Crime & Justice

Mexico chief justice: Public sees law serving interests of powerful

By Alfonso Fernandez

Mexico City, Oct 9 (EFE).- Heading Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice, Arturo Zaldivar has become one of the most visible public figures in Mexico, thanks not only to his popularity on TikTok, but also to having taken the lead in historic decisions for the country such as declaring the criminalization of abortion and marijuana to be unconstitutional.

In this exclusive interview with EFE at the high court seat, Zaldivar comments on the wave of violence besetting Mexico, the lack of public confidence regarding the judicial system and his “cordial relations” with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

EFE: The 2014 Ayotzinapa case (regarding the kidnapping and disappearance of 43 students from a rural teachers school in that town in Guerrero state) is one of the greatest tragedies in Mexico’s recent history. In recent weeks, doubts about the work of the judiciary have increased. What do you think of the work of Attorney General Alejandro Gertz? Do you believe he’s hindering the work of the judiciary?

Zaldivar: Ayotzinapa is, without doubt, one of the country’s greatest tragedies. There’s been an investigation that has faced many problems during all these years. There’s an authentic willingness that has been noted in this government to resolve it. And the result of the investigations, whether they are plausible or not, will be determined by the judges. I could not make any statement of any kind on that. I have respect for the Attorney General’s Office.

EFE: According to recent figures, just 3 of every 100 homicides are resolved. Is impunity one of Mexico’s big problems?

Zaldivar: I don’t think that in any country in the world justice can be completely fair. Having equal justice for all is, in practically all countries, an ambition, not a reality. In Mexico, we don’t have a culture of conviction, the majority of people are not satisfied with the work of prosecutors. It’s commonplace for when matters are prosecuted they’re not sufficiently supported. Oftentimes, the judges have to release (the accused) or acquit them, which creates discontent within society. Thus, I think – in that regard – we’re still lacking.

But what’s worse is that most people who are deprived of their freedom are poor people, don’t have an adequate (legal) defense and are completely unprotected in the face of the powerful apparatus of the state.

EFE: So, you don’t feel that the elevated levels of violence in Mexico are increased by that sensation that very few people pay for their crimes?

Zaldivar: What’s happening is that the level of violence we’re seeing at this time derives, in particular, from organized crime. At this time in Mexico, we’re seeing very powerful criminal organizations who are the ones who are creating most of this violence. Now, if there’s another kind of crime that really stands out, it’s femicides. One of the perverse incentives is that (the perpetrators) are not pursued and when they are pursued it goes badly. Within certain criminal sectors, this question of who’s committing the crime seems to go unanswered.

EFE: Among the Mexican population, it certainly seems that there’s a lack of confidence regarding the authorities, the police, the judiciary, security. How can the Supreme Court work to reverse this lack of confidence that seems to be very deep-rooted?

Zaldivar: In Mexico we have a problem of lack of legitimacy of the whole legal system. From the idea of “I obey but I don’t comply,” which comes from Spain, the idea has been created since colonial times in the collective unconscious that what the law did was one thing and what was done was another. We became accustomed to this double standard. There are certain norms in the Constitution, in the law, but we knew that in practice they were not respected. And deriving from this, perhaps, Mexicans have a perception that the law is at the service of the powerful.

EFE: How do you respond to those who accuse you of being too close to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador?

Zaldivar: First, it must be said, it’s more and more clear that those who make these accusations have a political agenda, that these are gratuitous condemnations. In the second place, all of my predecessors have had a cordial relationship and a dialogue with the president of the republic. What’s happening is that the meetings that I’ve had with President Lopez Obrador are transparent, they’re public, and before they were held in secret.

There are issues about which we have to engage in dialogue, above all at times when the country is going through this crisis of security, the violence to which you alluded. My relationship, closeness with and regard for the president have always been on the basis of respect and confidence, and the independence of the Judicial Branch.

EFE: The Supreme Court has taken decisions that can be characterized as progressive, like decriminalizing abortion. But it seems that the Legislative Branch is not moving so fast. To what do you attribute this inaction?

Zaldivar: The political process of rights in Mexico has been very particular because advances … have not been achieved in recent years in the legislative sphere but rather in the judicial sphere. It’s been the (Supreme) Court that has pushed through with the great transformations in the area of rights, everything having to do with the reproductive and sexual rights of women, of same-sex marriage. In Congress, what there have been are political and electoral struggles. Instead of holding a referendum with the people saying whether this right seems OK and needs to be advanced, we’ve done it in the judicial realm, which is certainly unusual. It’s not commonplace. So, the Mexican (Supreme) Court is one of the most avant-garde courts in the world, not only in the Americas.

EFE: One of the most surprising elements of your mandate is this emphasis on new modes of communication, especially TikTok. What do you say to your critics who call this frivolity?

Zaldivar: There’s nothing frivolous in telling young people to respect animals, not to engage in hate speech, to discuss whether euthanasia is appropriate or not, to understand via a popular song the roles of women and men. The messages that I send on TikTok are not frivolous messages, they’re pretty deep, but they’re for a different audience.

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