Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Human Rights and Public Security Clash in Mexico

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for human rights and public security in Mexico.

After months of repeatedly denying any possibility of wrongdoing, military officials detained 8 soldiers accused of massacring some 22 people in the state of Mexico in the face of international and domestic pressure.  One day later, on September 26, police officers and masked gunmen opened fire on a crowd during a student protest in Iguala, Guerrero, killing six and leaving some 43 missing.

Since then, however, the circumstances around both of these cases have gotten worse. The investigation into the alleged military massacre has not moved forward since Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam vowed to prosecute three alleged suspects in a civilian court. As for the disappeared protesters in Iguala, hope is fading that they will be found alive. A mass grave containing 28 badly burned bodies has been found neraby, and two suspects in custody have confessed to teaming up with corrupt police to kill 17 of the 43.

While in recent years Mexicans have grown accustomed to hearing about mass graves associated with drug-fueled violence, the overtly political nature of the violence has shocked the country. President Enrique Peña Nieto vowed to investigate the disappearances, and El Universal reports that Federal Police have been sent to Iguala to secure the town. The local police chief has vanished, as had the town mayor, who according to Proceso is under investigation for alleged connections to the Beltran Leyva criminal organization.

On Friday, the Inter-American on Human Rights (IACHR) requested that Mexico take precautionary measures to locate and protect the missing students.

At least 30 suspects are in custody in Iguala, including 22 local police officers and a number of alleged members of a local gang. Meanwhile, the 28 bodies are too badly damaged to be properly identified, and a team of local technicians -- with the help of the The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) -- has been tasked with comparing DNA to that of relatives.

More on the case in today’s Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

News Briefs
  • There have been a couple of noteworthy reactions to the Iguala killings and disappearances in Mexico in recent days. Animal Politico hosts an op-ed by Jose Antonio Guevara Bermudez, head of the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH), who profiles dissatisfaction with the country’s semi-governmental Human Rights Commission (CNDH ), and calls to impeach its director, Raul Plascencia Villanueva.  In a column for Sin Embargo, Maria Benitez of the Fundar Research Center offers a wholesale condemnation of the Peña Nieto administration, Mexico’s government institutions and its mainstream press for failing to properly recognize the scale of the violence. Writing for Mas Por Mas, Mexican journalist Diego Enrique Osorno also partially blames local press for the violence alongside Guerrero authorities, noting that on the day of the disappearances, the leading daily in the state ran the headline “At Last Order is Restored.”  He also traces the historical context of the student protests there, noting that the teachers’ college attended by the protesters has a proud tradition of radical activism.
  • La Silla Vacia reports on concern over budget cuts to Colombia’s National Protections Unit, tasked with providing security to politicians, union leaders, conflict victims and other vulnerable individuals in the country. While authorities say the cuts should not affect victims’ group leaders or human rights defenders, some high-profile Colombian activists say they have already witnessed cuts to their security details.
  • Defeated Brazilian presidential candidate Marina Silva has reportedly decided to endorse Aecio Neves in a second round, though it appears she has done so in keeping with her campaign theme of “new politics.” According to O Estado de S. Paulo, Silva has offered to give support for Aecio in exchange for a promise to support ending re-election if he is wins the runoff. Meanwhile, though some analysts have asserted that Neves has a better chance than Silva did of beating President Rousseff in a runoff, the AP reports that doing so will likely mean an uphill battle and a drastic change in the challenger’s outreach strategy.
  • Brazil’s UOL points out that many of the politicians that were targets of the massive June 2013  demonstrations in the country, like then-heads of the Senate and lower house Henrique Eduardo Alves  and Renan Calheiros, won re-election on Sunday. Other examples of this trend include the reelections of São Paulo Mayor Geraldo Alckmin and disgraced ex-President turned Senator Fernando Collor, and -- of course -- President Rousseff’s strong showing. In a thoughtful blog post, Rachel Glickhouse profiles three main theories for this phenomenon put forward by analysts in the country.
  • The NYT’s Open Source blog reports on an election-day video that has gone viral in Brazil, featuring a Senate candidate slapping a female voter in the face for challenging his attempt to cut into the line at the voting center in Alagoas. The candidate reportedly went into hiding Monday, and public outcry eventually pressured officials to order his arrest.
  • The Venezuelan chapter of the Press and Society Institute (IPYS), a press freedom watchdog, has released a new report on the extent of censorship and self-censorship based on the responses of 225 mostly private-sector journalists in the country. El Nacional reports that 79 percent reported that the government had denied them access to information in the public interest, and that 34 percent identified the executive branch as the biggest culprit of press censorship in Venezuela.
  • The Washington Post looks at Cuba’s medical response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, noting that it has the largest medical presence in Sierra Leone of any foreign country, and that Cuban health workers will also be sent to Liberia and Guinea in the coming weeks.
  • In The New Yorker, Laurent Dubois reflects on what the death of Haiti’s Jean-Claude Duvalier means for the country, and how his brutal regime should best be remembered in a historical context. Intellectuals and writers of Haiti’s diasporic community in places like New York, Miami, Boston, and Montreal, Dubois notes, will play a key role in ensuring “a serious reckoning with the inheritance of the Duvalier regime.”