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How Many is Too Many?

By: Claudia Ana Rodriguez

Early last week, reports surfaced that the Mexican government would not release official data on how many narco related deaths occurred during 2011. The main concern was that releasing the data was a threat to national security. Many journalists and civil society members fired back noting that not releasing the numbers and not making that information public created more insecurity than having those numbers available. Some also claimed this was nothing more than a political move, in order to not tarnish further the reputation of the president’s political party, Partido Acción Nacional, or the PAN, as Mexico enters a presidential election year.

A day later, the Mexican government did indeed release figures, citing 12,903 people killed from January to September of 2011. Immediately, journalists and civil society members came forward citing many doubts regarding the accuracy of the government numbers because there are variations between the numbers local and state governments report, and what the federal government reports for the same city and state. Organizations also question how the government defines and classifies “narco related deaths”, and the quality and lack of investigation (only 2% of all crimes are prosecuted in Mexico).

This is nothing new. Since President Felipe Calderon took office at the end of 2006, he began a campaign against the drug trafficking organizations in his country. According to the government’s official tally, thru September of 2011 47,515 people have died due to President Calderon’s campaign. However, civil society organizations quote much higher numbers of at least 50,000 and beyond.

The United States government began supporting Calderon’s fight in 2007, and sent aid in the form of equipment and training to the Mexican security forces, through a policy known as the Merida Initiative. Since then, the Mexican government, along with journalists and members of Mexican civil society, all have kept track of the numbers of lives lost. While the Mexican government claims the majority of deaths are somehow related to the war against drug trafficking organizations, journalists and civil society members have demonstrated case after case of deaths and even disappearances due to massive human rights violations by the same security forces receiving equipment and aid from the U.S. government. In November of 2011, Human Rights Watch came out with a report entitled Neither Rights Nor Security. This 212 page report details cases of human rights abuses that occurred since Calderon declared war, including 170 cases of torture, 39 disappearances, and 24 extrajudicial killings.

Despite the debate about how many deaths, everyone can agree that it has been too many. Since the launch of President Felipe Calderon’s U.S. backed war against organized crime, the numbers have risen substantially, and insecurity in the country is apparent. There has been no decline in the drug market, as this policy does not address any of the root causes behind the lucrative business of drug trafficking, including poverty, lack of economic alternatives, and of course, the on-going insatiable demand for drugs in the U.S. At what point will the U.S. government realize that not one single life should be lost as a result of a policy they support? How many more people will die and how many more families will suffer?

We must demand that the U.S. stop funding the ongoing militarized war against the drug trafficking organizations through the Merida Initiative. We must demand that the government seriously consider alternatives that address the root causes of drug trafficking, including rethinking drug prohibition. We must demand that not one more death happen, that not one more family will suffer the loss of a loved one.


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