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WVU law school promotes cultural ties with Mexico’s University of Guanajuato

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West Virginia University’s College of Law hosted three visiting professors from the University of Guanajuato last week. “Mexico Week” at the law school featured lectures and panel discussions giving students an opportunity to better understand life south of the border.

Perhaps the longest standing relationship WVU has with a sister school abroad is with the University of Guanajuato. In continuing with that tradition, professors from the school in the small university town of Guanajuato came to share their world with students.

La Ley

Patricia Bengné is a professor of law at the University of Guanajuato who has made several trips to Morgantown over the years. She came to Morgantown to dispel cultural misconceptions, to impart a sense of the history of Mexico, and also to give students a sense of that country’s legal system.

“Mexico and the US, we do not follow the same legal system,” Bengné explained. “Mexico is under the civilian tradition, and the US has a common law system. The main difference in my opinion is that the legal system here in the US is based on the judge-made law.  I mean the judges can make the law. And in Mexico it is very different; we have to follow very rigid statutes—the legal rules, I mean, we call codigo. It’s a very rigid system where we have to find the solution to the problem in these books.”

Bengné explains that the origins of Mexico's legal system are both ancient and classical, based on the Roman and French legal systems. She says the Mexican system shares more in common with other legal systems throughout the world than with the Common Law system in the U.S.—especially those law systems practiced in Latin America and most of continental Europe.

Bengné says efforts are underway in Mexico to change the legal system into one more flexible and efficient.

“I have been in Chile recently and in Chile it took ten years to transition from one system to another. So in Mexico I think it will take much more time than that. It’s not easy to do that—to change the mind and way of thinking of lawyers, police officers, magistrates, every person involved in the judicial branch? It’s not easy, believe me.”

But Bengné has seen some relatively rapid changes in Mexico. She was among four women in a class of fifty who graduated from the law school in Guanajuato in 1978.  

“Being a female lawyer in those years? Oh it was impossible in Mexico. When I went to practice law—because you need to practice in order to know what you’re doing—I was like an invisible woman. It was very, very difficult.”

But today, Bengné says 56 percent of the students graduating from the law school in Guanajuato are women, and today more than ever, women are taking up judicial roles.

“Let me tell you, in my home town in the state of Guanajuato we have a woman as the president of the court—tribunal local estatal, we say. She was the president of the state court in Guanajuato and she was my student. We are very proud of having that,” Bengné said.

El Gobierno

“We have been a democracy roughly for more than 20 years or so, so we’re still a baby democracy,” says Fernando Patrón, the Director of the Public Management Department of the Law, Politics, and Government Division at the university.

Patrón also spoke with students about changes and challenges Mexico faces. He talked about the return to power of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which was the dominant political party in Mexico for most of the 20th century, during which time Mexico was run under an authoritative rule.

“My perspective is that there is no peril of regression to authoritarianism in Mexico whatsoever, considering, of course, what this party’s return to power means,” Patrón said. “I think that the political system is mature enough to hold democracy. Our main concern in Mexico is not with the political system, but with the rule of law, for instance, corruption, transparency, accountability, poverty, which are not minor problems. No they’re very serious, big problems. So in order to consolidate democracy, we really need to improve those aspects of our country, otherwise our democracy could be in peril.”

The culminating event of Mexico Week at the law school was a panel discussion which included topics such as engineering in Mexico, the role of indigenous people politically, as well as organized crime.

Glynis Board hails from the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia and is based in Wheeling at the First State Capital Building. She’s been reporting full time for West Virginia Public Broadcasting since 2012. She covers a broad range of topics but focuses on producing and hosting the West Virginia Public Broadcasting's daily news show West Virginia Morning.

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