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The Catholic Church has raised its critical voice on the distressing issue of crime in Mexico, all in good time. The call prompted me to talk with my friend, the Catholic poet Julio Hubard, about the ethical responsibility of the state to defend its citizens.

Enrique Krauze: The government has wanted to surround the “hugs, not bullets” policy with a religious aura.

Julio Hubard: The doctrine of the Catholic Church has been consistent with the Fifth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” and from its origin, it clarifies the need and presence of a tribunal:

“You have heard it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever commits murder shall be subject to judgment’.”

Krauze:  It is clear then that the concepts of forgiveness and “turning the other cheek” are faculties and virtues of theological and ethical order, not extendable to a society or its government.

Hubard: The position of the Catholic Church is expressed in the catechism. It says: “The voluntary homicide of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule and to the holiness of the Creator. The law that proscribes it has universal validity: It obliges each and every one, always and in everywhere” (§ 2261). And it adds: “Legitimate defense can be not only a right, but a serious duty, for which one is responsible for the life of another.” The authority is responsible for defending the common good, and this requires curbing the aggressor, preventing him from causing harm, even with weapons.

Krauze: So, in essence, the state is obliged to impose peace. It is not a choice; it is its foundation. Consequently, there is the right and the oath: “Fulfill and enforce…”

Hubard: Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas are very clear: It is not the ruler’s function to forgive sins; his obligation is to act against crimes, fight them with the law in hand and, if necessary, with legitimate violence, which, within his territory, is his fundamental prerogative.

Krauze: Especially when, as in the case of organized crime, it is a power that takes possession of a part of the national territory. In disregard of security, the president has ended up “privatizing” sovereignty: The new owners of territories (within Mexico) are private groups, criminals. They control their border, collect their tolls (“the right of land use,” they call it) and taxes on the trade and transport of avocados, lemons, chickens…

Hubard: And they are sovereign precisely because they acquired the monopoly of force.

Krauze: Let’s talk about the other branches of Christianity. According to (German sociologist) Max Weber, the postulation of the state as the sole holder of legitimate force is even more conclusive in Protestantism.

Hubard: Some would say that the Puritans were the exception to the rule…

Krauze: But no Quaker tried to impose his ethic of absolute pacifism on society, nor incorporate his convictions into the (U.S.) Constitution, nor govern according to them. And by the way, when the Revolutionary War or the Civil War put the Puritans in the bind of defending their wives and children, they took up arms. It is the plot of an unforgettable film of the 1950s, “Friendly Persuasion,” starring Gary Cooper and Anthony Perkins: Do not offer “the other cheek” to scoundrels.

Hubard: That brings to mind (Mahatma) Gandhi. He peacefully resisted English rule and subdued it. It was his historical merit, and that of England (as he himself recognized).

Krauze: Moreover, Gandhi did not want power, but independence, and he did not oppose violence against the legitimate force of the state.

Hubard: There are other misunderstandings. The Mexican government maintains that conditions of poverty and marginalization cause crime. These pressing problems need to be addressed comprehensively. But to see them as causes of crime is to offend the dignity of the people. Don’t you think?

Krauze: Of course. If that equation were valid, there would be no criminals among the middle and upper classes. And boy are there are! (Mexican essayist Gabriel) Zaid has shown how false the imaginary relationship between poverty and crime is, especially organized crime, which requires quite a bit of capital.

Hubard: It has been argued that when the underlying causes disappear, crime will disappear.

Krauze: That is how the millenarian prophets spoke: When the messianic era arrives, everything will be peace and love. And since it never arrives, that message becomes irrefutable: The prophecy is always postponed for the future.

Hubard: So what are our conclusions?

Krauze: The phrase “Hugs, not bullets” lacks ethical and legal basis. And it hides an essential fallacy because nobody is asking the authorities to kill criminals. The demand is that they be brought before a court, judged and punished for their crimes in accordance with the law.

Hubard: I send you a hug.

Krauze: And I send one back to you.

The above article first appeared in Reforma and is being republished in Pulse News Mexico with express prior permission.

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