Thursday, June 4, 2015

México And Its Quest For Justice

Photo by ANSUR
"Are there any relatives of body number six? Body number six... Who is going to take number six? Number six?," screamed the man outside of the Forensic Medical Services in Michoacan, Mexico, as he handed out the bodies of 42 criminals killed in a battle with federal police last month. Why bother doing it in a fancier way? They were just criminals after all, and handing out their bodies to grieving families has become a routine for this country's government.

The dead bodies belonged to members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), one of the many criminal bands that are terrorizing Mexico, a country where justice is rarely served, impunity and corruption are rampant, and the government is engaged in a self-denial campaign. Last May 1, Jalisco New Generation staged another battle in its home state, blocking roads and bringing Guadalajara to a standstill. In that fight, the cartel shot down a military helicopter, killing eight soldiers.

The drug on wars launched in Mexico in 2007 has killed 100,000 people, but violence and unrest have skyrocketed since last September, when 43 education students were kidnapped and murdered in the state of Guerrero. A murky investigation following the massacre, and the indifference of the government, led by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), seems to have marked a tipping point for a fragmented society that is thirsty for justice.

On Sunday there will be midterm elections in Mexico, but many people, mostly in the poor South, are calling for a boycott. Dissident teachers have burned the ballots and offices of the National Electorate Institute in Oaxaca, Puebla, Michoacan, Guerrero and Veracruz. They are also staging marches in Mexico City. Anarchists have joined the chaos, and are using the death of the 43 students to promote their hate against the unpopular PRI government.

It is not hard to figure out why so many people are fed up. The militarization of the country and the arrest of practically all of the major drug cartel leaders have not decreased the violence or brought a sense of safety. Also, inequality in Mexico (a very rich country) can be compared to that of many African countries. Fifty percent of its population is poor, and the southern part of the country is largely undeveloped and ignored.

And violence is not just ravaging the South of Mexico. Sonoyta, located in the Sonoran desert, has become a ghost town. A territorial fight between the criminal groups "Los Memos" and "Los Salazars" has forced 1,000 people to flee the area. Hundreds of bullet-ridden vehicles sit in  police custody, and Mayor Julio Cesar Ramirez feels helpless. "We've always know that they are fighting each other, but citizens had never been threatened the way they are now." Three bodies were found in this area last month, one of them inside a rodeo, and nine tons of marijuana were just confiscated in the Northwest of the state. Sonora is one of the most important routes for the drug cartels because of its border with Arizona.

"There is no coordination at the federal and local levels," said Santiago Canton, the former secretary general of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in an interview with Univision. "That is one of the main concerns with the state. There is no technical training for people. There are not protocols in place that we know of. And I experienced this as Secretary General three years ago. The government talked to us about protocols, and we never received a copy. In other words, the state has to be doing much, much more."

But leaders from the PRI refuse to admit that their strategy is failing, that there is a growing disconnect with the people they govern. They are bent on keeping an upbeat tone in order to win elections, but they are not fooling Mexicans anymore. The heartless violence and the ineptitude of the police have filled the headlines of media outlets all over the world, especially in recent months.

Sixteen young men were abducted last month in Chilapa, Guerrero. This is in the same state where the 43 students were kidnapped and massacred last September. And his happened even though this zone is flooded with state police and soldiers. Five political candidates have also been killed just in the last month in the country. Hector Lopez Cruz, aldermanic candidate of PRI was shot dead in Huimanguillo, Tabasco on May 15. Enrique Hernandez Salcedo, mayoral candidate of the National Generation Movement (MORENA) in Yurecuaro, Michoacan, was gunned down at the main square by armed men on May 14, and Miguel Angel Luna, candidate for deputy of the (Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), was murdered just this past Tuesday at his campaign office.

I hope that no one is hurt during Sunday's elections, and I also expect President Enrique Nieto to change his strategy. We all know that he is a bad public speaker, but sincerity goes a long way. Mexico is not in a better place than three years ago when he took office. His party (the PRI), has also not changed its authoritarian ways, and Mexicans have taken notice. We need a working government, not a bureaucracy whose main job is to protect the members of his party. We (Mexicans) know that corruption is present at all levels of government.

26,000 people have disappeared in Mexico since 2007, according to statistics by the government. Research by the Council For Law and Human Rights found police participation in 75% of kidnappings. In fact, the 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, were kidnapped by policemen who then turned them in to their killers. In many cases, "the ones in charge of the operations are inmates that have a network that supports them. They have the support of low-rank police officers. In this type of criminal rings, whole families help the inmate in getting the ransom money."

I could go on listing problems with justice and accountability in Mexico, but the facts are very well known. Between 2006 and 2012, 22 human rights defenders were killed in the country, but not one person has been jailed for their murders. The reports of corrupt politicians are daily media items. Criminals are released because of the lack of professionalism and rampant corruption among judges.

Let us hope that peace prevails on Sunday, and that the PRI gets the message: the country needs to change course. Mexico needs justice. Mexico needs accountability. Mexico needs a good, working government.

Enlace a historia en español/Link to Spanish story.

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