On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report in which it denounced human rights violations at the hands of security forces in Mexico, as well as impunity for drug-related violence. In the Mexico chapter of its 200-page World Report 2011, the human rights organization says it found “strong evidence to suggest that members of Mexican security forces have participated in over 170 cases of torture, 39 disappearances, and 24 extrajudicial executions.” Moreover, noted José Miguel Vivanco, HRW director of the Americas, while there has been a surge in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderón took office, there has not been a comparable increase in criminal investigations. Only 997 of the 45,000 deaths related to drug violence have been formally investigated, and of those, a mere 22 have resulted in convictions. Vivanco also noted that, since the crimes are often attributed to disputes between drug cartels, the deaths of the victims are sometimes dismissed.
In the latest edition of Americas Quarterly, released yesterday, Alejandro Poiré, director of Mexico’s Center for Intelligence and National Security, and José Merino, professor of political science at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, debate the possibility of success in Mexico’s war on drugs. Poiré believes the war can be won, asserting, “Mexico has chalked up major victories—and will continue to do so, thanks to its multi-track approach that focuses not just on eliminating drug trafficking, but on building stronger law enforcement institutions and reinforcing our social fabric.” Merino, on the other hand, argues, “If winning means eliminating all drug production, trade and consumption, then the only honest answer is ‘no.’ The strategic lines drawn by the Mexican government rely on ‘containment and weakening’ criminal organizations, not ‘elimination,’” he says.
José Miguel Vivanco delivered the report in person to judicial authorities, military officials and President Calderón—noting that this last meeting was surprisingly constructive. The HRW report recommends a reform of the military justice code such that human rights violations committed by members of the armed forces be tried in civil rather than military courts. It also demands that the code prohibit admitting into court testimony obtained through torture.
Responding to a growing sense that the military-led fight against drug trafficking organizations has failed to curb violence across our southern border, the United States and Mexico formally announced a shift in their counter-narcotics strategy last week. The “new stage” in bilateral cooperation will aim to strengthen civilian law enforcement institutions and rebuild communities crippled by poverty and crime.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Mexico City last Tuesday with a delegation that included the top U.S. military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, and top officials from the DEA, Justice Department, border security, and other agencies. Their visit marked the second high-level consultation meeting under the auspices of the Merida Initiative. (The meeting had been planned for months, but it took on greater urgency in the aftermath of the killing of three people—including two U.S. citizens—with ties to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez.)
The meeting laid the foundations for the second phase of the Merida Initiative. The first phase, launched in 2008, was designed to spend $1.12 billion to battle organized crime in Mexico through the provision of military hardware and training for police officers, judges, prosecutors and public defenders. However, as turf war violence escalated across a string of border cities, the 45,000 troops deployed onto Mexico’s streets increasingly became the visible face of Calderón’s strategy—and frontloaded Merida with military assistance.
The Mexican Attorney General’s Office announced a new federal prosecutor for crimes against the media on Monday following complaints about the government’s investigations into the increasing number of journalist deaths. Gustavo Salas Chávez, a former employee of the federal crimes investigation unit, will replace Octavio Orellana. The Attorney General’s Office did not give a reason for the replacement, but said Salas Chávez had orders to review all of the outstanding killings.
Sixty journalists have been killed since 2000 in Mexico, according to the country’s National Human Rights Commission. Almost none of the press-related crimes have been solved. Orellana, the former special prosecutor, said in December 2008 that most of the journalists who had been killed were not targeted because of their work.
The violence has led many journalists to self censor their work on crime and drug trafficking because of security concerns, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Jorge Ochoa Martínez, editor in chief of El Sol de La Costa newspaper, was found dead with a gunshot to the face on February 1 in the state of Guerrero. He was the third journalist killed this year.
The Mexican government issued a strong rebuttal yesterday to a recent Human Rights Watch report that criticizes President Felipe Calderón’s use of the military for policing and other civilian matters. The report contends that “Mexico's armed forces have committed serious human rights violations, including killings, torture, rapes, and arbitrary detentions.”
In its response, the government claims it has achieved major advances in human rights in recent years and that military intervention has only been authorized in response to demands from civil authorities. The government also stated that “military intervention in public safety is only temporary.”
Since taking office, President Calderón has deployed 45,000 soldiers and 20,000 federal agents to support an increasingly violent campaign against drug cartels. The U.S. has largely supported Mr. Calderón’s anti-drug policies and has allocated $1.12 billion to assist Mexico in its efforts. The disbursement of these funds, however, has also been contingent on Mexico’s fulfillment of its human rights obligations.