Activists, Advocates, and the Search for Mexico’s Disappeared
Draft in Progress, Full Manuscript to be completed August, 2019
Since 2006, more than 40,000 people have disappeared in Mexico. These disappearances remain largely unsolved: the Mexican state rarely investigates or prosecutes those responsible, especially in cases where state agents themselves are accused as perpetrators. Despite this, people not only continue to report crimes – but many mobilize, publicly demand accountability, and risk their lives demanding to know “where are they?” Given the risks and institutional barriers, how and why do people mobilize for justice? How does this mobilization affect the individuals involved, the cases they advocate for, and the institutions they interact with? And what do these movements and outcomes teach us about what it will take to disrupt entrenched patterns of impunity in cases of disappearances?
Bootstrap Justice: Activists, Advocates, and the Search for Mexico’s Disappeared offers the first comprehensive and longitudinal analysis of the individuals, organizations, state officials and institutions obligated, by circumstance or profession, to respond to the crisis of disappearances in Mexico. Bootstrap Justice argues that disappearances, more than other types of violence, provoke a desperate need for action. Since the victim could still be alive, family members urgently plead with anyone who might help - often state officials - with the hope that they will locate and return their loved one. When this does not happen, family members find themselves with the paired imperatives to negotiate with the state to push them to investigate, and to critique state incompetence. While individuals learn to strategically employ these imperatives depending on the context – condemning the state for inaction one day and meeting with state officials the next – organizations must choose. In order to effectively negotiate with the state, they must become advocates who build ongoing relationships with state investigatory officials and limit their public critique for fear of alienating those officials. Or, they may opt to be activists, consistently and vocally critiquing the state and imposing a political cost to impunity. When both activist and advocate organizations are present, I find that a synergistic dynamic can emerge in which the state is compelled to action by the activist pressure, which they then channel into concrete investigatory advances by working with advocates.
Triangulating between ethnographic, interview and survey evidence gathered over the course of eight years, I show how advocates and activists take advantage of a divided and uneven state, and under certain circumstances improve legal accountability in domestic courts and human rights compliance. Empirically, I contribute unique and rich data about disappearances, judicial processes and citizen participation in Mexico. I apply the theory of activists and advocates to enforced disappearances in Colombia, and shows that the judicial impact of activist/advocate synergy are in fact more robust than in Mexico.
Bootstrap Justice pushes forward a central line of inquiry within the study of political participation and democratic institutions. It offers a window into the operation of one of our most important democratic institutions, the judiciary, and makes the novel argument that victim-led social movements are uniquely situated to ally with state actors who see breaking patterns of legal impunity as ideologically preferable and/or politically advantageous.
Gallagher, J (2019). The Judicial Breakthrough Model: Transnational Advocacy Networks and Lethal Violence. In A. Alejandro & B. Frey (Eds.) Mexico’s Human Rights Crisis (pp.250-271). Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Gallagher, J. (2017). The last mile problem: activists, advocates, and the struggle for justice in domestic courts. Comparative Political Studies, 50(12), 1666-1698.