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December 1: Mexican Presidential Power Transitions from one Human Rights Violator to the Next

by Carlin Christy, Mexico Team

Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto. Photo from

This December 1st, it might have been possible for Mexicans to breathe a collective sigh of relief. The day will mark the official end of President Felipe Calderón’s 6 year term. His presidency is commonly referred to as “el sexenio de la muerte” or ‘the six year term of death,’ given the murders of around 80,000 people which began after Calderón launched a militarized war on drugs shortly after taking office in late 2006. However, a respite from the massacres, kidnappings, disappearances, and human rights abuses does not seem to be on the horizon, as the presidential power will transition to Enrique Peña Nieto, a member of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which ruled Mexico for 71 consecutive years until the year 2000.

Peña Nieto comes into office under questionable election results and with an already tarnished human rights record from his time as governor of the State of Mexico from 2005-2011. Certain actions he has taken since winning the July election also seem to indicate he won’t stray too far from the course of Calderón, or Mexico’s financial and strategic partner in the war, the U.S. government and military contractors.

Although he has stated he will no longer seek to confront cartels head on by taking out capo leaders, Peña Nieto plans to create, strengthen, and professionalize a unified 40,000 strong police force, continue the use of the army until no longer necessary, and expand prisons. He will continue to cooperate strategically with the U.S. and just this week met with President Obama to discuss the continued economic and security integration of Mexico and the U.S.

Considering Peña Nieto will not drastically alter the approach to fighting organized criminal groups, it is worth looking at the impact this militarized drug war has had on Mexican society under Calderón, with support from the U.S’s Mérida Initiative.

Statistics from Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) recently shared in a meeting with the Senate’s Human Rights Commission paint a dismal picture. The CNDH cited information compiled from January 1, 2005 to July 31, 2012. Five out of the seven and a half years were under Calderón’s administration.

CNDH data reveals:

· Cases of torture have increased 500% (In 2005 only 1 torture complaint was received, compared to over 2,000 complaints of torture and cruel treatment in 2011)

· 9000+ complaints of arbitrary detentions, which demonstrates that this is a recurring practice utilized by security forces. Arbitrary detentions increased 121% during this time period.

· 5,568 complaints were received about officials failing to follow required procedures in issuing or executing search warrants

· 2,126 cases of forced disappearances are under investigation and in general, forced disappearances saw massive increases

· 24,091 people are reported as missing

· 46,015 documented murders

· 15,921 bodies remain unidentified

· 1,421 bodies were found in mass graves

· 34,385 complaints against federal security forces were received by the CNDH. (An increase of 84% in the last three years.) Complaints mainly centered around illegal searches, forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial executions, and torture.

For me, you were “The Employment President.”

(image taken from Mexicambio on Facebook)

In addition to data from the National Human Rights Commission, a recent national survey on the perception of citizen security indicated that 55% of Mexicans believe Calderon’s strategy to fight organized crime “was unsuccessful”. Eighty percent indicated that insecurity was worse this year than in 2011. Just 31% of those surveyed were in agreement of the use of military operatives to combat organized crime- a ten percent drop from the start of Calderón’s presidency.

Yet behind all of the data, statistics and numbers are stories of mothers searching for their disappeared children, families mourning their murdered loved ones, communities fighting to demand justice for crimes committed by security forces. Mexico’s social fabric has been torn apart over the last six years. The pain and suffering of people like Maria Trujillo Herrera, who has four disappeared sons, is indescribable. Yet she and many other victims continue to speak out, at the risk of their own lives, against the absurdity of fighting a war on drugs.

Another woman who speaks out against the violence and impunity endemic to the Mexican state is Paty Torres. She is among the 26 women who were arrested, tortured, and sexually abused during the violent police repression of the town San Salvador Atenco in 2006.

Paty Torres, survivor of sexual assault by Mexican Police forces in 2006.

Photo by: Liliana Zaragoza Cano courtesy of website:

In 2001, the community located in the State of Mexico was the site of protest by a group of farmers opposed to the expropriation of their land to construct an international airport. Opposition to the plan was so strong it was cancelled. When a conflict broke out over a highway blockade in May 2006, the state government, some say seeking revenge for the 2001 protests, responded by sending in thousands of federal police, armed with firearms and teargas.

Over two hundreds civilians, including members of the campesino group and their supporters, were arbitrarily detained and brutally beaten. Two young people were killed and women in particular were subjected to verbal and psychological abuse as well as sexual torture. Several detainees remained imprisoned up to four years after the attack.

The operation in Atenco, characterized by human rights groups as the ”excessive and indiscriminate use of force” occurred under Enrique Peña Nieto as governor. To date, no state or federal police officer or official involved in the attack has been brought to justice, despite a recommendation from The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to investigate and bring to trial those responsible.

Twelve of the 26 women, including Paty Torres, have brought their case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, after failing to receive justice in the Mexican judicial system.

The Atenco case represents the flagrant abuse of human rights, criminalization of social protest, and total impunity authorized and employed by Peña Nieto while governor. Give this history, many civil society groups, activists, and human rights organizations believe the landscape for human rights in the next Presidential administration looks bleak.

The naming of Colombian General Oscar Naranjo as his top security advisor is further cause for concern. Gen. Naranjo is the former head of the Colombian National Police, and is seen as a key figure in the dismantling of Colombia’s major drug cartels. However, Naranjo is accused of using back room dealings, favoring certain cartels over others, and utilizing corrupt DEA and U.S. Customs officials to achieve his aims. In addition, the naming of Naranjo signifies Peña Nieto will be favorable to the U.S.’s agenda of military intervention into Latin America as a whole.

This December 1st, instead of exhaling a sigh of relief that should have come after six years of unimaginable violence and insecurity, Mexican citizens may have to inhale even deeper, in order to face the next six years. Or instead, they can do as so many have done throughout the country’s history—organize, resist, and struggle against the powers that for so long have marginalized and repressed those who dare to demand justice and equality in Mexico.


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