Felipe Calderón, president of Mexico from 2006 to 2012, had a way of talking that sounded a bit like George W. Bush, which is to say unapologetically bellicose. As soon as his term started, he declared a War on Drug Trafficking, and quickly put it into full military action. By the end of his term, the results were staggeringly tragic: more than 60,000 Mexicans dead, more than 20,000 disappeared, more than 150,000 displaced, and still plenty of drugs flowing to the U.S. and Europe. The current president, Enrique Peña Nieto has shifted the discourse, avoiding the words “war” and “combat” all together, and instead focusing on what he calls a “national security policy.” Additionally, his attention has been divided as he’s been busy promoting and passing a series of constitutional reforms. Unfortunately, though, neither of these factors has meant that respect for human rights has necessarily improved under his administration. By a few measures it has, but by others it’s actually gotten worse.
A report issued last week by Comite Cerezo Mexico, “La Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Mexico: una lucha contra la Impunidad” (in English, “Defending Human Rights in Mexico: a struggle against impunity”), revealed that forced disappearances have increased under Peña Nieto. The report points out that towards human rights defenders alone, this particular crime against humanity has gone up 60% during his administration. 29 human rights defenders have been disappeared in just eighteen months, as compared to 24 during the same time period of the Calderón administration. On August 30, International Day of Victims of Forced Disappearances,the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called this situation in Mexico “critical.”
During this same year and a half, arbitrary detentionsand harassment of human rights defenders have increased as well. Both of these tactics, the report argues, go hand in hand with the implementation of Peña Nieto’s political agenda. His reforms passed over the last year cover many dimensions of Mexican life – labor,fiscal policy, education, telecommunications and energy – and are complex and extensive. Generally, though, their common thread is an unrepentant move towards privatization. Public opposition to the reforms is fierce and widespread, resulting in protests and blockades and the like by Mexican citizens. Meanwhile, the government has been resorting to repressive measures to quell such protests and to discourage participation. As the report states: “the great majority of those arbitrarily detained… were [detained] because of their political positions and disagreement with the neoliberal policies that are being applied in Mexico.”
Francisco Cerezo presents data from the report,
which covers from June 2013 to May 2014.
Additionally, despite a less warlike rhetoric than his predecessor, Peña Nieto has hardly scaled down the militarization first initiated by Calderón. Just two weeks ago he launched a new 5,000 strong police force called gendarmerie, a new branch of the Federal Police (a force known for human rights abuses). The U.S. has been more than willing to support this militarization. Since Congress passed the Mérida Intitiative (also called Plan Mérida) in 2007, 1.2 billion USD have been delivered to Mexico, largely in the form of military equipment and training, and all in the name of fighting the War on Drugs.
But much like its predecessor Plan Colombia, it’s done very little to stop the flow of drugs. And yet there are no plans to terminate it. In Fiscal Year 2013 alone, more than 3,000 Mexican military personnel were trained at NORTHCOM in Colorado (an increase of 44% from FY 2011). And the Obama administration has requested 115 million dollars more for the Initiative in its FY 2015 budget proposal. So where do human rights come in? Despite the fact that the Mérida Initiative includes “Respect for Human Rights in Mexico” as part of its second pillar, this assertion has proved rather hollow. A mere 15% of its funds are conditioned on meeting human rights standards. And considering that increased human rights violations in Mexico coincided with the distribution of Mérida Initiative funds, the question becomes: Is the U.S. not complicit in these violations?
This week, Peña Nieto gave his second State of the Union address. In it he announced the construction of a huge new international airport partly in Mexico City and partly in the State of Mexico. Curiously, in 2006, while governor of the State of Mexico, he ordered the massive repression of protests which had sprung up in response to a similar airport project. The result: two dead, 207 arbitrarily detained, many tortured, and 26 women sexually assaulted. Considering both his past and recent record on human rights, there is reason to be concerned about how the president will respond to the protests that are already springing up.