México – Mexican transition towards a modern democracy, back in the late nineties of the XX century, meant a gradual but nonetheless impressive transformation of both its domestic and foreign policy. From an authoritarian standpoint emphasizing order at home and non-intervention, protectionism, sovereignty and traditional diplomacy abroad we gradually moved into a cosmopolitan view of government prioritizing tolerance, human rights, rule of law and a rather sophisticated perspective on global responsibility, leadership and interdependence. As by-products of globalization, new and particularly challenging intermestic issues – considered by well-known political science scholars like James Rosenau as the result of the current blur of the distinction between domestic and international affairs- aroused with saliency in our political agenda.
In terms of democratic governance, new developments in human rights fructified in a comprehensive reform that incorporated them, for the first time in our contemporary history, into the Constitution with a binding effect. The Mexican legal and institutional framework has undergone important progress to the extent that the implementation of the Conventionality control and other mechanisms fostering the obligation of all public authorities to respect human rights has been largely acknowledged. In 2014, for instance, the Mexican Senate approved a constitutional reform to authorize the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) to file unconstitutionality actions to defend human rights and withdrew the reservations of three milestone treaties concerning aliens, forced disappearance of persons and the contentious jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Further, with approximately ten percent of total population living in the United States -half of them with an irregular status- Mexico soon became also the champion, at least on a narrative outlook and not necessarily regarding our own immigration problem in the Central American context, of the protection of immigrant rights. A whole array of institutional changes were performed in order to create, for instance, the Institute of Mexicans abroad (IME, by its Spanish acronym) and the effort to reach an agreement with the United States on regularization and temporary permits, even if frustrated by the 9/11 events, went far enough as to get some small-scale and State-level advantages.
However five years after the entry into force of the human rights constitutional reform and almost fifteen since the 9/11 attacks frustrated our comprehensive migration reform project, we are still in great debt with both ideals. On the one hand it is true that in terms of the normative framework, at least in the national scope, the level of recent progress is noteworthy. Congress has delivered landmark efforts when working towards a new and strong legislation to, for instance, protect asylum seekers and refugees, an important issue in the light of a diplomatic tradition going back to the early thirties in the XX Century when Mexico received thousands of them fleeing from the horrors of the Second World War. We had taken similar steps in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies to advance new normative measures protecting victims of torture, human trafficking and vulnerable groups such as women and persons with disabilities and in developing a new criminal justice system. On the other, and in spite of such commitment, we have great challenges in the implementation field. As the Interamerican Human Rights Commission argues, the challenge basically consists in closing the existing gap between the legal framework, unconditional support of human rights and the reality faced by a still large number of citizens.
Our geographic location doesn’t make things easy. Today Mexico is playing a similar role than the Mediterranean Sea in the Western hemisphere. Through Mexico weapons from the United States flow to the entire region fueling crime.
More than 80% of the weapons recovered form drug cartels and organized crime actually come from illicit smuggling started in the US. Mexico is a country of production and export, a destination market and a transportation route for drugs and seven out of the ten most dangerous countries in the world are located in the region, some of them right in our Southern border. With different dimensions but a similar outcome we are witnessing a truly silent humanitarian crisis. Entire families and increasingly unaccompanied children originally from the so-called Northern Triangle of El Salvador, on the move to the North, face deportations, unrests and a number of perils from intimidations to abductions. A beefed-up border security in the United States and a Southern Border Protection Program to apprehend them in Mexico are just a few of the elements further deteriorating an already complex situation. Not to mention of course, the fact that Mexican migration to the US, even if decreasing, is still awaiting for a comprehensive answer.
We are entitled to be in one decade or two, according to calculations, one of the major 10 economies in the world. But the fight against drug trafficking and violence has been costly not only in terms of economic resources deviated from social among other legitimate purposes but also regarding the consolidation of democratic institutions. Today, organized crime threatens local governments and over 80 majors and former majors of several important cities have been murdered in the last 10 years.
The most salient challenge of our time is not only to further expand the global threshold for the defense and truly exercise of human rights, but also to fight and confront the threats of moving backwards blossoming from xenophobia, nationalism, supremacism, autarchy, authoritarianism and protectionism even in consolidated democracies at the very heart of the Western civilization. However, Mexico is still fighting an essential quarrel. Indeed, we have a serious problem in terms of the consolidation of rule of law as a principle guiding policy and actions against impunity, particularly in the current context of violence as a result of the proliferation of organized crime operations and a military response to it. The effort in favor of rule of law and against impunity is one that must be launched by 2,500 local governments, 32 states and the 3 Federal Powers. Without their full participation, the implementation of human rights reforms and policies has no chance of improvement. Priorities are numerous starting from capacity-building, better salaries and training to members of police corporations, to appoint civilians as heads of both the Ministries of National Defense and Navy together with a transparent process of returning some military elements, currently protecting several cities and its surroundings, to the barracks.
It is rather evident that we still face several challenges in terms of human right treaties still pending of approval or harmonization in our domestic law. Interamerican Conventions such as the one protecting human rights of older persons, International Labour Organization Covenants and the Facultative Protocol of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are among the most important. We certainly need a General Law on Forced Disappearances, a solid legal framework on the use of force and new anti-torture provisions making sure that both the Federal and State level authorities are required to comply with international best practices and to follow the recommendations of International Organizations working in extrajudicial executions, forced displacements and citizen security.
On top of that, the fight against corruption and the policies fostering a new commitment towards rule of law must see no setbacks. It is through institutional strengthening that Mexico will reach its true potential as an economic, humanitarian and democratic power. To this end, international cooperation is instrumental. But essentially we require a change of mentalities, a new set of domestic priorities and a much needed consensus among political elites: either we seriously tackle this challenge, strongly invest will and resources to it or we might loose the opportunity of becoming the moral power Latin America and the world need.