The number of reported cases of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by Mexican security forces has skyrocketed by 600 percent in the last decade, according to a report published by Amnesty International on Thursday. Last year alone, Mexico’s Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (National Human Rights Commission—CNDH) received nearly 4,000 complaints regarding human rights violations by federal institutions. Of these, 1,505 specifically reported instances of torture. However, the problem extends far beyond the country’s federal forces. “Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment plays a central role in policing and public security operations by military and police forces across Mexico,” the report states.
Ordinary Mexicans seem to have taken note of the reported increase in state violence. Amnesty International’s Americas Director, Erika Guevara Rosas, notes that, according to a recent survey carried out by the organization, “64 percent of Mexicans report being fearful of being tortured in the event of being detained.” In the report’s view, however, the Mexican government seems far less alarmed. In a challenge to earlier statements by President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government regarding his administration’s efforts on this issue, the report cites, “a lack of clear political leadership and real political will by successive governments” as a key factor in the increase in abuses.
The report is the latest in a string of critical assessments of Mexico’s human rights situation. In another report published earlier this year, Human Rights Watch found evidence of “widespread killings, enforced disappearances, and torture.” And after visiting the country in April, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, declared, “there is an epidemic of torture that needs to be corrected.”
LGBT cyber-activists took to the web last week to publically denounce Mexico City’s 3rd International Lesbian Festival. Through a communiqué posted on Facebook, nearly 20 LGBT organizations and collectives and around 50 individual signatories condemned the festival as a vehicle for perpetuating misogyny and machismo. They also criticized a number of authorities for vouching for the festival and participating in its organization, including Mexico City Labor Secretary Patricia Mercado and Jacqueline L. Hoist Tapia, who is the president of the Consejo para Prevenir y Eliminar la Discriminación (Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination in Mexico City —COPRED).
It sounds counterintuitive that LGBT groups would oppose an event that claims to support their cause and promote equal rights—and which could not even be hosted in more conservative cities in the country today. So why are these groups opposing the festival?
There are a number of reasons: for one, the festival’s promotional materials include highly sexualized images of women clad in lingerie, and the festival’s agenda includes an event called “The Bunny Party,” sparking comparisons to the men’s magazine Playboy. Also drawing criticism is the festival’s “coronation ceremony” and a workshop on applying makeup.
In their communiqué, groups opposing the festival write that “while it is fundamental to have cultural, artistic, political and leisure space for lesbians, we find it appalling that these spaces are provided under the basis of gender stereotypes that are misogynistic and machista. Instead of contributing to the empowerment and freedom of lesbian women from the roles that have oppressed us for ages […] the festival reproduces them with singular joy.” According to the communiqué, the festival’s publicity “only represents white, thin women […]showing women as objects the way male adult magazines would.”
This June, Mexico’s Procudaría General de la República (Federal Prosecutor’s Office–PGR) issued a report that paints a gruesome picture of the country’s freedom of the press situation, releasing worrisome numbers on crimes and homicides committed against reporters and journalists for the past 14 and a half years.
Between January 2000 and June 2014, an average of one journalist has been reported assassinated in Mexico approximately every 52 days. In the 36 months between 2010 to 2012, 35 journalists were killed, and there were 71 homicides against journalists reported between 2006 and 2012, during the administration of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón.
Of the 102 murders cited in the report, which occurred in 20 out of 32 Mexican states, 61 percent of the crimes took place in Chihuahua (16 murders), Veracruz (15 murders), Tamaulipas (13 murders) Guerrero (11 murders) and Sinaloa (7 murders).These five states are no strangers to drug cartels and organized crime.
The report also mentions 27 other types of crimes continuously perpetuated against the press—not just by criminals, but also by the police. These crimes include deaths threats, murder attempts, abuse of power from authorities, illegal detainment, kidnapping, corporal violence, theft, intimidation, illegal wire-tapping, illegal seizure of property, and entering journalists’ homes without search warrants. Additionally, from 2010 through June 2014, 14 journalists have gone missing and today are presumed dead.
Miriam Rodríguez, 43, lives in Cañadas del Florido, a low-income neighborhood in Tijuana, Baja California, the northernmost state of Mexico. Three years ago, on any given day, Miriam and her three children would watch criminals, drug addicts, and vagrants frequent the empty house next door. Their streets were littered with garbage and dead animals.
This is not an uncommon situation in the Mexican neighborhoods, or fraccionamientos, where more than seven million houses were built by developers with mortgages from the government in the last decade. But thanks to the Mexican social impact enterprise Provive, Miriam’s life has since changed.
In the early 2000s, the Instituto del Fondo Nacional de la Vivienda para los Trabajadores (The National Fund for Workers’ Housing Institute—INFONAVIT)—a Mexican state agency funded through payroll contributions that offers affordable housing finance to formal workers—underwent a radical reorganization. The result was a complete transformation in the way housing was constructed and purchased throughout the country.
The restructuring of INFONAVIT stimulated a dynamic through which private developers built thousands of houses that were bought by low and lower middle-income formal employees through credit subsidies and mortgages from INFONAVIT, replacing the traditional incremental construction process. INFONAVIT became the largest mortgage lender in Latin America.
Mexican telecom giant América Móvil stands to lose its stronghold on the telecommunications market after the Mexican Congress approved legislative reforms on Wednesday intended to break down telecommunications monopolies in the country.
President Enrique Peña Nieto proposed the reforms on March 24 as part of his campaign to create more competition in the Mexican telecommunications market and improve Mexico’s economy. The new reforms require businesses to hold less than 50 percent of the market share, will place restrictions on pricing, and require that telecommunications infrastructure be shared—but will also allow such companies to determine their own breakdown of the market share.
Owned by billionaire Carlos Slim, América Móvil currently dominates the market with 70 percent of Mexico’s cellphone subscribers and 80 percent of its landlines—and with over 272 million wireless subscribers, it is the largest operator in the Americas. Arturo Elias, a spokesperson for Carlos Slim, said yesterday that to meet the requirements of the new reforms, América Móvil would have to sell between 15 and 17 percent of its overall phone market.
Spain’s Telefonica, which is currently second in the Mexican telecommunications market, may try to expand its current market due to the new reforms—and companies with a smaller portion of the Mexican market, such as AT&T, Virgin Mobile and Grupo Televisa, could also benefit from the legislation. Mexico’s transportation and communications ministry said in a statement that “this decision could transform competition in the telecommunications sector with improved quality and better prices for services to end users.”
The World Cup is a lot more than just soccer. It is a global celebration and in many regards, a showcase of cultures, not just from the host country but from all nations participating in it.
While Mexico did not become the World Cup soccer champion in Brazil, international media sources did call it the champion of social media, as one of the nations with some of the most social media chatter and memes during the tournament. The flourishing of social media has made Mexico renown in all corners of the globe, in ways that traditional media has not.
Unfortunately, not all of our portrayals are positive. During Brazil 2014, some Mexican fans chose to display their “cultural humor” in ways that could be considered hateful or homophobic—including taunting goalkeepers by calling them “puto,” a derogatory term used frequently at soccer matches in Mexico. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) even opened up an investigation to evaluate if the Mexican soccer federation should be fined for promoting discrimination through the use of this taunt (in the end, FIFA decided against it, determining that the federation could not be held liable for spectators’ conduct).
More relevant than the debate over FIFA’s decision about the chant is the fans’ reaction to it. Instead of questioning the use of the word and our projection of Mexican culture to the world, many Mexican soccer fans decided to bask in the glory of their ability to insult others.
Mexico’s Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (National Coordinator of Education Workers–CNTE), the powerful teacher’s union, took to the streets of Mexico City yesterday to protest President Enrique Peña Nieto’s educational reform, including a 3.5 percent increase in teachers’ wages. The leaders of the union sent a message to the president calling the increase “a joke.”
The education reform seeks to professionalize Mexico’s teachers, some of who have been accused of being "maestros aviadores" (aviator teachers) because they regularly fail to attend class. The protests in the capital come a month after local governments in Oaxaca, Chiapas, Michoacán, Sonora, Zacatecas and Baja California were taken to court by the Peña Nieto’s administration for not adhering to the rules of the reforms, and the laws of the “Servicio Profesional Docente” (Professional Teaching Service).
The educational reform project began with an agreement among Mexico’s three main political parties, known as the Pacto por México (Pact for Mexico). The reforms have faced stiff opposition, especially in southern Mexico where protests in Guerrero have turned violent and over a million students in Oaxaca missed nearly two months of class in September and October of last year. After taking to the streets on May 15, teachers threatened to call for more powerful protests and mobilizations against the Peña Nieto government.
Every year around February, Carlos Slim Helú’s name is tossed around in the offices of Forbes magazine. Numbers are crunched, and Forbes’ editors determine if they will publish the Mexican businessman’s name with a 1 or a 2 beside it in their famous “World’s Richest People” list.
In a country ranked 88th in the world in GDP per capita in 2013, with 52.3 percent of its population living below the poverty line in 2012, one has to wonder how it is that Slim is able to accrue so much wealth.
Forbes calculates Slim and his family’s net worth at $72 billion dollars. Other publications calculate his worth at around $75 billion, so let’s settle for $73, give or take a few billion. Putting things into perspective, based on last year’s GDP per capita estimates, Slim’s $73 billion net worth is equivalent to more than the wealth of 4.6 million average Mexicans put together.
There are a number of explanations for how Slim got this rich. Some appeal to the romantic story of an entrepreneurial boy who learned to invest from his father at the age of 12. Others, more critical of Slim, point towards the moment that Slim bought Teléfonos de México (Telmex) in 1990 during the privatizations of former President Carlos Salinas Gortari. In reality, Slim was a wealthy man well before 1990, but I’m sure that gaining control of the only phone company in the country at the time helped grow his assets, which include ownership and/or shareholder participation in over 200 companies in Mexico.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto proposed new rules yesterday aimed at increasing oil production and boosting the economy.
The proposed legislation includes the creation of eight new laws and the modification of 13 existing laws. Mexican Secretary of Tax, Luis Videgaray, and Secretary of Energy, Pedro Joaquín Coldwell, have said that, with the exception of public gasoline sale, the new rules would open the sale of energy resources to foreign and private firms while keeping them under state control. Videgaray maintained that the laws will reduce Mexico’s high fiscal dependence on oil revenues.
If the rules are approved by Congress, it would end a 75-year monopoly by the state-run oil company Pemex, which was created by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) under President Lázaro Cárdenas in 1938. While giving new businesses the opportunity to invest in Mexican oil, the laws would also lower taxes on Pemex from 79 percent to less than 65 percent. Pemex would also be guaranteed at least a 20 percent stake of business in oil deposits in defined territories.
Political opposition parties, the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) and the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PDR) have both pushed back against the reform. The PAN has made its support of the new rules conditional on the passage of electoral reform that would weaken the PRI’s influence. The PRD is hoping to overturn the proposed reform altogether.
On March 24, Enrique Peña Nieto presented the Mexican Senate with a bill for a new telecommunications law that complements the constitutional reforms he approved in 2013. The legislation proposes, among other things, to promote competition in the sector, improve telecom services, and regulate the radioelectric spectrum through the new telecommunications regulator, the Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (Federal Telecommunications Institute—IFETEL). The bill is now being revised, and is expected to be approved in the coming days.
However, the proposal is already raising eyebrows and creating waves in the digital sphere, where it’s being labeled as a form of government censorship.
According to Article 2 of the bill, the legislation is intended to “protect the nation’s security and sovereignty,” and the most controversial articles in the initiative are preceded by mentions of criminal prosecution and promoting the public interest. There is room for discussion on the potential effectiveness of this objective, but much like the current debate in the U.S. over the NSA’s capabilities vs. individual freedoms and privacy, citizens in Mexico are worried about ceding too much power to the federal government. The far-reaching legislation has created a number of trending topics on Twitter, under hashtags like #EPNvsInternet #ContraElSilencioMx and #NoMasPoderAlPoder (roughly translated to #PeñaNietoV.Internet, #AgainstSilenceMx and #NoMorePowerToTheOnesInPower).
One of the most popular bloggers in Mexico, “Sopitas,” criticized Peña Nieto’s proposal by stating that social media has been the only widespread communication channel where the public can express its dissent with the current government. On April 21, #EPNvsInternet became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter and, as these words are being written, “netizens” in Mexico City are organizing a massive demonstration at the Ángel de la Independencia monument in downtown Mexico City, which also hosted many of #YoSoy132’s protests against Peña Nieto’s alleged alliance with Televisa in the 2012 presidential elections. When the neutrality of the largest news media conglomerate in the country is in question, citizen journalism becomes crucial.
Attempts to control speech on the Internet are not new. One need only consult Global Voices’ Advocacy project to see that, when given the power to do so, governments unequivocally use Internet restriction as a means to block and control dissent.
But how would the president’s telecom law proposal trample on free speech? What are netizens protesting against? Here are some highlights:
Supporters of the proposed telecom law might argue that these new attributions would allow government to better combat organized crime, but the other side of the story shows that if the legislation is approved as-is, any government would be legally awarded the power to read emails exchanged between its detractors, know their location and cut off their communications.
Would the government consider a mass protest on Avenida Reforma to be an event against public security, and thus block cell phone communications in the area? Those opposing the new law seem to think this is a possibility.
This developing story has caused outrage on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. Will this outrage help write a different conclusion—one in which the proposed telecom bill is overturned? Or will Mexico join the ranks of censorship-friendly countries such as Cambodia, Turkey and Venezuela?