Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto unveiled a highly anticipated ten-point security reform package yesterday. But while the plan is laudable for incorporating civil society demands on transparency and accountability, Mexican human rights advocates have doubts about its language regarding police reform and locating missing persons.
El Universal notes that the plan (which he will present to Congress on Monday) includes important steps towards making the government more transparent, a key demand of Mexican civil society in light of the Ayotzinapa disappearances. Among these is a plan to strengthen the country’s commitment to the Open Government Partnership (OGP), an international initiative to improve government and civil society cooperation on accountability issues that Mexico helped launch in 2011. In compliance with the OGP, Animal Politico reports, Peña Nieto has instructed his secretary of public service to develop an online portal detailing all suppliers and contractors working with the federal government.
Peña Nieto’s announcement comes in the wake of a letter sent to the administration last week by Fundar, Article 19 Mexico, Gestion Social y Cooperacion (GESOC) and other local transparency and human rights NGOs, which urged the government to stick to its OGP promises and work for truth, justice and reconciliation for the victims of the 43 disappeared and their families. The statement was also backed by some 30 other civil society organizations in the region, which met during the course of the OGP Regional Meeting for the Americas last week in Costa Rica.
The transparency initiatives were not among the most high-profile of its ten components, however. Most local and international media coverage has focused on its proposal to make the current “mando unico” initiative, which aims to concentrate police authority in state governments, mandatory across Mexico’s 32 states. The measure has been implemented unevenly across the country, and has been challenged by local officials even in states where it has been fully passed.
Mando unico has also been controversial among security analysts. As Alejandro Hope puts it in a quote published in today’s New York Times, “State police are not much better than municipal ones.” He is not alone in this analysis. Ernesto Lopez Portillo, director of Mexico’s Institute for Security and Democracy (Insyde), has consistently argued that the logic of mando unico is flawed. As he wrote in a recent Milenio op-ed, the real problem in the country is not local municipalities have too much control over the police, but that there is a lack of political will to properly commit to cleaning up police at all levels of government. Lopez claims this is exacerbated, by government officials’ lack of awareness of international best practices regarding law enforcement, which have in recent years emphasized the importance of local police authority.
What’s more, there is concrete evidence that replacing local police with state authorities does not result in less violence or cleaner policing. A recent example is a report released last month by Insyde, Fundar and the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center that documented 573 police abuses in the eastern Guerrero region of La Montaña between 2007 and 2013. Of these, 44 percent were committed by state police forces, while 31 percent were committed by local police, demonstrating that state authorities can be just as dirty as their municipal counterparts.
The president’s plan has also come under fire over its language on locating missing persons. The Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center, Fundar, and the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (CMPDH) have released a joint press statement criticizing the president’s plan to create a “National Search System for Missing Persons,” noting that the president already created a similar system in July. These groups argue that this system did nothing to prevent the disappearances of Ayotzinapa, nor does the current plan seem to have a clear mechanism to prevent similar cases in the future.
- Uruguay’s second-round presidential vote will take place on Sunday, and there is very little doubt about its outcome. As Radio 180 reports, the country’s major pollsters all show ex-president and Frente Amplio candidate Tabare Vazquez with between 52 and 54 percent support, compared with 39 to 42 percent for his opponent, Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou of the center-right National Party.
- This week saw a development with important consequences for Uruguay’s historic cannabis regulation law: the first arrest of a government-licensed marijuana grower. As La Diaria reports, on Tuesday a registered cultivator was arrested for having “eight or nine” cannabis plants in his home, which police seized as evidence. It is unclear whether the arrest illustrates a gap between police activity and the language of the recently-passed law, or whether the individual violated the law by growing more than the maximum of six female plants. The paper claims that “not all” of the plants seized were females, but does not specify if the suspect violated the limit.
- The planned release of Colombian general Ruben Alzate and his two companions, captured earlier this month by FARC rebels, has been delayed by one day. As El Espectador reports, the FARC responded to President Juan Manuel Santos’ announcement that the release would take place on Saturday by announcing that it would in fact occur on Sunday, a change in plans that Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon called “without justification.”
- O Estado reports that former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso gave testimony to the country’s National Truth Commission on Wednesday, as the body prepares its final report. In addition to Cardoso, the commission is also expected to interview former president Lula and current leader Dilma Rousseff on their respective experiences with repression at the hands of the country’s military dictatorship.
- The Economist offers its take on Rousseff’s choice of Joaquim Levy as finance minister, a selection that the magazine notes will likely be hailed by investors but ultimately demonstrates how weak mandate her mandate will be when she starts her second term. As O Globo reported, the president finally confirmed the choice yesterday after letting rumors circulate for a week.
- In Venezuela yesterday, officials announced that at least 13 inmates had died of drug overdoses after allegedly storming a prison clinic in Lara state and ingesting toxic chemicals. 145 others are being treated for the intoxication, officials say. The non-governmental Venezuelan Prison Observatory puts the number of dead even higher, asserting that 33 have died in the incident.
- Venezuelan opposition figure Maria Corina Machado has responded to the charges filed against her by state prosecutors, who accuse her of plotting to kill President Nicolas Maduro. In a press conference yesterday, Machado said that she was a victim of political persecution, and was being targeted for “saying there is a dictatorship in Venezuela,” as the L.A. Times reports. El Nacional notes that Machado also questioned the official version of the Lara prison incident.
- The New York Times features a gritty look at drug addiction in Tijuana, reporting on a drainage canal known as “El Bordo,” a kind of border-town “Cracolandia” where as many as 90 percent of its dwellers have been deported from the United States. There are very little treatment options available to them, and area shelters charge fees that are often prohibitively expensive.