The news from Mexico has certainly taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks. While not so popular at home, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has been a darling in international circles for his willingness to take on controversial reform, especially in the case of privatizing Pemex. Media headlines tended to be dominated by his bold reforms and the optimistic future of Mexico.
This week, however, I saw my first “Mexico as a failed state” headline in a couple of years and it’s not hard to see why. Here’s a sampling of some horrible news coming out of Mexico right now:
Mass Graves Dot Hillsides Around Iguala as Search for Missing Students Continues
Mexican Military Executed at Least 12, Federal Panel Says
Criminals Turn to Metal Theft as Mexico Underworld Fragments
US Police Corrupted by Mexico’s Cartels Along Border
No wonder we are seeing protests that look like this:
One of my favorite tweeters, Laura Seay (@texasinafrica), posted an article by the AP entitled “Stop! Somali traffic police try to restore order.” The article is a good reminder of how the basics of creating a modern state might not be flashy, but they are important and they take time. As Laura put it, “The slow, painful, unsexy process of building the rule of law involves traffic control, too.”
Somalia doesn’t have traffic robots yet, but they do have some brave traffic cops trying to do a very difficult job: enforce traffic laws in a country that hasn’t had any in a long, long time. Here are some of the things the cops have to deal with on a daily basis:
1. When police officers try to get people to stop at red lights, most just keep on driving.
2. “Mogadishu recently began installing road signs for the first time..[for that reason]…Large parts of the country’s residents are unfamiliar with traffic laws.”
3. The traffic police have no cars of their own, nor are there any modern laws on the book to enforce. For instance, Somalia last passed traffic laws in 1962 and the fines listed in said law are in a currency that no longer exists.
4. Suicide bombings are still a regular occurrence. For that reason, “troops from the African Union do not stop for traffic signals or accidents they are involved in.”
5. Militants apparently are not amused by the traffic cops, killing 4 last year in targeted attacks.
I just finished an excellent book about Mexico’s democratization called Opening Mexico: The Making of a Democracy by Ny Times reporters (and Pulitzer Prize winners) Julia Preston and Samuel Dillon. The book was published in 2005, so it isn’t exactly recent, but it was well worth it. Chock full of behind the scenes details and interesting tidbits, I’d highly recommend it.
The authors made one point that I found incredible and I’m wondering if there are any readers who can tell me if this is still true. They write:
The judiciary was traditionally the weakest branch of government, and a legal principle that has become central to the operation of the Mexican system symbolized the bench’s limited powers: laws ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court remained in force for all citizens except those who filed the legal challenge. The principle was pioneered in 1847 by Mariano Otero, an eminent constitutional lawyer. To this day, the Otero principle has forced all Mexicans except a handful of wealthy litigants to obey laws already ruled unconstitutional and obligated the country’s highest tribunal to spin its wheels endlessly, reviewing the constitutionality of the same laws again and again.
I’m fascinated by this and I have to say it explains a lot about the Mexican judiciary and its ineffectiveness. What was the legal reasoning behind such a principle? It seems to violate all notions of common sense, fairness, ethics, and rule of law. Does anyone know of any other countries that have had a similar rule?