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Monday, November 5, 2012

Democracy and Human Rights in Post-Election Mexico

mexico.jpgFrancisco Valdes, Director General of Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), visited campus on Monday October 29th along with Joy Langston, Professor of Political Science at Centro de Investigacion y Docencia Economicas (CIDE), to discuss the state of Democracy and Human Rights in Post-election Mexico. Mexico's election has reinstated the PRI the previously hegemonic party that was defeated for the first time in 70 year in 2000. Since this reinstatement many questions have surfaced about the state of constitutional and political rights in Mexico.

Francisco Valdes is a specialist on constitutional reform and politics in Latin America and is a regular columnist in Mexico City's Universal paper. Valdes emphasized that there have been important electoral and judicial changes in Mexican politics since the hegemonic stage of the PRI. The most important changes Valdes pointed out were the existence of competitive elections and an independent Supreme Court. Despite these improvements Valdes argued that once in office the PAN did not change the nature of governance in Mexico. He points to the main reasons for this lack of accountability is behind the constitutional provisions of no re-election for officials and a high concentration of power in the national government. Valdes characterized the current political situation as one of democratic access but authoritative rule.
Joy Langston is the leading authority on the PRI in Mexico. She specifically talked to what the main concerns are now, including that the PRI has retaken control of the Presidency and the majority of governorships in Mexico. Langston emphasized that signs point to a significant change in the PRI since their previous PRI administrations. Most notably they now have to work in a democratically competitive environment. One major question Langston addressed is whether the PRI will negotiate with drug cartels. She held that it was doubtful there could be a return to former PRI status quo in dealing with drug cartels. This status quo was an agreement of non-intervention as long as there was no public violence and the drugs were kept out of Mexican streets and sold to the United States. Langston pointed out that now the drug cartels are much wealthier and more fragmented, particularly the Zetas, because of Calderon's policies. This fragmentation makes negotiation difficult if not impossible. Langston pointed to current president elect Enrique Pena Nieto's promises to bring down violence and focusing on crimes against society such as kidnapping and extortion as the only major indications that have been given about his drug policy. Most importantly Langston emphasized that the PRI now has to deal with an independent Supreme Court and will be expected to deliver some form of structural reforms.
In direct relation to the human rights situation in Mexico, Valdes and Langston both emphasized that major problems are a lack of access to the judicial system and public financing of parties. They explained that beyond the Supreme Court the judicial system remains very weak and changing it would prove very costly. They also explained that the public financing system allows governors large amounts of expendable cash allowing for the financing of local elections and ensuring that the PRI is able to retain a majority in governorships and local elections. There are however increasing steps towards reform because of the new electoral competitiveness. Most notably with drug policy is the recent Supreme Court ruling that ensures armed forces that commit crimes against civilians will be tried in civilian and not military courts. Hopefully these developments point towards a continued strengthening of the legal system in Mexico.
Valdes and Langston both painted a picture of Mexican democracy that is changing and involving. Although they have returned to the PRI it is hardly the same situation that was in place the last time they ruled. It will be interesting to follow the developments under this new PRI and a Mexico with stronger electoral competition and judicial independence.
Written by Carly Dooley.