Thursday, November 10, 2011

Human Rights Watch Delivers Damning Critique of Mexico Security Forces

The LA Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Reuters and Associated Press all have summaries of the newest Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on “killings, torture and disappearances” committed by Mexican security forces. The 213-page report documents over 200 cases of abuse committed by police, army and marines, all institutions which have received U.S. aid and/or training.

The report focuses on the five states most significantly affected by drug violence: Baja California, Chihuahua, Guerrero, Nuevo Leon and Tabasco. Some important trends highlighted by HRW include the shortcomings of Mexico’s judicial system, with just 22 convictions for offenses tied to organized crime since 2007. This is a mere fraction of the nearly 1,000 investigations into crime-related homicides conducted by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office. The report also criticizes the incompetence of justice officials:

Judges who admit evidence that was likely to have been obtained through torture, prosecutors who obtain ‘confessions’ from defendants who are being held incommunicado on military bases, and medical experts who omit or play down signs of physical injuries when they examine detainees.”

In addition, HRW casts doubt on the legitimacy of the government’s own murder statistics. According to HRW, President Felipe Calderon has claimed that 90 percent of the “drug war’s” 35,000 victims were involved in criminal activity. HRW questions these numbers due to the lack of convictions, as well as numerous cases in which security forces tampered with crime scenes, in order to make it look like homicide victims died in a shoot-out between rival gangs

According to media reports, President Calderon stated that he has examined the report and has established a committee dedicated to studying its findings.

News Briefs

  • An opinion piece in Elperiodico by Fernando Carrera, executive director of the Soros Foundation in Guatemala, argues that President Alvaro Colom, while technically considered left-of-center, actually headed one of the more conservative governments in Central America. Carrera argues there are few signs that Perez plans to break with some of the hallmark social and economic programs of Colom’s government, including the poverty relief schemes directed by Sandra Colom. Perez’s rhetoric has also promised support for two of Guatemala’s most effective security reformers, including Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz and police reform commissioner Helen Mack. Should Perez remove his support for either Paz y Paz or Mack -- or if he moves to weaken the authority of U.N. body the CICIG, responsible for investigating government corruption -- this would be a clear sign he intends to break sharply from the Colom agenda.
  • The fall issue of Americas Quarterly examines the ramifications of “impact” investment in the Americas, from Chinese mining companies in Peru to lessons drawn from microfinance. One article available online is a look at the dynamics of the drug trade between Africa and Brazil. According to U.N. statistics, the number of cocaine seizures in Brazil has increased tenfold between 2005 and 2009, accompanying the rise in cocaine smuggled from South America to Europe via African nations like Angola, Guinea, and Cape Verde. Brazil’s growing trans-Atlantic trade with African partners may have also encouraged the development of illicit smuggling networks. The article considers the possibility that terrorist networks based in Africa may be benefiting from the relationship with Brazil’s drug traffickers, although there is little evidence supporting such a scenario.
  • According to investigative reporting website Confidencial, the European Union electoral commission charged with monitoring Nicaragua’s presidential election last Sunday says that while President Daniel Ortega clearly won, some 37 percent of the total votes deserve to be classified as “irregular.” The Carter Center also released a statement critical of the “deficient” electoral process seen in Nicaragua. The Associated Press reports that 12 people were injured and four killed in clashes registered yesterday during rallies protesting the outcome of the vote.
  • The Wall Street Journal profiles Venezuela presidential contender Henrique Capriles, governor of the country’s second-most populous state. The article notes that in one recent poll, Capriles tied with President Hugo Chavez should the two of them run against each other.
  • The Council on Hemispheric Affairs analyzes how Panama’s corruption scandals are crippling the country’s economy, in light of a new free trade agreement with the United States. The article details how politicians have awarded their allies and financial backers with lucrative land holdings.
  • The police commander accused of coordinating the September 25 crackdown on Bolivia’s indigenous protesters, rallying against the creation of a highway in the TIPNIS reserve, now has an arrest warrant on his head, reports La Razon. General Oscar Muñoz is accused of coordinating the police raid, involving 500 officers, on a protest camp, in which several indigenous activists were arrested and other beaten and tear-gassed.
  • A feature by the New York Times profiles a group of evangelical youths in Juarez, Mexico, who dress as angels and haunt the city’s crime scenes. The Christian activists, who say they are trying to directly address criminals and hitmen, may soon see imitators in other cities, the Times notes.

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