In 2003, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) was formed, obliging its States Parties to “implement a wide and detailed range of anti-corruption measures affecting their laws, institutions and practices.” These measures were aimed to promote “prevention, criminalization and law-enforcement.” Ironically the Convention was formed in Merida, Mexico. I say ironically, because Mexico, seven years since UNCAC was established, is wearied by years of violence and corruption and is currently amid the throes of one of the worset and most shocking corruption cases the country has ever experienced – inmates being let out of prison to kill. What is going wrong in Mexico? And why isn’t UNCAC achieving its aims and promoting law-enforcement?
Prosecutors in Mexico have accused the director and three other officials of the Gomez Palacio prison in the Durango state of allowing several prisoners, who are members of drug cartels, to leave the prison equipped with guns and vehicles, to carry out the massacre of 17 people at a party earlier this month. Although this incident is the latest of a string of cases involving official corruption, the unbearable atrociousness of the massacre, where police found more than 120 bullet casings at the scene, has even shocked a nation that is sadly worn-down by acts of drug and gang related violence.
In the aftermath of a series of drug gang related atrocities, renewed media attention regarding corruption in Mexico has surfaced. BBC Radio Four, for example informs listeners that in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, the local saying “plata o plomo” meaning “silver or lead”, means you either work for drug cartels or they kill you. Whilst a report on the Al Jazeera news site tells readers that less than two percent of crimes in Mexico result in prison sentences. According to Francisco Blake, the interior secretary in Mexico, the accusations made towards Gomez Palacio prison is an admonition for the Mexican administration:
“ can only be seen as a wake-up call for authorities to address, once again, the state of deterioration in many local law enforcement institutions… We cannot allow this kind of thing to happen again,” said Blake.
But wasn’t not-allowing “this kind of thing to happen”, the fundamental basis for the forming of UNCAC? And how, seven years after its conception, has a country, where the convention was conceived, managed to become so entrenched in violence and corruption?
In 2009, UNCAC was rendered toothless by many. Christian Aid, Global Witness, Tax Justice Network and Tearfund, all agreed that several countries could be held responsible for the failure of securing a strong peer review mechanism that would give the global anti-corruption treaty real power and ensure the signatory countries of the UNCAC are living up to their commitments. The organizations fearing for UNCAC’s power, blamed the governments of Russia, China and Egypt for weakening proposals for a strong review mechanism, which instead led to countries settling on a weak compromise that does not guarantee transparency or accountability. George Boden of Global Witness said:
“A huge opportunity to turn rhetoric into action has been lost due to the irresponsible behavior of an unlikely coalition of blocking countries.”
Reiterating George Boden’s beliefs is Laura Webster of Tearfund, who said:
“It represents a significant setback for UNCAC. The failure to agree a transparent and inclusive review mechanism will result in a huge loss of momentum for global anti-corruption efforts.”
“Corruption is one of the main reasons that countries remain poor, as government revenues disappear into the pockets of corrupt officials, whilst the poorest are denied access to healthcare, education and a decent living”.
This ‘irresponsible behavior’, which has resulted in a slowed coercion towards global anti-corruption efforts, may have affected Mexico and even contributed to the devastating acts of corruption occurring in the country recently. Although the situation involving drugs, violence and official corruption in Mexico, is much more ambiguous than simply placing the blame on the failings of UNCAC. Mexico, has traditionally been, and continues to be, the main source of entry for most narcotics arriving in the US. Despite occasional efforts by Mexico’s federal government to deploy federal police officers and the military to retain order against drug-related violence, often these figures of authority, instead of prosecuting the criminals, provide protection for the traffickers and drug cartels.
When Felipe Calderon became Mexican’s President in 2006, he launched an army-led crackdown on drug cartels. Since Calderon came into power, there have been approximately 26,000 drug gang-related deaths. This staggeringly-high amount of gang-related deaths, at a time when the government and the army are trying to ‘crackdown’ on these types of crime suggests two things:
- That the authorities are attributing to the violence by protecting the criminals
- That the world outside of Mexico, namely the UN and its conventions, are not doing enough to prevent a nation spiraling any further out of control.
The primary obstacle that is obstructing counter-drug success in Mexico is the country’s intrinsic institutional weakness. If the country is to vastly improve the drastic situation currently plaguing its towns and cities, counter-drug law-enforcement units need to be significantly reinforced, in addition to institutional restructuring and transition. One of UNCAC’s policies is that it requires nations to establish criminal and other offenses to cover a wide range of acts of corruption. The fact that less than two percent of crimes in Mexico result in prison sentences allows us to justifiably deduce that UNCAC is far from achieving its aims in Mexico.
As the recent revelations about the Gomez Palacio prison proves, Mexican prisons are far from secure. Even in maximum security prisons, it is believed that guards and officials are regularly paid off to assist major traffickers in escaping.
Mexico is, of course, far from the only corrupt country existing in the world. Although with reports about prisoners being let out to massacre 17 people at a party filling the news bulletins, it is easy to feel a sense of anger and ask the question, why isn’t more being done to prevent these atrocities from happening? Although it may be easy to mull and muse over the situation, but as George Boden said, “the difficult and essential part is turning rhetoric into action”.
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