Law and Order: Mexico? by guest blogger, N.J. Blake
Welcome to my first guest blogger – journalist, author, long-time observer of Mexico, N.J. Blake. She also happens to be my mother. This is her riff on the themes I explored in an entry last week about Mexican federal police being required to read suspects their rights. If this leaves you wanting to read more, check out the series on Mexico’s judicial reform that we co-wrote in 2009 for an AVINA Investigative Journalism Award and my mother’s wonderful humorous novel about San Miguel de Allende, Truth be Told.
Judicial reform is back in the news. It was a hot topic back in 2008 when President Calderon signed the reforms into law, but lately it has taken a back seat to the more striking headlines about body dumps, masked vigilantes and murdered musicians. Turns out all it takes to get this topic back in the news is an attractive French woman, her despicable boyfriend and his band of kidnappers, a few victims, some shady cops and voilà, it’s back on the front page.
Florence Cassez was released from a 60-year sentence for kidnapping, due to police foul-ups, not proof of her innocence. Delaying her right to communicate with the French consulate might have been a tad brutish, but forcing her to re-enact her arrest a day later for television news crews is hard to overlook, at least for three of the five judges who voted to set her free. Finger-pointing is ongoing as to whose idea the re-enactment was – the PGR says it was done at the request of the broadcast media who in turn say it was the feds who asked for a bit of image burnishing and they even hint that this was far from an isolated incident. Alas, truth must be the daughter of time. Maybe.
For Mexicans this is just one more injustice, an insult despite the French declaration that the release of Mlle. Cassez was “a great day for Mexico”. Not true, say the polls. According to various surveys, some 80% of Mexicans are outraged, and believe her to be guilty of kidnapping, a crime as heinous as it is common. The idea of reinstating the death penalty is gaining support, it’s even part of the Green Party platform.
Clearly there was a need for some damage control so the SEGOB announced that the federal police will now be required to read suspects their rights. So it shall be written, so it shall be done. Anyone in Mexico, citizen or not, shall be reminded that they have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney and even the right to know why they are being arrested. They really should add the “right to flee” since shooting people in the back has been a useful way to get rid of the inconvenient for centuries. When and if this mandate will trickle down to the local coppers is anyone’s guess. Will it make a difference? Not likely; a vast majority of potential detainees won’t know what they’re missing and those who demand to be read their rights will probably get popped in the mouth for their trouble. No, like most political maneuvers, this is more show than substance, not unlike the cries for new gun laws in the US. Drafting new legislation is so much more telegenic than working to enforce existing laws.
“Mirandizing” suspects may be new but due process laws are not – these rights are already part of the Mexican constitution, as is the right to bear arms, the right to a speedy trial and so on. The Mexican constitution even guarantees the social, economic and cultural well-being of its citizens. In short, it promises the impossible and has been largely ignored since its proclamation in 1917. Dusting it off might be a good idea, but so far translating the vision into reality has proven problematic and most of the trumpeting dies down after election season.
What’s to be done? Reforming the judicial system is imperative, but decrees aren’t enough. Before trust there must be transparency and understanding. If one of the biggest obstacles to the successful implementation of these reforms is an uninformed citizenry, then what better way to educate them than through entertainment? Set this information to music, write songs about it, plaster it on the sides of buses, make it into an app. Forget dubbing into Spanish the detectives fighting crime on the mean streets of New York – it’s time to bring LAW & ORDER to Mexico. Play it out in prime time, and make heroes out of cops, prosecutors and defense attorneys. There’s a panoply of telenovela stars ready to fill the shoes of Jack McCoy, Abbie Carmichael and Lenny Briscoe. The pilot episode can open with police officers hot on the trail of a gang of kidnappers…Following due process, Miranda warning included, they make their arrest and the next half hour can be spent watching ADA Maria la del Barrio battle it out with Chucho Chicles in front of Judge Gata Salvaje.