Justice and the Rule of Law in Mexico with Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan of the Washington Post
On May 13, 2005, the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute co-sponsored a seminar with The Washington Office on Latin America that featured the chiefs of The Washington Post's Mexico City Bureau, Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan, winners of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for International Journalism.
As journalists in Mexico, both Kevin and Mary have witnessed Mexico's challenges in promoting respect for human rights, establishing the rule of law and modernizing the justice system. While writing their forthcoming book The Prison Angel: Mother Antonia's Journey from Beverly Hills to a Life of Service in a Mexican Jail, they gained even greater insight into Mexico's criminal justice system. Their book tells the story of Catholic nun Mary Clarke, who at the age of fifty traded her comfortable life in suburban Los Angeles for a cell in Tijuana's La Mesa prison, one of Mexico's most notorious. She has lived in La Mesa for nearly twenty-eight years, caring for the drug kingpins, petty thieves, prison guards, and others who live and work there. According to Sullivan, Mother Antonia has conversed with just about everyone who comes through the jail. Jordan noted that as many as 90% of those in jail are victims of the drug cartel; poor people who did not know they were carrying drugs until they were caught. Even those aware of their actions, Jordan noted, come from small towns with no laws, no policemen, no judges and no institutions, so people have little choice but to cooperate with drug cartels passing through on their land. Jordan observed that only over time can change take place in small towns. However, Sullivan also noted that there is an economic interest among powerful sectors in keeping the system "dirty."
Sullivan and Jordan highlighted some tangible indicators that Mexico is moving in the right direction with regards to the justice system despite some detours along the way. There is a new generation of judges on the benches that they hope will improve the judicial system. The power that governors used to have over local authorities is becoming diluted to the benefit of local leaders. At the local level, judges in some states are moving from written to oral trials. Although not all involved in the criminal justice system are well qualified, Mexico continues to invest in human capital to create a better future. The advancement of the free press and the creation of a more active civil society are also helping ensure greater transparency in the justice system.