Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

Soldiers Accused of Raping Two Indigenous Women Finally Arrested After Twelve Years

For context read this blog post post from October 2010.

The soldiers accused of raping Valentina Rosendo Cantú and Inés Fernández Ortega in Guerrero, Mexico, have finally been arrested and charged, three years after the Inter American Court of Human Rights ordered that the Mexican State prosecute the military soldiers responsible for the rape and torture of these two indigenous women and twelve years after the crimes were committed. It remains to be seen if they will be condemned or even tried, as the Mexican military is openly hostile to the prosecution of military men in civilian courts and until now, the Supreme Court has supported this military fuero ( see here for details).

For more information (in Spanish) see this report.

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Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Politics, Violence Against Women, , ,

Why Josefina isn’t Different

20120625-211742.jpg

Next week Mexico goes to the polls to choose its next president. Both in and outside Mexico, one of the most reported aspects of the race has been the fact that one of the main stream parties -the Partido Acción Nacional or PAN- fielded a women as their candidate. As Yali Noriega noted in a recent article here, much of the media discussion concerned the questioning of a woman’s ability to fulfil adequately the role of president, and took little account of Vázquez Mota’s previous career [1].

Happily as the campaign progressed this type of argument was abandoned. It was widely thought that Vázquez Mota performed well in the television presidential debates and the discussion of her candidacy has been mostly in terms of her political proposals [2].

It is shame, therefore, that the election campaign followed by Vázquez Mota, in contrast, has been almost exclusively based around the fact the she is a women. Her slogans are simple and to the point: “Josefina, different” and “Josefina, a woman speaks”. During her campaign she has made a point of seeking out the female vote; her argument is always the same, I am a woman too, I share your experiences and thus know what you need. In the recent television debate she asked pointedly asked her female audience, who -of the four candidates currently running- would they put in charge of their family and to choose their vote accordingly. She was sure, she said, they would choose her as she was the only one with experience in that area.

However, for Vázquez Mota this use of “identity politics” is merely superficial effort to disguise the fact that she is, in fact, no different to the other male PAN presidential candidates that proceeded her. She is not a feminist, nor does she want to identify as such. “There is more to being a woman than being a feminist,” she said in a recent interview with the BBC. She reassures voters on her ability to govern by saying that she might be a woman but she has male attributes. To quote her: “a woman who wears the trousers.”

Moreover, her policies and pronouncements demonstrate that for her, women are a homogenous mass, whose needs and votes are can be defined by a single theme: motherhood. In the aforementioned television debate, Vázquez Mota, outlined her policies for women thus: “I will support them by introducing more nursery school places, more full-time school places and by introducing a law calling for responsible paternity.”

At the same time, she refused to give her support for elective abortion; declaring herself only for the decriminalisation for those found to have interrupted their pregnancy. The PAN is a conservative Catholic party that opposes abortion in most, if not all cases. It has been instrumental in introducing legislation that declares human life to begin at conception in a number of Mexican states. Thus, this kind of comment was disingenuous in the extreme since she must be aware of that fact that these recent reforms make simple decriminalisation impossible.

Thus Josefina Vázquez Mota trades on the fact she is a woman, yet cannot conceive of women as anything other than mothers. She says she represents the best option for Mexican voters because of her sex, yet argues she acts like a man. It is little wonder then that her campaign has been spectacularly unsuccessful. She is currently in third place according to the most recent opinion polls. Mexican women seem perfectly capable of seeing though her slogans. Mexico would benefit from a female president, but only one who has a better understanding of the complexities of women’s experiences and their needs. Otherwise it’s just more of the same.

[1] See Yali Noriega’s recent article, “Is Josefina right for Mexico?” at http://e-feminist.com .
[2] A good biography (in Spanish) of Vázquez Mota’s career can be found in the following link; although, as usual there is a definite emphasis on her private life and various moments of physical illness and weakness she has suffered during her career: http://www.nexos.com.mx/?P=leerarticulo&Article=2102725

This article first appeared at http://e-feminist.com

Filed under: Feminism, Politics, , , ,

Abortion, Women’s Reproductive Rights and Mexico’s Supreme Court

This week Mexico’s Supreme Court debated the question of whether recent reforms to the constitutions of the states of Baja California and San Luis Potosí were constitutional. Both these constitutions, in common with 17 other states, have included a clause that guarantees the “right to life” from the moment of conception. As I have mentioned on this blog, these reforms have been enacted in response to the legalisation of abortion during the first trimester of gestation in Mexico’s Federal District in 2007 (see here, here and here). In 2008, the Supreme Court upheld the right of Mexico’s federal entities (the 32 states and the Federal District) to legislate on the issue of abortion and rejected a motion for this law to be declared unconstitutional, signalling that the Federal Constitution did not grant the right to life to unborn foetus or embryos.

Given this earlier ruling, prochoice groups had been hopeful that the Court would declare the recent reforms in Baja California and San Luis Potosí unconstitutional, thus paving the way for these same reforms to be challenged in the other states where this amendment had been adopted. This was not to be, however; the Court ruled 7-4 in favour of declaring the reforms unconstitutional, but the motion was dismissed because in votes on questions of constitutionality statute requires the minimum of 8 votes to pass.

What does this decision mean? In the first place, it seems to reiterate the 2008 ruling that Mexico’s federal entities have the faculty to decide on the question of abortion. This is the conclusion that most English reports have emphasised (see for example the Washington Post). However, the implications appear to be more wide-ranging than that. Upholding the idea that life can be legally defined as beginning at conception could also have other consequences; namely in the area of anti-contraceptive use and assisted pregnancy. [1] Some anti-contraceptive devices work by preventing a fertilised egg establishing itself in the womb (like the morning after pill or the coil) for example. IVF treatment usually involves the fertilisation of more eggs than are eventually implanted in the womb; the rest of are usually frozen. Will the constitutional amendments also trigger a revision of what is legal in these cases? Leading Mexican legal scholars think so.[2]

Moreover, the precise wording of the Baja Californian amendment which read: “from the moment an individual is conceived, she/he falls under the protection of the law and is considered born for all legal effects” (“desde el momento en que un individuo es concebido, entra bajo la protección de la ley y se le reputa como nacido para todos los efectos legales correspondientes” [3]) suggests further issues; some apparently trivial, some more serious.

For example, does this recognition of the juridical existence of an embryo/foetus mean that it should be named and issued with identification documents? If the mother needs to travel abroad will she need to acquire a passport for the contents of her womb? More worryingly, the reform seems to give constitutional legitimacy to the already widespread practise in Mexico (see my posts here and here) of prosecuting a women for a suspected induced abortion for murder, rather than for illegally terminating their pregnancy. This allows them to be sentenced for custodial sentences of 20 plus years rather than the 4 or 5 stipulated in the penal codes for abortion. Finally, it appears inevitable that the upholding of the reforms will also mean the criminalising of nearly all women whose pregnancies end in unexplained circumstances, since miscarriages and still-births might be liable to be considered suspected terminations unless it can be proved otherwise. This is concerning as a high number of pregnancy ends in miscarriage in the first trimester of gestation. It is estimated for example that up to half of all fertilized eggs die and are aborted spontaneously, usually before the 6th week of pregnancy. After that, the miscarriage rate is calculated at between 15 and 20%. Moreover 80% of miscarriages occur before 12 weeks of pregnancy, many with no obvious cause [4]. Can Mexico’s already over-stretched and inefficient justice system deal with this number of investigations? The criminalisation of miscarriage and still-birth is also likely to prevent many women seeking medical attention, putting their lives at risk and increasing Mexico’s already high maternal mortality rates (see my post here).

Abortion is a contentious subject in Mexico, as is in most Catholic countries there is strong antiabortion feeling amongst the faithful, encouraged by the Church. In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, the Archbishop of Mexcali (in Baja California) claimed that the Pope had been in communication with one or more of the Supreme Court judges in attempt to influence their vote. This accusation was denied by the Vatican [5]. The political party currently in control of Mexico’s Presidency, the National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional or PAN), is resolutely opposed to abortion; and the party with a majority in Congress –the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido de la Revolución Institucional or PRI) – has sponsored many of the states’ constitutional amendments on the subject of the right to life. Only the minority Democratic Revolution Party (Partido de la Revolución Demcrática or PRD) is prochoice, as evidenced by the legislation in the Federal District, one of the very few entities controlled by this party.

The situation then looks grim in the short-term for prochoice activists in Mexico. However, it must be borne in mind that the Supreme Court did in fact produce a majority in favour of striking down the reforms; it just wasn’t a big enough majority. It can only be hoped that at some future date, the composition of the Court will be more favourable to the protection of women’s rights.

[1] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/editoriales/54864.html

[2] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2011/09/26/politica/007n2pol

[3] http://eljuegodelacorte.nexos.com.mx/?p=1457

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miscarriage

[5] http://www.sinembargo.mx/30-09-2011/48652

Filed under: Feminism, Politics, Women's Right to Choose, , , , , ,

Murdered Because They Were Women or Because They Were Journalists?

Ana María Marcela Yarce Viveros and Rocío González Trápaga

 Ana María Marcela Yarce Viveros, journalist for the magazine Contralínea, and Rocío González Trápaga, freelance journalist and once a reporter on one of Mexico’s biggest television channels, Televisa, were found dead in a park in Mexico City by an early-morning jogger on Thursday. The two women had been strangled; they were discovered naked with their hands and feet tied and rope around their necks. It still is not clear why they were murdered. Yarce Viveros was close friends with González Trápaga; they were last seen having coffee together at quarter to ten on Wednesday night outside the offices of Contralínea.

 This story has made the headlines in Mexico and other countries for a number of reasons. The first is the fact that both women were journalists: according to a variety of sources, including a UN report from last year and information gathered by the NGO Reporters Without Borders, Mexico is the most dangerous place to be a journalist in the American continent. Eight reporters have been killed in 2011 alone and somewhere between 74 and 80 in the last decade. Violence against reporters seems to be one of the consequences of Mexico’s struggle with the drug cartels; although there also well-documented cases of intimidation and violence employed by rich and powerful citizens against journalists they perceive as a threat (see my previous blog post here). Those murdered by the gangs generally show signs of torture or mutilation postmortem. According to reports made by the Mexico City authorities up until now, Yarce Viveros or González Trápaga had also suffered gunshot wounds prior to death, but it isn’t clear how these were received.

    The second reason that this story appears to have made headlines is that the Public Prosecutor in Mexico City, Miguel Ángel Mancera has indicated that the crimes will be investigated as “femicide” (feminicidio) or, as the Associated Press has translated it, “gender crimes”. This class of crime has only been recently adopted in Mexico City and is still quite controversial. Briefly it defines femicide as the murder of women, whose bodies’ present signs of sexual abuse and/or mutilation prior to death or postmortem or have been dumped in a public place. Women whose murderers later prove to be relations or (ex)partners, or whose killers can be showed to have previously made threats against the victim should also be classified this way. The circumstances in which the women’s corpses were dumped –tied up and left naked in a public park– oblige the Mexico City police to investigate their murder in this way. However, thus far the authorities have not commented that the women’s bodies evidence that they were tortured or sexually abused before their deaths. (You can see my other posts on the subject of feminicidio in Mexico here and here).

    So were Yarce Viveros and González Trápaga murdered for their work as journalists or targeted simply for being women? So far the evidence points to the former: it appears both women had been writing a story about the real estate business in Mexico for prominent broker, Víctor Javier Perera Calero, who was also murdered three days before the women disappeared. It is likely that the fact that they were women merely determined the manner in which the murderers decided to dispose of the bodies.

English sources:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/02/mexican-journalists-found-dead

http://www.sfexaminer.com/news/2011/09/gender-crime-seen-2-mexican-womens-deaths

http://www.womensviewsonnews.org/2011/09/mexican-journalists-murders-to-be-investigated-as-gender-crimes/

http://en.rsf.org/spip.php?page=article&id_article=40912

http://www.cpj.org/reports/2010/09/silence-or-death-in-mexicos-press.php

http://blogs.mcclatchydc.com/mexico/2011/06/impunity-for-killing-journalists.html

Spanish sources:

http://www.milenio.com/cdb/doc/noticias2011/08bdd7d4361766ee8c1399eb86c06862

http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=280289

http://www.amecopress.net/spip.php?article7593

http://www.milenio.com/cdb/doc/impreso/9019452

Filed under: Politics, Violence Against Women, , , , , , ,

Death Threats Against Prominent Journalist and Human Rights Activist in Mexico

Photo copyright European Press Photo Agency

This week the Mexican office of Amnesty International emitted a statement in support of the Mexican journalist, Lydia Cacho. It reported that Cacho, who is based in the state of Quintana Roo, had received death threats via email and telephone in June and that AI feared for her safety. On its webpage the organisation called on its supporters to take urgent action to support Cacho and demand that the Mexican government take steps to protect her as well as to undertake an investigation into the threats. There is a petition to this effect drawn up by the Lydia Cacho Foundation in Spain and currently circulating via the social media; it can be signed here.

Lydia Cacho has specialised in writing and campaigning in favour of women. In 2000 she founded a women’s shelter (Centro Integral de Atención de las Mujeres) in Cancun and is cofounder of the Mexican national network of women’s shelters (Red Nacional de refugios para mujeres que viven de violencia). During her writing career she has founded an edited the magazine Esta boca es mía: apuntes de equidad y género (“This is my mouth: notes on equality and gender”) and has written a number of books dealing with themes of sexual violence against women and children. Her most recent publication Esclavas del poder
(Ed. Grijalbo, 2010) was based on her interviews with women and girls who had been trafficked and forced into prostitution.

The worries about the safety of Cacho are well founded. As I have reason to document on this blog before now, to defend human rights –especially those of women- in Mexico is a dangerous occupation. According the Mexican National Commission for Human Rights, at least 70 journalists have been murdered in Mexico since 2000. Moreover, Cacho has been a target of intimidation before; in fact, so much so that the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights ordered the Mexican government to take steps to protect her in 2008. In 2005 Cacho published the book Los demonios del Edén: el poder detrás de la pornografía infantil (Ed. Grijalbo) which detailed how a ring of child pornographers and paedophiles were protected by key figures in Mexican politics and business in the states of Puebla and Quintana Roo. Following the publication of this book, the governor of the State of Puebla, Mario Marín and other figures in his government organised a campaign against her which resulted in her brief imprisonment in 2006. Although the case made against her could not stand and she was eventually freed; no action was taken against Marín. On her release, Cacho filed charges against governor, district attorney and a judge for corruption and attempted rape in prison. She took the case to Mexico’s Supreme Court, but again, without success (for information in English on this see here.)

The death threats against Cacho are evidently designed to intimidate and silence her. But she is a courageous woman who continues to speak out in favour of the rights of women and children. For that she is deserving of admiration and support, so please take up Amnesty’s appeal to speak out in her favour or sign the petition on-line.

Filed under: Feminism, Human Rights in Mexico, Politics, Violence Against Women, , , , , , , ,

OF FEMINICIDIO, FEMICIDIO Y FEMICIDE. THE POWER OF WORDS AND THE DEBATE FOR THEIR DEFINITION

Further to my posts about presidential hopeful, Enrique Peña Nieto and the debate provoked by his attempts to avoid a federal investigation into the deaths of more than 900 women in Mexico State since 2005, I am pleased to report that this week Peña Nieto announced he would be establishing a special investigative office to look into hate crimes against women, staffed –he promises– by experts who are not connected to the state’s own prosecution service (Procuraduría General del Estado de Justice del Estado de México), whose sorry record on this issue was one of the reasons that prompted women’s rights groups to demand intervention by the federal government. Obviously, it must be remembered that this is election season in Mexico State (elections for the governorship will take place later this year) and so this promise could just be part of Peña Nieto’s strategy. There are also some questions about the project; not least for the inclusion of a clause which would require the office to subject the emotional state of the victim to a forensic examination (called a psychological autopsy) via interviews with family and friends. This is an examination usually used to determine if a person was murdered or committed suicide. David Peña Rodríguez, a lawyer and representative of Asociación Nacional de Abogados Democráticos (National Association of Democratic Lawyers or ANAD) affirms that such inquiries are generally reflect the stereotypes and prejudices of the people interviewed and cannot therefore be considered an objective source of evidence. Despite all this, the announcement is worth celebrating in the sense that it marks a victory in the long campaign by women’s rights groups to make violence against women a national point of debate, in a country where this topic has generally been not been on the mainstream political agenda.

One of the results of this new media exposure has been the discussion (and derision) of the term used by women’s groups to describe the murders of these women: “feminicidio” (femicide). The most common objections that I have heard are that the term is meaningless as a legal definition (along the lines of “if femicide exists, do we also have to invent special terms for all murder victims?”); or, that it is discriminatory (ie. it focuses only on women). I have offered a brief definition of feminicidio in earlier posts, but I think that perhaps a more detailed examination is necessary to ensure clarity for future posts and arguments.

Mexican anthropologist and feminist, Marcela Lagarde y de los Ríos, invented the term femincidio in 2006 when she translated Femicide: The Politics of Women Killing (New York, 1992) a collective work edited by feminist scholars Diana Russell and Jill Radford, as Feminicidio. La política de las mujeres (Mexico City, 2006). This book uses feminist theory to show how much violence used against women all over the world and girls is a direct result of their gender, from pornography to genital mutilation, in an attempt to control them and their sexuality. In this context, femicide is not simple homicide but a “misogynist murder”; a hate crime against women. It is pervasive and generally unacknowledged, because it culture and social norms allow for it to be explained away, ignored and accepted as a normal feature of a male/female relationship. Lagarde y los Ríos explains that “[t]he translation of femicide is femicidio. However, I translated femicide as feminicidio […] [because] in Spanish femicidio is a homologue of homicide and only means the murder of women”. Lagarde y De los Ríos wanted to make sure that the term feminicidio should be taken to refer to the phenomenon of hate crime against women and thus avoid it becoming a meaningless catch-all term for the murder of women as has been implied by the criticism that I mentioned above.

In no small part due to the fact that the term feminicidio was first coined in relation to the high rates of murders among women in Ciudad Juárez in the last fifteen years, the idea that feminicidio refers exclusively to this type of crime is a common stereotype. Lagarde y De los Ríos insists that while the categorisation of the typical victim in the Juárez murders (young, living in poverty and working in a sweatshop) is valid for these murders; neither this nor the hallmarks of such crimes (kidnapping and sexual abused before dumping the body on wasteground) is true for the vast majority of the victims of feminicidio. She is keen to stress that the great majority of women victims of this type of hate crime are in fact murdered in their homes by their partners. In other words, feminicidio is a definition of violence that refers both to violent sexual assault by strangers as well as attacks suffered within the home and/or perpetrated by someone with a close relationship to the victim (which, as feminist research has amply demonstrated, the type of violence most likely to affect women in any culture or country).

The statistics which place Mexico State as the entity with most feminicidios in the Mexican Republic (922 since 2005) do so precisely because of the inclusion of women who died at the hands of their partners or other family member. It is probably fair to say that part of Peña Nieto’s refusal to accept the figures derived from his misconception of the term and his belief that the serial sexual assault and murder of women such as experienced in Chihuahua (the state in which Ciudad Juárez is situated) was not prevalent in his state. It is to be hoped that the scandal in which he found himself engulfed in January has served to educate him on this point. The stereotype of feminicidio as a crime perpetrated by strangers on young, vulnerable women is also perhaps the reason why some commentators think it is discriminatory, as figures for violent crime show that men are much more likely to be victims of violence at the hands of strangers than women.

As Lagarde y Los Ríos asserts, femicide exists in Mexico, as it does elsewhere, as a result of a misogynistic culture which routinely ignores violence against women and generally holds the victim to be responsible for the violence she suffers. The phenomenon of the Juárez murders has never been adequately investigated despite rulings by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the subject. In most cases, the authorities avoid looking into the crimes with the well-worn arguments that they were prostitutes (in the case that the attacker was a stranger); or (in the case of domestic violence) that they had chosen to enter into a relationship with a violent man. When the murders are investigated, incompetence and the failure to follow due process often allow the murderer to escape punishment (see the cases of Nadia Alejandra here and that of Rubí Marisol Freyre Escobedo here).

Largely thanks to campaigns against femicide in Mexico institutional policies are in place to prevent on violence against women. During her period as a federal deputy, Lagarde y De los Ríos was instrumental in the passing of the 2007 federal statue Ley General de Acceso de las Mujeres a Una Vida Libre de Violencia (General Law to Provide Women With Access to a Life Free of Violence). This law defines violence against women as “misogynistic violence against women [product] of their situation […] in unequal relationships” and typifies it in four ways “physical, psychological, sexual [and] economic”. According to the law, feminicidio is “an extreme form” of misogynistic violence against women which often leads to their death. This law was invoked by campaigners against Peña Nieto in January when, as I reported, they tried unsuccessfully to oblige the Federation to declare an alerta de violencia de género (gender violence alert) in Mexico state, which according to the terms of the legislation would have obliged to look into the deaths attributed to feminicidio in a particular entity. Other measures in place to ensure that hate crimes against women are properly investigated also include the Fiscalía Especial para los Delitos de Violencia contra las Mujeres y Trata de Personas (Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Women and People Trafficking or Fevimtra) and the Fondo Nacional para la Alerta de Violencia de Género (National Fund for Alerts Against Gender Violence).

At the moment there are campaigns for feminicidio to be codified into the laws of the different states, for example, Chihuahua, home of Ciudad Juárez; although there appears to be little institutional support for this. In this context, the project proposed by Peña Nieto, for all its defects and despite the obvious electioneering behind it, is a step forward. The media discussions of feminicidio and its proper definition, even the criticisms of it, all serve to chip away at the protective wall of silence that normally surrounds the issue. Moreover, giving the violence suffered by women as a result of their gender a name is a not a meaningless exercise, in fact it works to raise consciousness about this problem, especially among women. Describing the murders of women by their partners as feminicidio leaves us in no doubt that such an act is a heinous crime that should be investigated and not ignored. Words are power, after all.

Filed under: Feminism, Human Rights in Mexico, Politics, Violence Against Women, , , , , , , ,

55% Women Murdered in Mexico State Are Killed By Their Partners

Further to my blog post on femicide in Mexico State:

The Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México has published a study showing that 55% of women murdered in that state since 2005 have died at the hands of their partners. The study also reveals that the bulk of the victims are between 16 and 40 years of age, living in marginalised areas of the state. See the following link for details (in Spanish)

Mataron parejas a 55% de mujeres en Edomex: estudio – El Universal – Estado de Mexico.

In my view, the inescapable conclusion of this report is that the rise in violence in general in Mexico in the last couple of years (well documented by Fernando Escalante in this month’s issue of Nexos) and with it, the perceived rise in femicide, must be linked to the high levels of impunity which perpetrators enjoy. As I have documented before, the state of Mexico has a sorry record in prosecuting femicide and violence against women. A report published this week by CIMAC Noticias exemplifies this situation: Nadia Alejandra was killed  by her husband, Bernardo López Gutiérrez and her brother-in-law in front of her three children (of 2, 4 and 5 years of age), seven years ago. The investigating authorities (Ministerio Público) “lost” the cord used to strangle her; alledging motives of “hygiene” they refused to analyse blood found at the murder scene; and, worse still, they “forgot” to seal the scene allowing the family of the murderers to burn all other evidence.  Efforts by her mother finally resulted in López Gutiérrez being captured and sentenced, but the problems and deficiencies of the evidence meant that he could appeal his conviction and was subsequently released. The case is now before the International Court for Human Rights.

Undoubtedly, the figures published in this report also indicate a high levels of social and cultural acceptance of violence against women in Mexico State, especially in deprived areas. But again, this leads back to the question of impunity. This culture of tolerance cannot be addressed properly until those in power, like the Chief Prosecuting Officer for the state, Alfredo Castillo Cervantes, abandon their misgynistic prejudices about the causes of violence against women. While it is still acceptable for the authorities to argue that femicides are the women’s fault for their lifestyle choices or appearences, public tolerance will continue.

Authorities in Mexico State (and Mexico as a whole) need to realise that no woman deserves to be murdered because they happen to be married to a violent man or because of their profession or because they have issues with drugs or alcohol. Violence against women is not a woman’s fault, it is the fault of the perpetrator. Is that so difficult to understand?

 

Filed under: Feminism, Politics, Violence Against Women, , , , , , ,

922 MURDERD WOMEN WON´T STOP ENRIQUE PEÑA NIETO´S PRESIDENTIAL BID

Presidential hopeful and Mexico State Governor Enrique Peña NietoEnrique Peña Nieto is the governor of Mexico State, the most populous in Mexico. After President Felipe Calderón, he is probably one of the best known political figures in the whole Mexican Republic. He is a handsome, charming person who also happens to have recently married a very famous, and highly photogenic, soap actress, Angélica Rivera. Peña Nieto belongs to the Partido de la Revolution Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI), where he is linked to a faction associated with ex President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994). His political office and connections within his party make him a very powerful figure, while the understanding he has forged with the principal television companies in Mexico (Televisa and TV Azteca) make sure that he receives a very favourable press on national television. He is, understandably therefore, a very ambitious man whose sights are firmly set on the 2012 presidential elections.

Unfortunately for him, not all is rosy on this front at the moment. As readers of this blog will be aware, Peña Nieto is also unlucky enough to be the governor of the state in which most feminicidios (femicide: the murder of a women for reasons linked to her gender, see my other blog post here) have occurred in the last few years. To be exact, 922 women have been murdered in Mexico State since 2005 and, just in the last 18 months, there have been 4, 773 reports of sexual violence in the state. As I reported last November, the Federal Senate had formally drawn the governor’s attention to this problem. Since then human rights groups have asked the Sistema Nacional para Prevenir, Atender, Sancionar y Erradicar la Violencia contra las Mujeres (National System for the Prevention, Attention, Sanction and Eradication of Violence Against Women) [1], a body set up in 2007 in response to pressure from groups campaigning against violence against women in Mexico to issue what is called a “alerto de género” or gender alert in the state, a process that would involve the investigation into the deaths of the women and the manner in which they have been handled by the authorities. That such a measure needs to be taken is quite clear. As I have mentioned repeatedly on this blog, the level of impunity enjoyed by the murderers of women in Mexico State (and, it must be noted, in the Republic as a whole) is quite lamentable. In the cases of women murdered between 2000 and 2005, only 35% of murders have been convicted; while in 20% of cases an arrest warrant has been issued, but no one has been arrested; and, in the other 45% of cases the investigation is still ongoing [2]. The Non-Governmental Organization, Observatorio Ciudadano Nacional del Feminicidio (National Citizen Femicide Observatory) estimates that in general 50% of femicides in Mexico State are mishandled and neglected [3]. Furthermore, as Amnesty International highlighted in last year’s “Write-a-thon” Campaign, cases of institutionalised abuse of women by policemen and federal officers have also not been adequately dealt with (see my blog post on the subject here).

Peña Nieto does not see things quite like that, though. In his opinion, the call for a “gender alert” in Mexico State is politically motive with the intention of undermining his presidential ambitions and the state governor elections which are due this year (and whose outcome, he obviously would like to control). Immediately prior to the meeting in which the Sistema Nacional para Prevenir, Atender, Sancionar y Erradicar la Violencia contra las Mujeres was to decide on this issue he denied that there had been more femicides in his state than any other in the last five years [4]. Moreover, he used his political muscle to lean on those members of the commission who came from state ruled by the PRI and as a result, the integrants voted against the measure. As journalist and human rights activist Lydia Cacho later reported, the Mexico State Prosecutor, Alfredo Castillo Cervantes tried to minimize the figures with arguments that laid bare his own misogyny and amply demonstrated why his officers are woefully incapable of confronting this problem. Castillo said that most of the women had been murdered “porque consumen drogas, alcohol o usan inhalantes; trabajan en bares en los que alternan con los clientes o salen a altas horas de la noche” (“because they used drugs or drank alcohol or sniffed glue; they worked in bars in which they mixed with their clients [this appears to a euphemism for being prostitutes] or they went out very late at night”). In a nutshell: they deserved what they got and their deaths were not worth looking into.[5]. He also made the faintly laughable excuse that not all of the women murdered had been born in Mexico State and so shouldn’t be included in the figures.

State and Federal deputies from the PRI also waded into the row, speaking out in favour of Peña Nieto. They highlighted Castillo Cervante’s argument that 60% of the victims were not natives of the state and pointed out that if the figures were broken down proportionally Mexico State was far from being the most violent: a ratio of 1.38 homicides for every 100, 000 inhabitants, lower than Baja California with 3.22, Sinaloa with 2.60, Sonora with 2.35, Michoacán and Morelos with 1.97, Hidalgo with 1.65 and Guanajuato with 1.53 [6] This was meant to defend their political overload, but the figures hardly help their case. So, proportionally, Mexico State is not more violent than its neighbours, but this is hardly a reason not to investigate the deaths. Rather in the light of these figures it is a reason to demand similar “gender alerts” be issued in other states if not nationwide. What is clear is that there is an unacceptable level of violence against women in Mexico as a whole, and that state governments plus their investigating and prosecuting officers (known as Ministerio Público orPublic Ministry) and Procuraduría del Estado or State Prosecutors ) need to take measures to deal with it.

In the face of the negative media attention the decision not to impose a “gender alert” in Mexico state and the criticism levelled at Peña Nieto and Castillo Cervantes from human rights and women’s’ groups, the governor announced he would set up discussion fora at the end of the month in which experts on gender violence would be convened to look into the situation in the state. It can only be hoped that this will not be just a talking shop and an opportunity for Peña Nieto to have his photograph taken alongside the participants. But for now, it looks very much like a typical damage limitation exercise which aims to do nothing more than counteract all the negative publicity this situation has generated for the PRI’s golden boy and presidential hopeful.

See update to this post added on 25 January 2011 here.

 

[1] http://webapps01.un.org/vawdatabase/searchDetail.action?measureId=5801&baseHREF=country&baseHREFId=864 This a commission made up of representatives of the Secretaría de Gobernación (Equilavent of the Home Office or US State Department) Secretaría de Desarrollo Social (Ministry of Social Development); Secretaría de Seguridad Pública (Ministry of Public Security); Procuraduría General de la República (Federal Prosecution Office); Secretaría de Educación Pública (Ministry of Education); la Secretaría de Salud (Ministry of Health); el Consejo Nacional para Prevenir la Discriminación (The National Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women) ; el Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (The National System for the Integral Development of the Family or DIF – the nearest thing Mexico has to Social Services) and the 32 Women’s Institutes from Mexico’s different states.

[2] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10091301-REPORTAJE-Cuanto-ma.44114.0.html

[3]http://www.proceso.com.mx/rv/modHome/detalleExclusiva/87417

[4] http://www.proceso.com.mx/rv/modHome/pdfExclusiva/87263

[5] A very widespread opinion within both the police and prosecuting offices throughout Mexico, see my post here.

[6] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/738016.html

Filed under: Feminism, Politics, Violence Against Women, , , , , ,

NO NEW MINISTER FOR MEXICO’S SUPREME COURT AS POLITICS HOLDS SWAY IN THE SENATE

Yesterday, the Mexico’s Senate discussed the three candidates shortlisted by President Felipe Calderón to fill the vacancy in Supreme Court (For more details see my previous blog entry). The three women made presentations before the senators voted on who should be the new Supreme Court judge. In her presentation, Lilia Mónica López Benítez, the candidate with the strongest curriculum and a clear record of defending human rights, stated her position as “the defence of the constitutional principles of no discrimination and equality” and described herself as “an honest women, who keeps her word; and, who promises to adopt a frank and open position, [while] fighting for a more inclusive, just and equal Mexico.” For her part, the presidential favourite and candidate close to his right-wing party, Acción Nacional (National Action Party or PAN), Elvia Díaz de León unsurprisingly adopted a more conservative stance. Although she promised to innovate in her interpretation of the Constitution, she qualified this statement by adding that her position would always be “in keeping with our own culture” [1]. A remark which, in Mexican political code, reaffirms her commitment to a Catholic moral worldview and her opposition to the legalisation of abortion and same gender marriage.

In order to be elected, the winning candidate needed to gain a two thirds majority in the Senate vote (which meant 82 votes). In the event, the vote was split between panistas (members of the PAN), who all voted for Díaz de León (48 in total) and senators from the other three main parties, the centrist Partido de la Revolución Institucional (or PRI), and the left-wing the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (or PRD) and the Partido de Trabajo (or PT), who voted for López Benítez (in total 73). There were just two rogue votes for the third candidate, Andrea Zambrana Castañeda, who was widely regarded as merely a “filler” candidate to make up the mandatory three person shortlist. As a result, the Senate resolved to have a second vote, this time with only the two winning candidates. The hope was that the panistas would recognise the majority in favour of López Benítez and vote for her in the second election.

Unfortunately for Mexico’s Supreme Court and for her justice system, this did not happen. The panistas as a bloc maintained their vote in favour of Díaz de León and López Benítez gained just one extra vote in the second round. This vote had previously been for Zambrana Castañeda. As a result, the Senate was forced to return the shortlist to the President with no decision made. He in turn will have to draw up another in the New Year. It can only be hoped that Calderón will not be influenced by political considerations when making this decision. In similar circumstances in 2003, when the winning candidate (Margarita Luna Ramos) on the shortlist sent by ex president Vicente Fox failed to gain a two thirds majority, Fox resubmitted a shortlist containing that candidate and two others, whose curricula did not make them viable candidates. In this way, the problem was solved and Luna Ramos was finally selected in February 2004. On this occasion, it is interesting to note that the original shortlist also ran aground because of panista support for Díaz de León, who featured on the list along with Luna Ramos and José Luis de la Peza. If Calderón does not copy Fox, and insists on Díaz de León in a second shortlist, it is likely that the Senate will be split a second time and no two thirds majority will be achieved. This would leave the constitutional possibility open for President Calderón to name her unilaterally her himself at a later date [2]. That would be very unfortunate for Mexico’s Supreme Court and even more so for women and human rights in Mexico.

Filed under: Feminism, Politics, , , , , , , ,

MEXICO SET TO APPOINT 3RD FEMALE JUDGE TO ITS SUPREME COURT

On 30 November, President Felipe Calderón made public his recommendations for a new member of Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación o SCJN) to replace Judge José de Luis Gudiño Pelayo, who died recently while on a trip to Britain. In Mexico, the Executive draws up a shortlist of three candidates (in Spanish a “terna“) from which the Federal Senate chooses the winner. After nearly three months of speculation, the shortlist was made up of three women, all currently judges within the Federal Judicial Power. This moves guarantees that the next member of the Supreme Court will be female, making a total of three women out of its 12 members. It is interesting to see that this fact has caused little comment in the press, thus far, with more words being dedicated to the fact that the President has been extremely tardy in handing his recommendations to the Senate; sessions are due to end in a fortnight, which as various senators have noted, gives them very little time to debate his shortlist before making an appointment. The new judge should enter the SCJN in January 2011 [1].

The three candidates, Elvia Díaz de León, Lilia Mónica López Benítez and Andrea Zambrana Castañeda, all have solid trajectories as judges. They are graduates from the most prestigious university in Mexico, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, or UNAM) with many years of experience and service. The first two candidates are probably the strongest as both are experts in penal law, which is an area in which the legal community wishes to see reinforced in the SCJN. Zambrana Casteñeda, for her part is a specialist in constitutionalist and administrative issues. Having said this, it seems likely that the first, Elvia Díaz de León, is Calderón’s favoured candidate, since she is linked to his National Action
Party (Partido de Acción Nacional, or PAN) and most especially to the current leader of the party, César Nava. In fact, this year she has already been spoken of as a nominee for political office [2]. She was a Supreme Court candidate during the government of the previous PAN president, Vicente Fox Quesada (2001-2007) and received support from panistas in the Senate, most notably from Diego Fernández de Ceballos, who was at that time the head of the Panista group in the Senate [3].

Having looked into each of the women, my personal favourite would be Lilia Mónica López Benítez. López Benítez is an expert inthe Federal programme of special witness protection [4]. In her recent book, Protección de testigos en el derecho penal mexicano (Witness Protection in Mexican Penal Law, Editorial Porrúa, 2009) she highlights the fact that 80% of witnesses in the Federal programme never make formal judicial declarations because they disappear from the system or are murdered [5]. López Benítez has also written a very interesting paper on the question of the difficulties in ensuring equality for women in access to justice. In this she studies of a 1194 SCJN’s ruling which established that rape could indeed occur within marriage, signalling that a ruling which denies a women the right to refuse to have sex with her husband puts limits on her autonomy and the rights awarded to her in Mexico’s Constitution. She also notes that Mexican jurisprudence on this subject has –until recently- limited “her sexual liberty” with recourse to “criteria governed by the closed morality of the past” and prejudices which made it necessary to prove the “honesty, modesty and good reputation” of a female rape victim in order to determine whether she had been attacked or not [6].

The lack of information about the whole nomination process is a little concerning. As the jurist and blogger Geraldine González de Vega has noted, Calderón does not give any indication of the reasons he had for choosing the three candidates, other than mentioning that they are all “persons of proved moral character and vocation for service” [7]. The choice does make it clear, however, that Calderón has heeded the recent SCJN recommendation that its future members be judges already active with the Judicial Power, rather than being personal (or rather, political) nominees. The fact that it is an unexplained all-women short-list also leaves it open to the suggestion (or criticism) that it is designed to up the numbers of women in the Supreme Court. Had Calderón announced that he considered these three women the best candidates for the job (which indeed he might), this speculation might have been reduced. In my opinion, such a state of affairs will serve to undermine whichever of the candidates who finally get the job, since there will always be those who question her legitimacy by insinuating that she did not join the SCJN on merit, but thanks to Calderón’s attempts to engineer more gender equality in the Supreme Court. This is unfortunate, to say the least, since reading the readers’ comments under the on-line stories about this nominations make it very clear that the eventual nominee will also face much hostility from some quarters for the simple fact that she is a woman [8].

Filed under: Feminism, Politics, , , , , ,

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