Mexico: Police corruption, including police affiliation with cartels and police effectiveness; state protection, including complaints mechanisms available to report instances of corruption (2017–September 2020) [MEX200314.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

1. Police Corruption

A 2017 Washington Post article states that "Mexican police have been hobbled by corruption for decades" (The Washington Post 24 Aug. 2017). Transparency International, an international organization operating in over 100 countries aiming to halt corruption and promote transparency (Transparency International n.d.), produced in 2017 a Global Corruption Barometer report on corruption in Latin America and the Caribbean; this report, "based on surveys with over 22,000 citizens living in 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean," indicates that citizens rated police corruption in Mexico as "[n]egative/[h]igh risk" (Transparency International 9 Oct. 2017, 4, 29). A 2018 International Crisis Group report on the security situation facing the López Obrador administration notes that "[c]orruption, including within the armed forces and federal police [Policiá Federal], underpins state collusion with criminals" (International Crisis Group 11 Oct. 2018, 2). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University and researcher at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), who studies police corruption in Mexico and has published a book and several articles on this topic, noted that "[p]olice corruption remains a major problem in Mexico and there is little indication of improvement in recent years" (Professor 29 July 2020).

A 2018 survey on security and public participation conducted by the Social Studies and Public Opinion Center (Centro de Estudios Sociales y de Opinión Pública, CESOP) of Mexico's Chamber of Deputies, based on interviews with 1,200 citizens (Mexico Aug. 2018, 65), indicates that 44.9 percent of respondents believe that the authorities are part of crime (Mexico Aug. 2018, 6). The 2019 National Quality and Government Impact Survey (Encuesta nacional de calidad e impacto gubernamental, ENCIG), conducted by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI), "an autonomous public body" that is responsible for collecting and publishing information about Mexico (Mexico n.d.), indicates that the highest percentage of corruption experienced in 2019 was by contact with public security authorities, with 59.2 percent of respondents reporting that they had experienced an act of corruption in contact with public security authorities (Mexico May 2020, 132). Similarly, Daniel Zizumbo-Colunga, a research professor at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE-RC), and Benjamín Martínez-Velasco, a student in the master's program in methods for the analysis of public policies at the CIDE-RC (Zizumbo-Colunga and Martínez-Velasco May 2020, 115), note that according to the 2019 AmericasBarometer survey of the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), an academic institution that conducts public opinion surveys in the Americas (LAPOP n.d.), when ordinary citizens experience corruption, it "most often" involves police officers (Zizumbo-Colunga and Martínez-Velasco May 2020, 116). The same authors also indicate that 24.7 percent of respondents reported having had a police officer ask them for a bribe in the previous 12 months (Zizumbo-Colunga and Martínez-Velasco May 2020, 118).

A 2017 article on police in Latin America from InSight Crime, a foundation that studies organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean (Insight Crime n.d.), states that "[i]n Mexico, organized crime has deeply permeated police institutions" (InSight Crime 20 Mar. 2017). Similarly, Bertelsmann Stiftung's Transformation Index (BTI) 2020, which "assesses the transformation toward democracy and a market economy as well as the quality of governance in 137 countries," reports that in most Mexican states other than Yucatán, Campeche, and Aguascalientes, local police "have been infiltrated by organized crime" (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2020, 2, 29).

The Professor noted that "analyses of drug trafficking, organized crime and human rights violations also highlight the role of police at all levels – federal, state, local – in facilitating illegal businesses, working for organized crime, and systematically violating human rights" (Professor 29 July 2020). The US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2019 observes that "[t]here were credible reports of police involvement in kidnappings for ransom, and federal officials or members of the national defense forces were sometimes accused of perpetrating this crime" (US 11 Mar. 2020, 3–4).

Sources indicate that low pay contributes to police corruption (KPBS 7 Feb. 2020; Al Jazeera 2 Aug. 2018). A 2018 InSight Crime article observes that "[l]ocal police are particularly vulnerable to corruption and infiltration from organized crime groups, as they are overworked, underpaid and understaffed" (InSight Crime 27 Aug. 2018). An International Crisis Group report on organized crime in the Mexican state of Guerrero notes that the poor working conditions for police and opportunities to become involved with criminal groups contribute to police corruption (International Crisis Group 4 May 2020, 18). In a 2019 survey of the attitudes and perceptions of 4,422 police officers by Causa en Común, an organization that studies and analyzes public policies with a particular focus on security and justice (Causa en Común n.d.), 34 percent of respondents indicated that combating corruption in the institution is an action that would improve policing in their state (Causa en Común 2019, 17).

An August 2018 article by El Sol de Puebla, a Mexican Spanish-language newspaper, reports that the Ministry of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP) assumed control of public security in Tehuacán on 23 August due to an increase in crime in the municipality and in order to establish whether the police force had been infiltrated (El Sol de Puebla 23 Aug. 2018). Similarly, according to a 2018 InSight Crime article, an entire municipal police force in the municipality of Tehuacán in central Puebla state was disbanded due to allegations of corruption and links to organized crime (InSight Crime 27 Aug. 2018). The same source states that "[t]he wholesale suspension of an entire municipal police force demonstrates the level to which organized crime and corruption networks penetrate the state on a local level" (InSight Crime 27 Aug. 2018). El Sol de Puebla also notes that police forces in San Martín Texmelucan and Ciudad Serdán had been taken over by the Ministry of Public Security in [translation] "previous months" (El Sol de Puebla 23 Aug. 2018). Sources note that in September 2018 authorities disarmed the entire municipal police force in the southern Mexican city of Acapulco due to the suspicion that the police force had been infiltrated by criminal groups (AP 26 Sept. 2018; El País 26 Sept. 2018; BBC 26 Sept. 2018). Sources indicate that in August 2019 the whole police force in the municipality of Madera in the northern state of Chihuahua was arrested for protecting local drug traffickers (InSight Crime 21 Aug. 2019; Excélsior 15 Aug. 2019).

1.1 Police Affiliation with Cartels

According to the BTI 2020, "[i]n many localities of Mexico, the drug organizations have control of the local police" (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2020, 6). The same source also indicates that "there is no trust between the different police forces, as municipal and state police have been infiltrated by the drug cartels and are, therefore, rarely informed of operations led by federal police or the army" (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2020, 34). Similarly, an article by KPBS, a San Diego news service (KPBS n.d.), states that "[t]he federal government has said infiltration by organized crime is a problem in many police forces in Sonora and around the country" (KPBS 7 Feb. 2020). The Professor observed that "the consensus in the literature is that organized crime cannot operate without corruption, particularly in their relationship with law enforcement" (Professor 29 July 2020). The International Crisis Group report on organized crime in Guerrero notes that "over 80 per cent of the force's own rank and file say their fellow officers engage in 'illegal' behaviour" (International Crisis Group 4 May 2020, i).

Sources report the following instances of police affiliation with cartels:

  • In December 2019, the former head of the federal police from 2006 to 2012, was arrested in the US and charged with accepting bribes from the Sinaloa cartel (LA Times 10 Dec. 2019; NPR 10 Dec. 2019; Professor 29 July 2020).
  • In January 2020, Ivan Reyes Arzate, the former head of the Mexican Federal Police's Sensitive Investigative Unit (SIU), was charged by US prosecutors for assisting Mexican drug cartels in exchange for bribes (NBC 24 Jan. 2020; Reuters 24 Jan. 2020). According to prosecutors, Reyes accepted bribes from the El Seguimiento 39 cartel and helped protect its drug trafficking operation (Reuters 24 Jan. 2020). Witnesses also allege that Reyes accepted bribes from other cartels, including the Beltrán Leyva Organization (Reuters 24 Jan. 2020).
  • A raid in the Tepito neighborhood of Mexico City in 2019 revealed evidence that 120 police officers were protecting the Unión Tepito cartel (El Universal 24 Oct. 2019).
  • In 2016, local police officers in Veracruz conspired with the Jalisco New Generation and apprehended five youths and handed them over to the Jalisco New Generation cartel which murdered them and then burned their bodies (BBC 5 Mar. 2019; Reuters 4 Mar. 2019).
  • From 2013 to 2016, the Los Zetas cartel paid bribes to police officers in Cohahuila state and integrated police officers in their organization (The Guardian 10 Nov. 2017).

For information on drug cartels, including the Beltrán Leyva Organization and Los Zetas, see Responses to Information Requests MEX106302 of August 2019 and MEX200314 of September 2020.

2. Police Effectiveness

The CESOP report indicates that 27.2 percent of respondents believe that police authorities [translation] "do not work or do not function" (Mexico Aug. 2018, 6). Similarly, the 2019 INEGI ENCIG survey indicates that the level of trust in the police is 33.5 percent, while this figure was 30.2 percent of those surveyed for the 2017 ENCIG (Mexico May 2020, 144). According to a 2018 INEGI survey on victimization and the perception of public security, 93.2 percent of crimes were either unreported or not investigated (Mexico 24 Sept. 2019, 31).

The BTI 2020 indicates that "[a]s a consequence of impunity and the fact that official forces are in many cases involved in criminal acts, people who are victims of crime rarely report the crime to the police. People are afraid that as the police may be involved, they will be victimized again or because they feel it is useless" (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2020, 13). Similarly, the Professor noted that "a large part of the impunity in Mexico is due to the non-reporting of crime which, like the non-reporting of corruption noted earlier, is due to lack of confidence in the police and security forces" (Professor 29 July 2020). According to the 2017 Global Impunity Index, a quantitative measure of global impunity compiled by the Center of Studies on Impunity and Justice (Centro de Estudios sobre Impunidad y Justicia, CESIJ) at the Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP), Mexico is classified as a country "with a [h]igher [i]mpunity [i]ndex," ranking 4th out of the 69 countries in the study (Le Clercq Ortega and Sánchez Lara Aug. 2017, 7, 8, 9).

3. State Protection
3.1 Government Efforts to Fight Police Corruption

A 2018 Al Jazeera article states that "[d]espite years of talk of police reform, little has changed" (Al Jazeera 2 Aug. 2018). Similarly, the 2018 International Crisis Group report observes that "the police forces are weak and past efforts to reform them have repeatedly run aground" (International Crisis Group 11 Oct. 2018, 28).

The BTI 2020 observes that [President of Mexico] Andrés Manuel López Obrador "has made the fight against corruption the government's main priority" and that there has been an "increase in government transparency – achieved by government institutions such as the National Institute for Transparency, Access to Information and Personal Data Protection ([Instituto Nacional de Transparencia, Acceso a la Información y Protección de Datos Personales], INAI) and by [NGOs]" (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2020, 34). According to the US International Narcotics Control Strategy Report,

President Lopez Obrador has taken specific legislative and political actions to combat Mexico's endemic corruption, including new asset forfeiture regulations and legislation to convert the Office of the Attorney General (PGR) into the more independent [Fiscalía General de la República, FGR]. Many Mexican stakeholders see the creation of the FGR as an opportunity to reset the prosecutorial system, combat corruption, and support rule of law. (US Mar. 2020, 193)

A 2018 book on anticorruption in public security by the Federal Police indicates that, in December 2016, the Federal Police and the Ministry of Public Function (Secretaría de la Función Pública) signed an agreement within the framework of the National Anti-Corruption System (Sistema Nacional Anticorrupción, SNA) (Mexico 26 Nov. 2018, 11). The same source reports that, since the signing of this agreement, the Federal Police has participated in various workshops including internal workshops and workshops with the federal government and with state governments (Mexico 26 Nov. 2018, 11).

According to the Professor, a major reform was initiated in 2009 and the government has been carrying out a national program to "purify" police departments, including measures such as psychological tests, background checks, and training in human rights (Professor 29 July 2020). However, the Professor indicated that "progress has been dreadfully slow" (Professor 29 July 2020). A 2019 article by Animal Político, a Mexican digital platform that covers issues including corruption, insecurity, inequality, gender violence, and discrimination (Animal Político n.d.), notes that only 25.4 percent of local and federal police officers have completed the required official police certificate (Certificado Único Policial, CUP), and that, according to the National Public Security System Law (Ley del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública), officers who have failed to obtain the mandatory certificate should no longer be permitted to work (Animal Político 13 Sept. 2019). A 2020 article by Expansión Política, an online Mexican political news platform (Expansión Política n.d.), also states that it is mandatory to obtain the CUP in order to enter or remain in law enforcement; however, as of December 2019 the national average rate of police certification was 46.3 percent (Expansión Política 26 June 2020). A 2020 article by Reporte Índigo, a Mexican newspaper distributed in Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey (Reporte Índigo n.d.), reports that the initial deadline for all state police officers to obtain the CUP, which was created in 2016, was September 2019; however, the National Public Security Council (Consejo Nacional de Seguridad Pública, CNSP) extended that deadline by 18 months, and police officers now have until March 2021 to obtain the CUP (Reporte Índigo 6 Aug. 2020). The same source indicated that according to the [translation] "most recent data," 50.48 percent of state police officers have obtained the CUP, as out of 124,767 police officers, only 62,975 have obtained the CUP; the source adds that Querétaro is the only state with full compliance (Reporte Índigo 6 Aug. 2020).

The National Public Security System law provides the following:

[translation]

Article 39.

B. It is the responsibility of the Federation, the federative entities and municipalities, within the scope of their respective powers, to:

VIII. Refrain from hiring and employing in police institutions individuals who do not have the registration and certificate issued by the respective reliability assessment and control centre.

Article 65.- Applicants entering institutions for the administration of justice shall have the corresponding certificate and registration, in accordance with the provisions of this Law.

No person may enter or remain in institutions for the administration of justice without having a current certificate and registration. (Mexico 2009)

Further information on the application of this law could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3.2 Mechanisms to Report Corruption

A 2018 report on Mexico's National Anti-Corruption System by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a "research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas" (WOLA n.d.), states that in July 2016, Mexico adopted an anti-corruption reform which created the National Anti-Corruption System, a coordinating body for different pre-existing anti-corruption institutions (WOLA May 2018, 8, 9). The same source notes that the Mexican government had not yet implemented "several important aspects" of the anti-corruption reform package that are necessary for it to function (WOLA May 2018, 10). According to the BTI 2020, an anti-corruption law, which "empowered the transparency institution, the INAI, and set up similar systems at the state level" was adopted in 2016 (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2020, 34). However, according to the same source, by mid-2018 these systems had not yet been put in place (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2020, 34). Sources report that a special anti-corruption prosecutor has not been appointed, and that other positions in the National Anti-Corruption System also remain unfilled (Bloomberg 24 Dec. 2018; Brookings Institution Mar. 2019, 10, 11; WOLA 2018, 10). The WOLA report states that "systems meant to coordinate anti-corruption efforts at the state level have not yet been implemented in most states" (WOLA May 2018, 10).

US Country Reports 2019 indicates that

[o]n August 7, the Public Administration Secretariat launched a platform within its own website where persons can report cases of corruption. The platform allows citizens to report acts of corruption, human rights violations, and harassment in cases where public officials are involved. The secretariat responds to these reports based on three principles: guarantee of confidentiality, continuous monitoring of the case, and effective sanctioning. (US 11 Mar. 2020, 20)

According to the Professor, there are mechanisms available to report police corruption at the municipal, state, and federal level (Professor 29 July 2020). The same source indicated that "[a]t the federal level, all agencies have an internal control office charged with receiving and processing complaints. The same basic structure exists in the states" (Professor 29 July 2020). The Professor noted that complaints of abuses can also be submitted to the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH) (Professor 29 July 2020). The Professor stated that "surveys show that citizens are highly unlikely to file official complaints of corruption and the most cited reasons for doing so are 'waste of time' and 'fear of reprisals'" (Professor 29 July 2020). A 2019 report on corruption and impunity in Mexico by Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (Mexicanos Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad, MCCI), a Mexican NGO focused on the elimination of corruption and impunity (MCCI n.d.), reports that 36.2 percent of individuals who know how to report corruption consider it [translation] “useless” to do so (MCCI 2019, 67). The same source indicates that when asked about reasons for not reporting corruption, 13.2 percent of respondents indicated that it is [translation] “pointless” to report corruption and 4.9 percent indicated that they did not report corruption due to fear of retaliation (MCCI 2019, 69).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

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Professor, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and Middle Tennessee State University. 29 July 2020. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

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The Washington Post. 24 August 2017. Joshua Partlow. "Acapulco Is Now Mexico's Murder Capital." [Accessed 10 Aug. 2020]

Zizumbo-Colunga, Daniel and Benjamín Martínez-Velasco. May 2020. "Corruption at Dawn of the Fourth Transformation." The Political Culture of Democracy in Mexico and in the Americas, 2018/19: Taking the Pulse of Democracy. Edited by Vidal Romero, et al. Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP). [Accessed 4 Aug. 2020]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Causa en Común; professor of legal studies at a university in Mexico who studies police reform and police accountability; professor of political science at a university in California who studies Latin American politics including trans-national crime and terrorism; researcher who has published a book on police reform in Mexico.

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International; Center for Strategic and International Studies; Council on Foreign Relations; Factiva; Freedom House; GAN Integrity; Human Rights Watch; INTERPOL; Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; Justice in Mexico; Mexico Evalúa; Mexico – Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, Fiscalía General de la República, Guardia Nacional, Secretaría de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana; The New York Times; Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; Organization of American States; Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project; UN – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Refworld; US – Drug Enforcement Agency, Overseas Security Advisory Council, US Agency for International Development; Vice; Wilson Center – Mexico Institute; World Justice Project.