12/9/11 – Shohn Huckabee, a 24-year-old American citizen who was arrested along with his 36-year-old friend, Carlos Quijas, as they crossed the U.S. border in El Paso in December of 2009, has claimed that he was tortured by the Mexican military while in custody. Both men have been serving out five-year prison sentences after they were found guilty of transporting 110 pounds of marijuana across the border. Huckabee and Quijas, however, reject this accusation and, along with witnesses, claim that the Mexican military planted the evidence.
Huckabee’s accusation of military torture has created a buzz. The American began speaking out after being transferred in September to a U.S.-prison to finish serving his sentence. The sentence was then cut short when the U.S. Justice Department determined that he had indeed been a victim of torture while he was in Mexican custody. According to the Wall Street Journal, these torture allegations may strain the relationship between Mexico and the United States as the Mérida Initiative, an agreement of 1.6 billion dollars in U.S. funding to Mexico to support President Calderón’s campaign against drug trafficking, articulates that 15% of U.S. funding under the agreement is contingent on Mexico’s compliance and respect of human rights norms.
In addition to torture accusations, another issue worth noting is the dismal situations the majority of Mexican prisoners face while in jail, as exemplified by Huckabee’s case. El Paso Times reported that Shohn’s father claims he “paid $1,000 the first time to the PGR (Federal Attorney General’s Office, Procuraduría General de la República) just to be able to see [his] son after he was taken into custody… He also had to pay about $500 so his son could be transferred to a better area of the Cereso prison in Juárez … [He] had to pay the guards smaller amounts each time [he] went to visit, and [he] had to provide [his] son’s meals.”
Outside of Huckabee’s case, allegations of military-based torture, which have been a growing concern since President Calderón deployed the troops to the streets in 2006, were recently confirmed in a report issued by the New York-based international organization Human Rights Watch, stating that they had found “credible evidence of the participation of security forces in at least 170 cases of torture, 39 disappearances, and 24 extrajudicial killings.” This is also reinforced by the fact that the Mexican legal system is not very strong, therefore perhaps pushing the Mexican army and police to “resort to torture to extract confessions rather than do detective work to lock up suspects, according to Human Rights Watch and other advocacy groups.”
In the state of Chihuahua alone, where Huckabee and Quijas were imprisoned, there are currently 465 cases under investigation with the Chihuahua Office of Human Rights involving the military’s alleged abuse towards and torture of Mexican citizens. According to El Periódico de México, “Gustavo de la Rosa, public defendant in Ciudad Juárez, states that he knows of 70 cases in which the military planted evidence in the victim’s belongings, some of them have been suitcases with marijuana,” as has been alleged in the case with Shohn Huckabee. Investigations into Huckabee’s and Quijas’ cases are on-going.