Accepted Papers:

Transitional justice and Mexico´s 'authoritarian democracy'  


Javier Trevino-Rangel (El Colegio de la Frontera Norte)

Paper Short Abstract:

Mexico´s new democratic government faced past state crimes from 2000 to 2006 through a Special Prosecutor´s Office, SPO. Until its closure, the SPO didn´t obtain a single criminal conviction. It didn´t deliver justice, but impunity. How did transitional justice affect the process of democratisation?

Paper long abstract:

Vicente Fox's victory in the 2000 presidential elections in Mexico ended the 71-year-old political rule of a single political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party. Within the list of urgent institutional changes the new administration sought to carry out, President Fox included 'transitional justice' as a priority. In Mexico, 'transitional justice' followed a retributive justice model and thus Fox established a Special Prosecutor's Office (SPO) to prosecute perpetrators of past human rights abuses. However, Fox closed down the SPO in 2006. Until its closure, the SPO did not obtain a single criminal conviction. It did not deliver justice, nor truth, but impunity. Thus how, and to what extent, did 'transitional justice' affect the process of democratisation? I offer three answers. First, by establishing the SPO, Fox avoided an inquiry into the role played by different institutions involved in violations of human rights. By following a retributive sense of justice to deal with the past, Fox helped to legitimise key institutions that were still working under authoritarian premises: e.g., the Military. Second, beyond legitimising key institutions and tainted officials, who were then incorporated into the new democratic system as if nothing had happened, the 'transitional justice' process served another crucial political purpose: it granted a de facto amnesty to former perpetrators. As a very limited number of abuses was investigated, most perpetrators were never prosecuted; and the few perpetrators who were investigated were exonerated. Third, it blocked other 'transitional justice' efforts (a truth commission).

panel P33
On Mexican time: politics and the past in twentieth and twenty first-century Mexico