Thursday, February 21, 2013

HRW Warns of Forced Disappearance 'Crisis' in Mexico

Human Rights Watch has released a new report which accuses former Mexican President Felipe Calderon of ignoring “the most severe crisis of enforced disappearances in Latin America in decades” and failing to take steps to address it during his 2006-2012 administration.

The 178-page report (.pdf) documents some 250 disappearances which occurred during the Calderon years. Of these, HRW found evidence that members of virtually every division of the Mexican security forces could be linked to 149 disappearances, sometimes working in cooperation with organized crime.

This includes the Mexican Navy, which is generally seen as the least corrupt branch of the country’s armed forces.  In one instance, naval officials conducted a series of raids in the north of the country in the summer of 2011, taking more than 20 individuals into custody. Their families never heard from them again, and officials say they have no record of them.

In all of the cases detailed in the report, HRW found that authorities failed to fully investigate the crime or carry out a thorough search for the victims.

The report lists only a small fraction of the total estimated disappearances in the country. A list compiled by the Mexican attorney general’s office, which was leaked in November, found evidence that more than 25,000 people have gone missing since 2006. The HRW report notes that the leaked list is “incomplete and its methodology flawed,” but the watchdog group insists it is proof of the massive scale of Mexico’s disappearance crisis.

After the release of the report yesterday, Mexico’s Deputy Interior Minister Lia Limon told reporters that the government is working on compiling a national database of the disappeared.  Limon also said official figures put the number of victims even higher than the attorney general report, at over 27,000, although she admitted that she had not seen the database and could not comment on the progress of its development.  

News Briefs
  • Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, also known as “Baby Doc,” is due to appear in court today at a hearing over whether he can be tried for crimes against humanity. The hearing was initially slated for February 7 but was rescheduled at the last minute after Duvalier failed to make an appearance. The judge in the case has said he will have the ex-dictator arrested if he fails to show at today’s hearing, but Duvalier’s enduring political influence I the country makes this, as well as his prosecution for human rights abuses, unlikely.
  • With his Alianza Pais party having secured a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly in Sunday’s elections, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa announced yesterday that he intends to amend the country’s Constitution. According to EFE, potential changes include altering the Constitution to allow for the production of genetically modified crops and amending the legal code to make it harder for citizens to halt government programs by obtaining court injunctions. El Comercio reports that Correa also addressed the worst fears of his critics, specifically promising not to run for office after his current term ends in 2017. even if the Constitution were amended to allow for his re-election. “If the majority of the public supports [amending re-election laws], let them decide; I will not run,” the president said.
  • The Guardian has an interesting profile of outgoing Ecuadoran Vice President Lenin Moreno and his dedicated promotion of disabled rights since 2006. Moreno, who uses a wheelchair, has been praised for drastically improving access to care for disabled people as well as changing the way the disabled are socially perceived  in Ecuador. While he claims he is leaving politics behind, many believe that he is positioning himself to succeed Correa in 2017.
  • Brazil’s ruling Workers’ Party (PT) held a ceremony in São Paulo to mark ten years in presidential office yesterday. AFP reports that the event was both a celebration of the PT’s successful anti-poverty measures in the country as well as an endorsement of President Dilma Rousseff’s re-election in the upcoming 2014 elections.
  • During a visit to the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies in Brasilia yesterday, Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez sparked controversy by making comments which were interpreted as a call for the release of the “Cuban Five,” five Cuban intelligence agents held in the U.S. since 1998. Sanchez later clarified her remarks, saying she meant them as a sarcastic commentary on the amount of money that the Cuban government has spent on an international media campaign defending the men. In another comment that is sure to generate friction between her and the Cuban exile community in the U.S., The Miami Herald reports that Sanchez reiterated her longstanding criticism of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, calling it “interventionist” and ineffective.
  • Land rights activists in Honduras are claiming that 9 farmers have been killed since January alone in the troubled Bajo Aguan region, where a land conflict between large scale African palm plantation owners and small farmers has raged for several years, killing more than 60 since 2009.
  • The seven-member delegation of U.S. lawmakers currently visiting Cuba confirmed that it met with imprisoned American contractor Alan Gross yesterday. Senator Patrick Leahy, who led the delegation, told reporters that the legislators also met with Cuban President Raul Castro yesterday to discuss improving bilateral relations.
  • In a sign that Cuba-U.S. relations could be on the mend, the Boston Globe reports that high-level State Department officials are considering removing Cuba from the list of “state sponsors of terrorism.” The Globe cites a senior official in the Obama administration as saying that there is a “pretty clear case” that Cuba no longer meets the State Department’s criteria for inclusion on the list, which includes Syria, Sudan, and Iran.
  • Although the AP reports that the first killing of a suspect by the self-defense movement’s “community police” in Ayutla, Guerrero occurred in a shootout yesterday, El Universal reveals that it is actually the second such deadly incident in Ayutla this year.  Still, the death is likely to fuel the already heated debate over the legality of the growing vigilante movement in Mexico.
  • Following Bolivia’s official complaint to the United Nations over the matter, the Chilean government has announced that it will release three Bolivian soldiers held since January for allegedly crossing into Chile illegally. According to La Razon, the soldiers’ release has been delayed by the fact that a case is still open against the men in the Chilean court system.
  • BBC Mundo looks at Bolivian President Evo Morales’ record of nationalizing foreign companies, the most recent of which was the takeover of Spain’s SABSA, an airport administration company. While the nationalizations have been popular among the Bolivian public, their economic benefit is subject to debate.
  • With Hugo Chavez’s failing health making a special election look increasingly likely in Venezuela, some have questioned whether Vice President Nicolas Maduro would be the undisputed Chavista candidate. The current head of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, is believed to be a political rival of Maduro's, and is viewed by some as a potential threat to Maduro’s candidacy. Cabello has denied this, however, and the two have maintained a united front in public. But a report by El Nuevo Herald suggests that two are not as close as their public image suggests. According to the Herald, the January Supreme Court decision allowing Chavez to delay his inauguration ceremony had the added effect of ensuring that Cabello would not be required to take temporary office, which the Constitution mandates in cases where the president-elect is unable to be sworn in. The paper cites “sources close to the situation” who claim that this decision was orchestrated by the pro-Maduro wing of the United Socialist Party (PSUV) as a way of blocking Cabello from power.
  • La Nacion has the latest update on the ongoing debate in the Argentine Senate over the proposed establishment of a joint truth commission with Iran to investigate the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Concern over the agreement was fueled last week after Iran appeared to step back from its promise to allow Argentine investigators to question its Defense Minister about the bombing.

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