Creating Technology for Social Change

New steps (hopefully on the right direction). Mexico City and its contested spaces of violence

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have been studying the role of citizen activism on regards to drug-related violence in Mexico City. In particular I have been focusing on the impact of eminent domain, and a new legal framework called ‘extinción de dominio’ that is being implemented on by the Mexico City government to tackle violence ridden neighborhoods through the transformation of property. In particular property that could be traced as the instrument of drug-related crime. This law basically strips away any rights to the local community and gives authorities the discretionary power to seize opportunity without having to prove guilt. Communities are then ‘presumed guilty’ until proven innocent, which may take months or years to clear. This causes a particular problem in terms of rights, and having those rights heard and respected. Crime (or presumed crime) becomes an immediate inhibitor of the citizen’s fight for the respect of their rights. Which leads us to see that even if the law is being used unfairly, there is no pushback from the communities.
In Mexico the law has been approved at a federal level, however it has only been implemented in Mexico City since 2011. Between 2011 and september 2012, 128 cases have been submitted under this law, leading to the immediate seize of the properties and the subsequent legal battle. Only 3 of these cases have been resolved in favor of the government, most of them are still pending.
In Colombia, where the law was designed and has been implemented for a decade, the repercussions are massive. In the same period, more than 2,500 properties were seized. This leads us to think very closely about the implications this law may have in Mexico’s cities when finally approved in all regions.
My initial attempt for this excercise was to map the 128 properties and study the reaction the different neighbors and communities have had to the actions of the state. I submitted a (FOIA) form to the local government asking for the geographic location or street address of all properties seized under this law from january 2011 till september 2012. As mentioned by our guest Emi McClean, Mexico is one of the countries with the highest accountability on this matter, and with clear procedures regarding the access of information. However, as she mentioned and I have learned, giving information doesn’t mean giving the right information. They answered within the month with extensive letters from the Judicial branch (this letter) and the Human Rights Comission with these letters: 12 and 3. In their polite and extensive response they repeat the same letter in all instances and provide almost no information, but they give new people to contact. The only information they give is a total number, without any of the specifics I requested. I talked to McClean about this and she suggested I appeal to all mentioned agencies directly instead of only through the central instance, with the information from the press where it is stated that there are 128 properties (not like they mention in their document). To this they replied again after processing with the same letter and new folio number… (see here) and here (1 and 2), but didn’t really address any of the requests at all. This time I also received answer from the Finance Ministry which all previous letters said were responsible. In their letter (which you can see here) they take 3 pages to say how they are not the ones in charge of informing and dont have the requested info… I took these two instances of response and I have submitted a complaint to the IFAI (Federal Institute of Information Access). They in turn are supposed to sanction the agency that is not providing the information requested, and help in the process of obtaining the information from any of the responsible actors. I have yet to hear back from them.

Because of these hurdles I decided to document the property that I am aware. I am stepping out from just rendering a detailed description of the law, and focusing on the larger framework of citizen resistance and citizen activism in the ‘war on drugs’ from an urban environment perspective. I am looking to go into more detail by looking at the landmark property that served as launching pad for the law. This property was not subject to ‘extinción de dominio’, it was traditional eminent domain, but constituted the inaugural act from the past mayor on this regard. There is extensive documentation of the whole process, the citizen’s activism around it and the different ways the community reacted to state-led intervention in a neighborhood that is particularly reactive to the meddling of the state, the barrio bravo of Tepito. I am assembling a sort of ‘media journal’ using the timeline tool @schock used to construct the Hurricane Sandy Timeline in order to render a better understanding of what happened (Timeline JS). And I am going to push it all the way to 1985. 1985 is when after the earthquake, the state was ‘allowed’ for the first time in Tepito. The result was the development (under World Bank standards) of a massive housing complex that 20 years later would be called The Fortress, infamous for being the hub of at least 10% of the narcotics being dealt within the city. Which in turn be expropriated, its inhabitants kicked out, and demolished in order for the state to build a community center to be owned and operated by the local DIF. So in a way the life and death of said property has always been in the center of a complex relationship between the active citizens of Tepito, The state, the complex networks of crime, and the built environment.

I would really appreciate feedback, specially on regards to the new narrow focus. Do you feel such a ‘case-study’ approach benefits the argument, or do you recommend to stay at a more macro level?