In a week that has been dominated in the United States by talk of CIA interrogations and declassified photos of torture, much of the same conversations have been circulating in Mexico (that is, until the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico City in the last couple of days which now is the leading story). Except in Mexico, the debate has been focused on the military which is increasingly being used to try bring security back to Mexico.
A report issued in March by Mexico’s National Audit Office declared that more than half of Mexico’s municipal police officers are not qualified to effectively carry out their duties. Furthermore, the police are seen by the general public as highly corrupt in contrast to the more respected military. As a result, President Calderon’s fight against the drug cartels has been led by the military, which are deployed in various hot spots around Mexico.
One of these hot spots is Ciudad Juarez. The location of Ciudad Juarez near the United States ensures that ninety percent of cocaine entering the United States passes through this city. This has made Ciudad Juarez a battleground for drug gangs in the past few years. In March, President Calderon ordered the military to take over Ciudad Juarez. The police department is being run by a retired general. The citizens of Ciudad Juarez now see soldiers just about everywhere they go.
The results of the crackdown have been amazing. In the first two months of 2009, there were 434 murders in Ciudad Juarez. In March, when the military took over, there were 51. In April so far, there has been 22 murders. Jorge Alberto Berecochea, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel now running one of the police districts, says, “Ciudad Juarez, right now, I’d say it’s the safest city in Mexico.”
However, with an increased military presence often comes increased complaints of human rights violations. Last week a 21-year old man, Javier Eduardo Rosales, was found beaten to death on a motorcycle trail outside of the city. Rosales and another man were (according to the other man) allegedly detained by the military and taken to an undisclosed location where they were beaten. Rosales was allegedly beaten more extensively because he had serpent tatoos which led the military to believe that he was a member of Los Aztecas, an enforcer group for the Juarez cartel.
Mauricio Ibarra of the National Human Rights Commission has noted that human rights complaints have increased since Mr. Calderon has militarized the drug war. Among the complaints against the military, which Mr. Ibarra says have been corroborated through the comparison of medical exams, are the use of electrical shocks, detaining suspects for longer than 12 hours without charging them, beating suspects wrapped in blankets so that bruises do not show, and putting splinters underneath the toenails of suspects.
Human rights groups are most upset with President Calderon’s proposal to modify the Law of National Security. Mr. Calderon is seeking tougher sanctions on violent crimes. He wants stiffer penalties for military deserters and an enhanced security role for Mexico’s domestic intelligence agency. Under Mr. Calderon’s proposal, groups of suspects would be charged individually for weapons found in a vehicle or house that all of the suspects occupied. There would also be special punishments for possession of more than 50 rounds of ammunition or for altered guns. Human rights groups say that some of Mr. Calderon’s proposals violate international law because they contradict agreements Mexico has made in the past. They also say that his proposals will further lead to impunity for soldiers conducting anti-narcotics operations.
The debate in Mexico over national security and human rights will more than likely continue in the near future. For Americans, this debate should sound familiar.