At the beginning of November, the Washington Office on Latin American Affairs (WOLA) presented a report on the Mérida Initiative, part of the cooperation of the United States with the Mexican government’s strategy to combat organized crime in the country. The document entitled “An instructive tale: The lessons of Plan Colombia for U.S. foreign policy toward Mexico and other countries” notes that “organized crime groups […] have clashed with the State and among themselves, in a war of all against all. The elimination of the of the cartel bosses has provoked the fragmentation of these groups, creating new power struggles that have increased levels of violence.” It shows that despite the attempts by the U.S. government to emphasize the component dedicated to aid for the justice system, support for military structures and strategy continues to predominate. WOLA warns that “the military cooperation of the U.S. could lead to an increase in human rights abuses,” a conclusion that many Mexican human rights NGOS have sustained for several years.
Some days before the publication of the WOLA report, José Miguel Vivanco, director for the Americas at the organization Human Rights Watch (HRW), delivered to the federal executive his report “Neither security nor rights. Executions, disappearances, and torture in the war on drug-trafficking in Mexico.” According to the report, members of the public security forces have been systematically applying forms of torture to obtain confessions and information on organized crime groups. Furthermore, “the evidence suggests that there has been participation by soldiers and police in extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances.” The report goes on to claim that of the more than 35,000 deaths resulting from the federal strategy, as of the beginning of 2011 the Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) had “only initiated 997” investigations into homicide cases.
Among recent events, one that stood out was the death of Francisco Blake Mora, Minister of the Interior, when the helicopter in which he was traveling crashed on 11 November. At the time of this writing, investigations into the matter had not concluded, but preliminary governmental declarations support the version claiming that it was an accident. Three years ago, Juan Camilo Mouriño, then head of the same agency, died in similar circumstances. In that case to date, the results of the investigation into his death have not been made public. It should be mentioned that Blake Mora was the fourth Minister of the Interior in the five years so far of the Calderón administration.
Another violent occurrence which resulted in a strong media response and a change in presidential discourse was the burning of the Casino Royale in Monterrey on 25 August 2011, an event that killed more than 50 and injured countless more. Felipe Calderón condemned this “act of terror,” this being the first time the federal government has used this term to refer to acts committed by organized crime. In the past, representatives of the U.S. government have referred to the violence carried out by organized crime in the country as “narco-terrorism,” a discourse that has resulted in an increased concern within Mexico about the possibility of a military intervention from its northern neighbor.
The second meeting of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity with the federal government was held on 14 October in Chapultepec Castle. The poet Javier Sicilia, leader of the Movement of victims of the violence from the war on drugs, warned that the “atmosphere of violence and horror that grows each day is contaminating words and discourse. In this language there is a greater threat that we detect with disapproval as citizens: that of authoritarianism and its most brutal face, militarism and fascism.” Although the president responded to each of the statements of the Movement, the latter did not hide its disappointment in the lack of results to date from dialogue, which has included a Social Office for Attention to Victims of Crime that has neither a budget nor operational conditions. No subsequent meeting was scheduled, and so it is unclear whether dialogue will continue.
Before the meeting, the Movement had carried out a “Caravan to the South” through the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Tabasco, Veracruz, and Puebla. Ending the route in Mexico City on 19 September, the Movement concluded that “in these 11 days we have seen that the wound opened in Ciudad Juárez —caused by the failed war strategy of President Calderón— has been extended like gangrene to the south of the country to unite with the ancestral pain lived by the indigenous peoples and communities of the south.” The Movement insisted that its demands be taken seriously, given that—as Javier Sicilia said during the journey—“if [the politicians] do not serve the citizens and construct the country and security for the citizenry, reconstructing the social fabric, this will sadly be the last peaceful movement, for what will come due to indignation will be terrible.”
Another theme of constant concern continues to be the situation of the migrants who pass through Mexican territory, where many of them suffer some form of attack, from assault to extortion and rape, kidnapping, or even homicide. To call attention to this problem, in Honduras on 31 October, 33 Central American women initiated the Caravan of Mothers in Search of their Disappeared. The migrant defenders also find themselves at risk because of their work. This is the case with Fray Tomás González, a human rights defender of migrant peoples in Tabasco, who received a death threat by telephone in September.
Finally, journalistic work in Mexico continues to be high-risk, and specifically regarding aggressions against female journalists, the crime in question often takes on a gender dimension that State authorities have in the past sought to deny. On 1 September the bodies of journalists Ana María Marcela Yarce Viveros and Rocío González Trápaga were found in Mexico City, with clear signs of violence. The Federal Attorney General’s Office of Mexico City (PGJDF) reported that the investigation will be one of feminicide, and that it has been turned over to the corresponding special agency of the Office of Homicides at the PGJDF.
On 31 August, the Organization of the Me’phaa Indigenous People (OPIM) and the Tlachinollan Mountain Center for Human Rights, in coordination with Inés Fernández and Valentina Rosendo, initiated a new campaign entitled “Carry Out the Sentences of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to Break the Wall of Impunity.” The objective is to demand from the government that the working groups be established in conformity with the accord presented by Inés and Valentina, until all the provisions of the sentences are fulfilled. In 2010, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) sentenced the Mexican State upon determining that both Me’phaa indigenous women had been raped and tortured by Army soldiers in 2002. In an informational bulletin released on 8 November, Tlachinollan emphasized the obligation to hear the cases in civilian courts, which was a key finding in the IACHR sentence: “To date, in Mexico the military courts continue to run the investigations of human rights violations committed by soldiers against civilians; despite the decision of the National Supreme Court, the findings of the four sentences handed down by the IACHR, and the obligations stipulated within the framework of the Mérida Initiative.”
In other news, on 22 August the Regional Coordination of Communal Authorities-Communal Police (CRAC-PC) initiated an informational campaign for indigenous people in the regions of the Costa Chica and la Montaña regarding mining activities in the zone. The CRAC-PC reports that Canadian and English firms seek to initiate open-pit mining operations without the consent of local residents. On 14 and 15 October, the XVI anniversary of the Communal Police was held in the municipality of Malinaltepec. Subsequently the CRAC-PC denounced military movements on communal lands and indicated that this could be a provocation in light of the decision that communities have taken to stand up for their rights and reject mining exploitation.
Lastly, on 13 September, Tlachinollan released a press release regarding the high electricity prices in the region of la Montaña in Guerrero. The communiqué mentions that from 2007 to date the human rights center has registered close to 400 complaints, both individual and collective, having to do with excessive charges for electricity services. On 8 November, some hours after members of the movement of resistance against high electricity prices shut down the offices of the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) in Chilpancingo as a form of protest, they were dislodged by several soldiers.
On 15 November, Governor Gabino Cué Monteagudo submitted his first Report of Government. He recognized having made errors and omissions, but he placed responsibility for many problems that persist in the state, such as agrarian conflicts, on previous administrations. Parts of civil society claim that during his first year in office, words of goodwill have not been translated into significant advances in terms of justice regarding the human rights violations committed in previous years.
On 3 November, the civil organization “Consortium for Parliamentary Dialogue and Equity Oaxaca A.C.” denounced a break-in in its offices and the robbery of documentation regarding the human rights situation in the state, in addition to cellular telephones and computer equipment. The organization announced that “If this government seeks a real change toward a democratic transition, one of the central aspects would be guarantees that protect the work that civil organizations and their defenders contribute to society as a whole.”
On 4 November, the historical conflict between the entities of Oaxaca and Chiapas over the possession of 4,975 hectares in the region of Los Chimalapas resulted in two confrontations which left at least 10 injured. Following the confrontations, more than a hundred police from Oaxaca and Chiapas in addition to a hundred soldiers installed themselves in a Base of Mixed Operations (BOM) in the zone so as to avoid future conflicts. Nevertheless, on 4 November Jorge Humberto Luna, leader of the cattle ranchers from the Chiapas side, was taken by residents of San Miguel Chimalapas; he was rescued following an operation by Oaxacan security forces on 9 November, a violent operation according to denunciations by the Oaxacans. On 11 and 12 November, a Civil Mission of Observation comprised of representatives of human rights organizations and ecologists reached Chimalapas to document the situation.
Another source of tension that has recently brought about violent conflict is the construction of wind-energy plants in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. On 28 October the members of the Assembly of the Peoples of the Isthmus in Defense of Land and Territory together with members of the Committee of Resistance against the Wind Project of Unión Hidalgo organized a peaceful protest against the wind-energy park “Piedra Larga.” The protesters reported that a group of armed men arrived at the site and began to beat the demonstrators, including Bettina Cruz Velázquez and Juan Regalado Martínez, whom they also threatened with death. On the afternoon of the same day, Reynaldo Ordaz Velásquez, who is linked to the armed group, died from gunshot wounds under unclear circumstances. The aggressors blamed the opposition group, which has rejected the accusation and has instead demanded an impartial investigation of the events. In previous days, death threats had been directed against Cruz Velázquez and Maribel González, human rights defenders who have accompanied those in opposition, by approximately 50 workers from the hydroelectric firm Wind-Energy Developments of Mexico (DEMEX).
The state government intervened in the case and on 23 October, the governor himself traveled to San Patricio where he declared that “We are here […] to once again give you the juridical certainty regarding the possession of this land and your homes, now that the invading group has not only been removed from these lands but also taken to another municipality altogether, far from here so that they do not bother you, so that they never again disturb the peace of this community.” However some time before, civil organizations had denounced that “the authorities have compensated the clearly violent and counter-insurgent action [of the aggressors] by awarding them lands in the ranch La Josefina, in the municipality of Palenque.” Beyond this, the previously mentioned public letter affirms that “the official discourse of the government of Chiapas has converted respect for human rights into a publicity slogan that favors pretense which covers up serious faults that hurt the population in general.”
The Las Abejas Civil Society denounced in October that the harassment against indigenous communities that defend their autonomy follows a similar logic, affirming that “The situation of harassment in these communities, especially in San Patricio, reminds us of what we lived in Chenalhó in the weeks before the Acteal massacre: people kidnapped in their own communities who often do not even have enough to eat; robbery and burning of crops and of domestic animals; constant firing of guns to intimidate. And all this has been done by paramilitaries, the same as in Chenalhó, under the complicit watch of the police and the authorities.”
In the majority of cases, what is in question is a dispute for control of land and territory in indigenous areas. For this reason, in September the Other Campaign initiated a campaign named “Stop the War against Mother Earth and her Peoples.” In observation of the protest meeting that this group carried out on 12 October they noted: “519 years have passed since the Spanish invasion of our lands and territories, and we march and protest in order to never forget […]. The wars of Independence and the Revolution did not re-establish the rights of indigenous peoples who now face a war of looting and extermination.” One aspect of this dispute is found reflected in the latest report by the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Center for Human Rights (CDHFBC) entitled “The Earth beats through paths of resistance,” which exposes the negative impacts of so-called “green” development projects such as eco-tourism, which result in the expulsion of indigenous communities from their places of residence or internal division among them (see also In Focus).
In addition, and remembering the continued relevance of the problem related to human rights defenders, different human rights centers met on 8 and 9 October to attend the “Forum for the defense of human rights defenders” held in Tonalá, Chiapas. A paradigmatic example of what was denounced during this meeting occurred on 19 and 20 October, when a death threat was left at the home of defenders Margarita Martínez and Adolfo Guzmán. It should be remembered that both have received death threats and suffered aggressions on several occasions since November 2009; both have been given precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.