Yucatan between security and the invisibility of violence

As long as the idea that "nothing happens" in Yucatan persists in the state, it will be much more difficult for the different institutional and social phenomena that exist in everyday life to become visible.

Yucatán also experiences institutional violence through impunity and the poor performance of its institutions, as well as through the diverse manifestations of social violence that produce discrimination and exclusion. Photo: Flickr
Yucatán also experiences institutional violence through impunity and the poor performance of its institutions, as well as through the diverse manifestations of social violence that produce discrimination and exclusion. Photo: Flickr

In recent times, the Yucatan has become, from a narrative, political and social point of view, an obligatory reference at the national and international level in matters of security, peace, and well-being. This can be seen in the multiple recognitions it has received in recent years. 

Just last October 7, the Condé Nast Travel magazine editorial awarded the Readers Choice Awards to the city of Merida as the "Best City in the World" in the category of "Small Cities", surpassing places like Dresden, Germany, Quebec, Canada, among others. This phenomenon has even impacted the marketing with which it sells to the city and the state of Yucatan itself. Today you can often see on real estate pages advertising where Merida is described as "one of the best cities to live in Mexico, due to its quality of life, social cohesion, the performance of authorities and satisfaction with public services.

This has several very important effects within the Yucatec collective imaginary. Certainly, the reality in Yucatan is different from the national one, it is a territory of exuberant beauty and today, a state of relative peace. However, the narrative that is built around the idea of a "safe state", with the dose of certainty that may exist in it, also coexists with a strong tendency to the invisibilization of other types of violence that occur every day in this federative entity, as a consequence of a poor understanding and vision for its integral attention on the part of the institutional actors and of the weight that here continue to play the reminiscences and conservative ideas of the space of the private and the public to the detriment of the respect and guarantee of the basic nucleus of human rights for all.

The perception of peace and security in Yucatan is closely linked to the low rates of high-impact crime, homicide, extortion, kidnappings, and the almost non-existent acts of violence related to organized crime. Here violence has other diverse forms of manifestation, even though they are silenced or eclipsed by this idea of absolute peace. 

For example, Yucatan has a high incidence of gender-based violence and discrimination against various vulnerable groups. This is shown by the results of INEGI's National Survey on Discrimination (ENADIS), where 1 out of every 5 people in Yucatan state that they have felt discriminated against because of their skin color, way of speaking, sex and/or sexual orientation. Other extremely critical phenomena in the state are depression and suicide. 

2018 has been the year with the highest number of suicides in the history of the entity. There were 246 victims, surpassing 2017 with 195 registered cases and 2016 with 155 cases. The majority of the people were men, according to data from the Ministry of Health of Yucatan. Depression was also registered as an upward trend. According to data from the National Household Survey 2017 of INEGI, 32.5% of people over 12 years of age, said they suffer depression. In comparative terms with other states, this places it among the first places nationally in the incidence of this condition.

These phenomena are not new. It is enough to refer to a text written by Octavio Paz for the newspaper El Nacional during his first visit to Mérida, as part of a literacy campaign for indigenous communities. Paz describes a colorful and lively Mérida, but he keeps looking at the division by "social classes, misery, and servitude; a proud caste architecture". 

What most struck the author of The Labyrinth of Solitude was the way in which skin color played a fundamental role in the distribution of profits. A society that spoke enthusiastically of German racism and its refusal to "mix blood" with the indigenous, considered inferior, and systematically concealed everything serious that happened behind the closed doors of the "home".

Today the issues that most concern Yucatan society are unemployment, poverty, and corruption, according to the organization Massive Caller in its survey dated 15 June this year. Unlike in other parts of the country, insecurity is not part of the issues of greatest local concern. This is also reflected in the National Urban Public Security Survey (ENSU) conducted by INEGI in June 2019, where Mérida ranks among the cities with the lowest index of social perception of insecurity. Yucatan in that sense does not have serious symptoms of institutional or juridical erosion, but there are warning signs of something extremely fundamental and it is closely related to other types of violence and institutional deficiency.

An interesting characteristic of the Yucatec people is that they have a high level of confidence in the Public Ministry. According to data from the 2018 National Survey of Victimization and Perception of Public Security (ENVIPE), this is the second state with the highest index in this area. The social legitimacy of Public Ministries is essential for people to go to these institutions, but the reality is different. 

Mexico ranks 115th out of 126 countries evaluated in the Rule of Law Index 2019, which investigates "the effectiveness of the investigation, crime prevention and social reintegration, non-discrimination, impartiality, absence of corruption, political interference and due process, all in the criminal justice system. In all states of Mexico, 90% of crimes committed between 2010 and 2016 go unpunished, and Yucatan is no exception, according to the State Performance Index of Prosecutors and Prosecutors 2019, of the organization Impunidad Cero (Zero Impunity).

Certainly, Yucatan was one of the first states to implement the necessary reforms to establish the new system of procuration and administration of justice. In that sense, it can be said that it has a remarkable national advance, it is the fourth federal state with the highest number of Public Ministries per 100 thousand inhabitants, which generates a greater rapprochement and attention of the state apparatuses for and with the citizens. However, this figure contrasts with the fact that, at the national level, the Yucatec government is the sixth with the lowest budget for the administration of justice, according to data from the same Index.

Fortunately, according to data from the National Census of State Justice Procuration 2018, Yucatan is below the national average of 32 workloads per Public Prosecutor's Office, in other words, there is no worrying overload for these operators as in other states of the country, but it should be noted that this cannot be read as a lack of high demand for criminal justice or little progress of institutional investigations. If other factors such as operator training, infrastructure and legislative progress are combined, Yucatán achieves the best score at the national level in the State Performance Index of Procuradurías and Fiscalías 2019. According to the same study, the second-best law enforcement agency in the country.

But as has been said, despite these encouraging data, there are worrying figures on how effective the operators have been in the new criminal justice system (adversarial accusatory). The Index illustrates these concerns well, Yucatan is below the national average, in 13th place in the country, and if a person is the victim of a crime, it has only a 1.5% probability that the facts will be clarified, having an impunity percentage of 90.4%. These data reprove us in terms of the effectiveness of the accusatory model in the pursuit of justice, once again below the national average.

On the other hand, police development, established in the law since 2008, which refers to the set of rules and structured and intertwined processes that include police career, professionalization, disciplinary regime and certification for all police officers, continues to be a pending issue in Yucatan, especially in the case of the first respondent, that is, the municipal and state police responsible for preventing and containing minor delinquency in the entity. 

For a couple of years now, the civil organization Common Cause has developed the Police Development Index (INDEPOL), whose purpose is precisely to verify and qualify the existence of institutional mechanisms necessary for police development in state and federal police institutions, how the state and federal police are according to what is established by law.

To this end, it has established five areas of police development: police career, professionalization, disciplinary system, social security, and certification. According to the issuance of INDEPOL 2018, Yucatán has a failing grade (-54 points according to the evaluation of the Index) in the aforementioned axes. According to this Index, within the Yucatan police institution, it is necessary to have regulations on the complementary social security system, which is not available today. 

For example, they do not have paternity leave. It is urgent to generate a mechanism for the professionalization of police officers so that they become and consolidate as professionals of citizen security, for this the Professional Career Service Commission, which did not send evidence of having met during 2017, must be more active than ever. This would also make it possible to have a greater number of personnel certified in trustworthy control, since in 2016, 282 police officers were detected who did not pass this evaluation, and in 2017, no casualties were reported due to this issue. Ultimately, it is essential to implement disciplinary mechanisms such as a code of ethics, a catalog of misdemeanors and sanctions, and accompaniment of police officers for psychological or other matters.

As long as the idea that "nothing happens" in Yucatan persists in this state, it will be much more difficult for the various institutional and social phenomena that exist in day-to-day life to become visible. As this article has briefly documented, Yucatán also experiences institutional violence through impunity and the poor performance of its institutions, as well as through the diverse manifestations of social violence that produce discrimination and exclusion. This is not going to improve as long as the idea that violence and crime is limited exclusively to organized crime continues to be perpetuated.

The latter is enough to show the level of a challenge before us: the state ranks 16th out of 32 entities with the greatest violence against women. 66.8% of women reported having suffered some type and modality of violence, according to data from the INEGI Integrated System of Statistics on Violence against Women, where Yucatan also appears among the first entities at the national level with the highest incidence of economic and patrimonial violence against women. 

It is urgent to change the narrative, the discourse and above all, the institutional and social practices, which behind the shield of being "the safest entity in Mexico" has led to the permanent invisibility of the many expressions of violence and impunity that are also experienced. In this sense, well-founded criticism, organized pressure on government actors to achieve greater results in this area and the practice of civic co-responsibility are fundamental for building new and better scenarios.

By René Ramírez Benítez (@Renesito_for Animal Politico is a legislative advisor and analyst on issues of security, justice, and democracy. Executive Director of the A.C Jornadas de Derechos Humanos in Yucatán.

The Institute for Security and Democracy (Insyde) is an organization with a decade of work designing solutions to fully exercise the human right to security. We seek a paradigm shift from public security to citizen security with the involvement of institutions, organizations and society. Democratic police reform, migration and human rights, violence and the media, our issues.

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