Commit murder in Mexico and you are more than likely to get away with it.
Some people may think that this is added reason to take the in-laws to Acapulco next year, but the reality has little to do with white sand beaches and ocean spray.
In June, Mexico’s El Universal newspaper reported that 95 per cent of the about 22,000 executions from December 2006 to April 2010 have not been investigated. While a study by the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego, said in May that between one and two per cent of rising “common” crime and crime linked to criminal gangs resulted in a sentence in 2008. That is of the estimated less than 25 per cent of crime that was actually reported, and takes into account those who give themselves up, the clear cut cases, and so on. Two per cent, of 25 per cent, of at least 5,500 murders, thousands of stabbings, rapes, etc.
The international media reports the vast majority of Mexico’s often horrific crime incidents and rates as “Drug Violence” and little more. Only in a few cases has attention been paid to the breakdown of society and effect on people’s lives. This drug violence appears to preclude outrageous crime from being reported as such, hidden behind what the gatekeepers see as homogenised criminality. The blockade of Monterrey barely received attention, but it was the equivalent of trucks shutting off a city with the population the size of Manchester’s or Vancouver’s, and was in the industrial centre of one of the largest economies in Latin America.
Scant context is provided of how government institutions are providing little resistance to the all-encompassing drugs cartels.
Maureen Meyer, of the Washington Office on Latin America, told me that when Felipe Calderon, the president, began a crackdown on the drugs gangs in December 2006, by adding tens of thousands of military personnel to the streets, the weakness of government institutions was not taken into account.
This weakness means that police do not start investigations or evidence is not taken down correctly. Arrests are not made or cases not brought to court. The judiciary appears to not have the will or capacity to prosecute and convict people for crimes.
Meyer said that the low prosecution rate means there is little disincentive to commit a crime in Mexico, a particular problem in a country where about seven hugely powerful drugs gangs are vying for control.
The judiciary has a host of problems from lengthy and inefficient proceeding, that regularly leave suspects of low level crime in jail for years as they await trial, cited inadequate defence teams and a lack of transparency. Some sources state that more than 40 per cent of the prison population in Mexico is inmates waiting for a final verdict. One study has also shown that 80 per cent of defendants interviewed in one state were not able to speak to a judge during their criminal proceedings.
Mexico’s police service is also blighted by corruption and poor skills, impacting upon investigations. Evidence is regularly unprotected or not gathered impeding justice. There has traditionally been a separation between patrol and crime prevention work and investigations, meaning that officers employed in the former do not have skills or responsibility for the latter.
Members of the police force are faced with nepotism, dangerous working conditions and bad pay, typically pushing them towards corruption.
Mitofsky, a polling firm, found that the police are one of the least respected of Mexico’s institutions – after political parties, legislators and unions – due to perceived corruption, criminality or incompetence. Only one in 10 Mexicans said they had some or more confidence in the force.
Much of the situation in Mexico stems from the country being barely 10 years out of one-party rule. Development of the judiciary was hampered under 71 years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRE), it being very close to the government.
When this all encompassing dictatorship in all but name was voted out, power vacuums emerged at all levels of government and in most of its institutions, which criminal gangs are said to have exploited.
Where the PRI had once commanded local mayors, judiciaries and press, criminal groups positioned themselves.
Latterly this has coincided with the US helping to close off the traditional Caribbean drugs smuggling route from Colombia to the US, increasing work for Mexican gangs.
So while failures continue, it has to be remembered that the development of anything resembling a democratic police force and professional, independent judiciary is hugely difficult in a decade in a country the size of Mexico.
This size causes problems in coordinating anti-crime work. Municipal, state and federal governments are seen as poorly linked and in some cases it is unclear who has jurisdiction for particular crimes. This means that regularly crimes are not properly investigated by any authority.
In an attempt to address the violence and impunity across the country, Congress initiated legislative and constitutional reforms in 2008 to be implemented throughout the country by 2016.
These reforms included stricter criminal procedures for defence, retraining judges and lawyers and professionalising the police force, at federal and state levels.
The federal government is to increase investment in training, equipment and improving the integrity of the police force. Billions of dollars have been directed to this at local and state levels, but in many cases the money has so far gone unspent. In Guanajuato, Quintana Roo and Jalisco states about 90 per cent of allowances from the Public Security and Assistance Fund were left unspent in 2009.
This ineffective and slow pace of reform has led to criticisms that the proposed changes are too much, too soon for Mexico. The breadth and size of the 2008 reforms are huge, with no estimate for the total necessary funds to fulfill them. Coaxing state and federal authorities into initiating them could be difficult enough.
The deadline of 2016 will seem distant for Mexicans living amid the violence, but it is unlikely to be met, leaving those in Acapulco to look after themselves for many more years.
Follow Rhodri Davies on Twitter: @rhodrirdavies