Friday, April 26, 2013

Will Obama Address Human Rights Concerns in Mexico?

As U.S. President Barack Obama prepares for a May 2-4 trip to Mexico and Central America, EFE reports that a group of 23 lawmakers have called on the president to raise the issue of human rights violations by Mexican security forces during his visit. The letter (available in .pdf via the Latin America Working Group) notes an increase in reported abuses in recent years, and asserts that Peña Nieto’s December inauguration provides an opportunity to improve the human rights situation in Mexico. It claims:
“Since assuming office on December 1, 2012, President Enrique Peña Nieto affirmed that Mexico’s biggest challenge is to make sure that ‘rights established on paper become reality.’ President Nieto’s expressed commitment to human rights comes at a critical time in Mexico. During the administration of former President Felipe Calderon, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) saw a five-fold increase in complaints -- from 534 in 2007 to 2,723 in 2012 – of human rights violations by Mexican soldiers and federal police, including torture, rape, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, as well as other abuses. Unfortunately, a majority of these abuses go uninvestigated, and as a consequence, unpunished.”
The Obama administration has not been particularly vocal on rights abuses in Mexico, although the State Department did withhold $26 million in military aid in 2010, citing an inability to certify that military and police rights violators were being properly investigated and tried.

As such the president may not directly address reports of human rights violations while in Mexico. If he does, he will likely do so in the context of applauding the Peña Nieto government’s response to victims of the violence. In January Peña Nieto signed a popular victims’ compensation law into effect that his predecessor had opposed. In February, the Mexican government released an official database of missing individuals after Human Rights Watch published a highly critical report on the government’s handling of disappearances. It would not be entirely surprising if Obama touched on these during his visit, thus encouraging his Mexican counterpart to take further action.


News Briefs

  • A week after agreeing to a full recount of votes overseen by the National Electoral Council (CNE), Reuters reports that Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles has said that the audit so far risks becoming “a joke,” and that he plans to challenge the recent elections in court. According to El Nacional, Capriles says he will take his case to the Venezuelan Supreme Court, and, if that fails, to an international body. This would be difficult for him in the Inter-American system, as Venezuela announced its withdrawal from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IAHRC) last year.
  • On Thursday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the arrest of American filmmaker Timothy Tracy, a 35 year-old Georgetown University graduate who was reportedly in the country to make a movie about the country’s political divisions. The Washington Post reports that Maduro accuses Tracy of backing the opposition, referring to him on state television as “the gringo who financed the violent groups.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that the battle over the next managing director of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is pitting the region’s two largest economies against each other. Brazilian diplomat Roberto de Carvalho Azevedo and former Mexican trade minister Herminio Blanco are the top contenders for the job, according to people familiar with the situation.
  • The U.S. State Department has refused to give LGBT rights advocate Mariela Castro (daughter of Cuban leader Raul Castro) permission to attend a conference next week in Philadelphia, where she was to receive an award. The event’s organizers claim to have been “shocked,” the State Department has given no explanation for the denial.
  • BBC Mundo has a report on public transportation in Rio de Janeiro, questioning whether the “City of Marvels” has the necessary transportation system in place to be able to deal with the increased traffic of next year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
  • While the Colombian Senate voted against gay marriage this week, a 2011 Constitutional Court ruling allowing civil unions will go into effect on June 21, and many same-sex couples are expected to register for civil unions and then challenge their legality in the country’s court system, El Tiempo reports.
  • The New York Times reports on Wednesday’s violent protest against education reforms by a teachers’ union in Guerrero, in which demonstrators firebombed the offices of the country’s four main political parties in the state capital. The paper notes that yesterday brought further signs of tension, after protesting teachers closed down Mexico City’s main boulevard.  
  • The Economist looks at last Sunday’s elections in Paraguay, asserting that one possible conclusion from the victory of Horacio Cartes of the long-ruling Colorado Party is that Parguayans “have tried alternation of power, and found it over-rated.” Another is that the Liberal Party does not have the votes to oppose the Colorados on its own, and shot itself in the foot by supporting the ouster of leftist President Fernando Lugo last year.
  • In The Atlantic, drug policy expert Robert Muggah and security analyst Jerry McDermott assess the case of Peru, which has become the world’s leading producer of cocaine but has not been hit by the high levels of drug-linked violence seen in Mexico and Colombia. The authors claim there are at least two possibilities for this, suggesting that the violence is underreported or there is complicity with drug trafficking at top levels of government.