Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Peña Nieto sends proposed constitutional amendments to Mexico's Congress

Guadalajara -
In Mexico City yesterday the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) administration of president Enrique Peña Nieto submitted a proposal for the amendment of seven separate provisions of the country's federal constitution, in an effort to strip local governing bodies of the legal independence which has enabled them to be infiltrated by organized crime. Peña Nieto offers new security plan for Mexico.

"The proposed constitutional reforms which I am today submitting for your consideration will establish a new policing system that allows Mexican families to feel safe on the streets, protected by officers who are professionally trained, reliable and whose primary interest is in guaranteeing the security of the community," Peña Nieto said in his transmittal message to legislators.

"In some case, police departments have been co-opted by criminal organizations," the president noted on a day which marked the beginning of his third year in office.

The PRI administration hopes to replace nearly 2,000 local and county law enforcement agencies with 32 state ones, under a plan known as the Unified Command. But because several provisions of Mexico's constitution vest local governing bodies with primary policing authority, the nation's core law must first be amended.

"County and local police departments, for the most part, lack both the human resources and the equipment necessary to discharge their important duties. In 86% of such departments there are less than 100 officers," the transmittal message added.

The government is also seeking legal authority to dissolve elected county and town governments, if and when Mexico's Attorney General and Secretary of Government jointly determine they have been taken over by organized crime. Although the details have not been fully fleshed out, federal officials would presumably provide and manage local government services under this aspect of the plan, at least on an interim basis. New elections would eventually have to be called in the affected entity.

Yet another Peña Nieto proposal is to give the federal Congress greater authority in defining crimes and fixing the penalties, particularly with respect to offenses which generally have been within the exclusive purview of local jurisdictions. The net effect of all the amendments, if approved, would be to federalize the Mexican criminal justice system in an unprecedented way.

The administration's proposals are a direct outgrowth of incessant narco violence in Guerrero state. Last month a major national news network, citing Mexico's Secretary of Defense as its source, reported that at least six drug cartels, dozens of affiliated gangs and two guerrilla movements which call themselves people's revolutionary armies have divided up the state, effectively controlling 77% of its counties. Control of Guerrero hotly disputed by six major drug cartels, and many local gangs.

Some representatives from the center right National Action Party complained that the amendments would violate Mexico's federalist system of government by stripping local jurisdictions of core rights and privileges, especially with respect to law enforcement prerogatives.

And some Mexican constitutional law experts contend that allowing federal authorities to take over a county or town government by ousting its duly elected mayor and legislative assembly could be abused, if the administration's decision was prompted by political animus masquerading as concern over alleged infiltration of the entity by organized crime. The proposed amendments would preclude local officials from challenging such a takeover in court, once the Attorney General and Secretary of Government had made a formal finding of infiltration.

Leaders of Mexico's Senate and House of Deputies, the lower federal chamber, said yesterday that they hope to vote on the package of proposed amendments by Dec. 15, when the regular legislative session will end. Leaders did not rule out calling a special session if more debate time is needed.

Dec. 8, 2014 - Peña Nieto wins support on security plan debate from all three major political parties
Dec. 21, 2011 - Federal troops take over police functions in Veracruz - 1,000 local cops dismissed

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