former administration. No light has been shed on who his successor will be. We have, then, a non-existent sub-ministry and a vacant center. There is, however, a commitment to “make crime prevention a national priority.”

4. Gendarmerie: In his recent appearance before the Senate, Mondragon stated that the Gendarmerie would be “a community police force,” with “military training,” which “will oversee non-federal crimes.” This would be very good, except for one small detail: in December, Minister Osorio said that the Gendarmerie “would be for specific matters, the border, rural municipalities, in support of state forces and of course the ports, the airports.” According to the minister, then, the gendarmerie is going to be a federal body in charge of, among other things, non-federal crimes in airports? Like what? The theft of suitcases? Arguments among passengers? Frankly, I do not understand. And my confusion was only increased by Mondragon's reponse to a question regarding the process of creating said Gendarmerie (Will it be created through legal reforms or with a presidential decree?): “I don’t know what the legal form will be, whether it will be a decree or what.” Despite this, Mondragon said that “by December of this year we must have the first Gendarmerie unit, with 10,000 members.” Put another way, those responsible for the matter do not agree on the functions of the new entity and don’t know how they are going to formally create it, but they want to have it operating in nine months. Not great.

5. Disappearances: On February 20, Human Rights Watch presented a report documenting 249 forced disappearances, in 149 of which there was evidence that the authorities may have participated. This fact is already serious, but more serious is what Lia Limon, the Interior Ministry’s under-secretary of legal affairs and human rights, said the same day: “In theory, there is a database of slightly over 27,000 [disappeared] persons.” The following day, Minister Osorio amended the under secretary’s statement by saying that “we don’t have an official list yet, because we are constructing it, but we do know that the count is in the thousands.” Four days later, Under-Secretary Limon returned to the fray and, refuting her boss’ claims, produced an official list of 26,121 disappeared or missing persons, apparently compiled by the National Center of Planning, Analysis and Information for Combating Crime (CENAPI), part of the Attorney General's Office (PGR). Without a doubt, the list ended up raising more questions than it answered: 27 percent of the cases correspond to disappearances or losses in the capital. If Mexico State, Jalisco and Guanajuato are added to this (not exactly a map of the war against drug traffickers), it comes to 54 percent of the registered cases. Quintana Roo has twice the number of cases that Chihuahua has, and Yucatan has 20 times more than Coahuila. It is, in sum, a list of who knows what, put together who knows how. But now it is an official register and there is nothing left to do but search and clean up the list: good luck to whoever (the Attorney General's Office?) is in charge of these thankless tasks (I only hope that they remember that they owe them to Assistant Secretary Limon).

In conclusion, here is a respectful request to the Interior Ministry: get organized now. We want to talk about you with reference to something other than disorder and improvisation.

*Translated and reprinted with permission from Alejandro Hope, of Plata o Plomo, a blog on the politics and economics of drugs and crime published by Animal Politico. Read the Spanish original here. Hope is also a member of InSight Crime's Board of Directors.

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