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La Semana: Sunday, May 1
The week in political mudslinging and the forensic crisis in Mexico
Welcome to the Sunday edition of The Mexpatriate. In today’s newsletter:
The contentious aftermath of the Easter Sunday vote
“Nothing like CSI”: the forensic crisis in Mexico (from 2013 archive)
Please send me your comments, feedback and questions, and feel free to forward this to anyone who may be interested. You can always find all sources (with links) at the bottom of the email.
The contentious aftermath of the Easter Sunday vote
“In Mexico, the Constitution is very clear: the energy resources and petroleum deposits belong exclusively to the Mexican people in perpetuity. Any other speculation on the matter is treason. Industrializing the country does not require selling our natural resources to the highest bidder, nor the indiscriminate transfer of our national wealth.”
This paragraph is taken from a letter allegedly written by President Adolfo López Mateos to “the Mexican people”, dated September 27, 1960. This letter has been referenced by President López Obrador since 2014, and surfaced again during the aftermath of the defeat of his energy reform bill in Congress on April 17. The letter goes so far as to tell Mexican citizens that López Mateos “exempts” them “any obedience to future leaders who intend to turn over our energy resources to outside interests” and warns of “bad Mexicans” who will try to hand over petroleum and other national resources to foreigners.
“How can there be a peaceful transfer of power if you consider anyone in the opposition to be a traitor to the country?”
The letter seems tailor-made to vindicate the nationalist, populist rhetoric of MORENA and the president and their predilection for epic historical narratives. And perhaps it was: the letter has no proof of authenticity. In response to a freedom of information request made in 2021, the executive office came up empty-handed. “This ‘letter’ brings to mind two conclusions: first, that if the president turns to the dead to muster support, then he doesn’t have enough among the living; second, if lopezobradoristas are capable of falsifying the work of López Mateos, they are capable of falsifying everything,” noted historian Soledad Loaeza in a scathing opinion piece in Nexos.
This document, whether written by one López or the other, provides context for the increasingly inflammatory political rhetoric unleashed in the last two weeks. “This is the foulest I’ve seen,” said Alejandro Moreno, president of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) in an April 26 interview. On April 25, the president of MORENA, Mario Delgado, announced his party’s intention to pursue criminal charges of treason against the 223 representatives who voted against the energy reform bill. This comes after posters have been printed and put up with photos of members of Congress from opposition parties labeled as “traitors to the country”.
Members of the opposition parties have called this a “hate campaign” and many commentators have expressed concern about AMLO and his supporters taking an anti-democratic turn. “How can there be a peaceful transfer of power if you consider anyone in the opposition to be a traitor to the country?” asks Pablo Majluf, an analyst who views this as “fascist” rhetoric.
“We call it treason because [the energy reform] wasn’t just any bill, it’s about national sovereignty,” claimed Mario Delgado in defense of MORENA’s strategy. While this appears to be a bold political move to motivate the party’s base with the electoral battle for 2024 in mind, the short-term effect has been waking up an opposition that has so far been disorganized and uninspired during AMLO’s term. Few things unify a disparate group more than being lumped together as the “villains” on the national stage.
On April 28, the president announced his next legislative gambit: an electoral reform bill. Opposition parties have already fiercely contested it and claim they will never allow it to pass. The aim is to “make Mexico’s democracy cheaper” by substituting the INE (National Electoral Institute) with a new federal electoral agency, reducing the number of members of Congress and purportedly saving 24 billion pesos. The bill would reduce the number of “plurinominales”, or representatives chosen by proportional representation, who make up 200 of the 500 members of Congress (more detailed explanation on this to come).
“There is not an intention to impose single party rule, what we want is for there to be authentic and true democracy in the country, and to end election fraud,” said AMLO of the reform. It’s difficult not to read between the lines of the proposal the president’s desire for revenge: his accusations of election fraud going back to 2006 were centered on the federal electoral body (INE) and tribunal, both of which would be either replaced or drastically overhauled by this legislation.
“Electoral reform bills have always been a way to resolve demands made by the opposition,” explains INE director, Lorenzo Córdova in an interview. “From this perspective, the reforms have been a way to assure inclusion and prevent players from leaving the game. I mention this, because as far as I know or remember, this is the first reform requested by those in power. Instead of the opposition threatening to break the democratic contract if conditions are not improved, the political party in power is the one pushing for a reform.”
Perhaps this is attributable to AMLO’s lengthy career in the trenches of the opposition and the fact that MORENA is a social movement more than it is a political party. “MORENA is a phenomenon,” as described by Delgado, its president. He is confident (and polls tend to agree) that they will be victorious in upcoming governor’s races in Oaxaca, Aguascalientes, Durango, Hidalgo, Quintana Roo and Tamaulipas on June 5.
“I hope the opposition begins to focus on the results of this sexenio, and doesn’t fall into this new snare laid by the regime,” wrote Jorge Castañeda of the electoral reform. There are ample statistics to draw upon to demonstrate the paucity of change during the first half of AMLO’s term, despite his and his party’s assurances that Mexico is living a moment of historical “transformation”.
“Nothing like CSI”: the forensic crisis in Mexico
Originally published on The Mexpatriate blog in April 2013
I am re-publishing this article from nine years ago as background on the continuing criminal investigation obstacles faced in Mexico today, which I will be writing about in La Semana next week.
“It's nothing like CSI. I wish it was more like that, or more modern, but it's primitive. The situation is primitive.”
This is Aldo Ledon Pereira, representative of Voces Mesoamericanas (a migrant advocacy group) describing the state of criminal investigation in Mexico today. Ledon's organization is working in conjunction with the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) on a project called Proyecto Frontera (Border Project) which is undertaking the painstaking task of creating a national DNA database. “The goal of this project is to improve communication amongst prosecutors' offices, to follow up on locating missing persons and also create a protocol for unidentified corpses...The dream or ideal is to have a regional system that covers Central America and Mexico.” He added that it could be 15 years before Mexico has its own DNA database that could be used to match unidentified bodies to missing persons reports.
Proyecto Frontera started when a co-founder of EAAF, Mercedes Doretti, went to Ciudad Juárez to help identify the remains of murdered women. It was a Herculean task: “there was no way to find genetic information.” Doretti (recipient of a MacArthur “genius grant”) started her work in the 1980s by investigating disappearances during Argentina's military dictatorship. “From its inception, EAAF’s multi-stage process has involved exhaustive historical research and interviews to locate clandestine graves; painstaking excavation and documentation of remains; determination of cause, manner, and time of death of victims; and the return of identified victims’ remains to families.” Doretti has worked all over the world in countries wounded by years of conflict. According to Doretti, in Mexico "we have a very severe humanitarian crisis since there are over 25,000 missing persons according to the attorney general's office, so there are 25,000 families waiting for answers." Through her investigations in Ciudad Juárez, Doretti discovered that authorities had misidentified several women whose remains had been returned to their families; this led to a condemnation of Mexico's judicial system from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. But it was just the beginning for Doretti.
EAAF has co-founded DNA databases in Guatemala, El Salvador and Chiapas and through them has been working to provide answers to the scores of families throughout Central America and Mexico whose loved ones have vanished on a perilous trek to the United States. The organization currently has 448 open cases. In March 2012, EAAF and other human rights organizations filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to request that Mexico create an International Forensic Commission to properly identify the remains found in several mass graves discovered in Tamaulipas, Nuevo León and Durango.
“The main problem is always access. If there isn't the political will to investigate, you may have all the evidence in the world, you may have all the experts, all the funding, but you're not going to be able to do it,” Doretti told an interviewer for Scientific American in October 2012. In discussing her experiences with the cases of the murdered women in Ciudad Juárez, Doretti was very critical of the Mexican authorities and their investigative misconduct. “These remains had gone through several DNA analyses in Mexican state and federal laboratories, and they came back with different results. It was one of the few places in the world where we arrived and the families said, 'We don't trust DNA.' There were other problems as well. Some forensic experts produced results based on anthropological techniques that contradicted most of the DNA results. Some of the remains were not with their original clothing—they had male clothing on them. In one case most of the biological and documental evidence had disappeared—we found the spine at the medical school.”
The lack of resources, infrastructure and training is exacerbated by an apathetic attitude from law enforcement toward an ever-increasing number of cases. Family members are often ignored or sent away, even told they should do their own investigation. And there is denial; neither Felipe Calderón’s administration nor the current Peña Nieto government has fully acknowledged the extent of the damage. As Ledon says: “No country is prepared to see so much death, so much systematic violence.”
¿Una gran fabricación? (Nexos)
AMLO presenta su reforma electoral (Animal Político)
ONG solicitan conformar sistema regional de ADN (El Universal)
Forensic anthropologist uses DNA to solve real-life murder mysteries in Latin America (Scientific American)
Proyecto Frontera: buscando la identidad de 25 mil desaparecidos (Animal Político)