American teen killed in Mexico in latest instance of police violence

06/25/20 (written by JHale)- In a widely circulated video online, a coffin emblazoned with a glossy image of Our Lady of Guadalupe lies adjacent to a makeshift soccer goal. A young man passes a ball so that it ricochets off the coffin and into the bottom right corner. Immediately, a group of individuals dressed in white swarms the coffin, jumping up and down and celebrating. Inside the coffin lies the body of Alexander Martínez Gómez, a 16 year old soccer player who dreamt of becoming a star before he was killed in Mexico’s most recent incident of police violence (Miranda, “Despide Multitud a Alexander”).

A troubling incident

An American citizen born in North Carolina, Gómez was visiting family in Oaxaca at the time of the shooting (“Mexico Police Officer Investigated”). Gómez split his time between the two countries, but hoped to move to Mexico permanently to become a professional soccer player. This dream would come to an end on the night of June 9th, when he was killed by police. The incident occurred as Gómez and a friend were riding motorbikes to a local store when, according to official reports, a police car with its lights off stopped ahead of the duo and blocked the road. An officer exited the vehicle and opened fire without warning. Alexander was killed, while his companion lost control of his motorbike and was injured (Miranda, “Dan Prisión Preventiva”).

The incident prompted a swift reaction from multiple parties. Gómez’s mother released a video to social media denouncing the police and asserting that her son had been denied first aid after the shooting. The town of Acatlán de Pérez Figueroa, where Gómez was killed, issued a statement expressing that the officer’s actions were not in bad faith (Agren). Nonetheless, the Attorney General of the State of Oaxaca (Fiscalía General del Estado de Oaxaca, FGEO) secured a judge’s approval to preemptively detain Alexander’s accused killer. Furthermore, prosecutors told reporters that the accused officer would be charged to the full extent of the law (Miranda, “Dan Prisión Preventiva”).

An uncertain road forward

As outraged locals demanded justice, officials hurried to provide solutions. The Secretary of Public Safety of Oaxaca (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública de Oaxaca, SSPO) promised changes, including greater accountability and increased training of police. Many local residents and members of Gómez’s family have rejected the police entirely, calling for the protection of Mexico’s National Guard. The SSPO expressed understanding, even going so far as to suggest that a National Guard base would be installed in the local municipal center (Rangel). It is still unclear whether the National Guard has a plan in place to prevent the same abuses of power that have plagued local police forces. 

Mexico’s police force has come under increased scrutiny after recent instances of violence against unarmed citizens. The killing of Alexander Gómez follows the death of construction worker Giovanni López in police custody after being detained for not wearing a facemask (“Giovanni López: ‘Justicia Para Giovanni’”). Both incidents have sparked protests, riots, and challenging conversations surrounding the role of police in enforcing justice in Mexico. It remains to be seen whether outrage over police brutality will lead to concrete changes in law enforcement practices.

Sources

gren, David. “Mexico: US Teenager Shot Dead by Police in Oaxaca.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 10 June 2020, www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/10/mexico-teenager-oaxaca-police-shot-dead.

Miranda, Fernando. “Dan Prisión Preventiva a Policía Que Presuntamente Asesinó a Alexander.” El Universal, 13 June 2020, 10:24, www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/dan-prision-preventiva-policia-que-presuntamente-asesino-alexander.

Miranda, Fernando. “¡Queremos Justicia! Despide Multitud a Alexander, De Blanco y Con Globos Azules.” El Universal, 12 June 2020, 12:08, www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/alexander-se-despidio-de-la-cancha-con-un-ultimo-gol-su-familia-clama-justicia.

Associated Press. “Mexico Police Officer Investigated for Alleged Murder of Boy.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 13 June 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/protest-over-mexico-police-killing-of-mexican-american-teen/2020/06/12/faeb494c-ad17-11ea-a43b-be9f6494a87d_story.html.

Rangel, Alejandro. “Familia De Alexander Rechaza Las Policías De Acatlán; Piden a La Guardia Nacional.”

Https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/Estados/Familia-De-Alexander-Rechaza-Policias-De-Acatlan-Piden-La-Guardia-Nacional, 12 June 2020, 20:29, www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/familia-de-alexander-rechaza-policias-de-acatlan-piden-la-guardia-nacional.

Redacción. “Giovanni López: ‘Justicia Para Giovanni’, El Caso De Brutalidad Policial Que Conmociona a México.” BBC News Mundo, BBC, 5 June 2020, www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-52935685.

El Universal. “Vinculan a Proceso a Policía De Acatlán Por Asesinato De Alexander.” El Siglo, El Siglo De Torreón, 18 June 2020, www.elsiglodetorreon.com.mx/noticia/1713183.vinculan-a-proceso-a-policia-de-acatlan-por-asesinato-de-alexander.html.

Corruption in Mexico Persists Despite Campaign Promises

President López Obrador speaks at the conclusion of the “March Rally in Defense of Oil” in Mexico City in 2013.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

06/24/20 (written by kheinle) – A new report finds that Mexico is faring no better in combatting corruption in 2020 than it did in 2019. The report, “The Capacity to Combat Corruption (CCC) Index 2020,” looks at Latin American countries’ capacity and capability to ‘detect, punish, and prevent corruption.’ It does so against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, noting that “in this environment of emergency spending, relaxed controls, and remote working, the risk of corruption and mismanagement of funds has increased.”  Roberto Simon, Senior Director of Policy at the Americas Society / Council of the Americas based in New York, and Geert Aalbers, a partner at Control Risks consultancy organization out of London, co-authored the report that published on June 8, 2020.

Corruption at the National and Regional Levels

Of the 15 Latin American countries included in the Capacity to Combat Corruption index, Mexico ranks in the center in the eighth position with an overall score of 4.55 out of 10.00, just slightly slower than its 2019 score of 4.65. Uruguay ranked highest on the list with the most effective means to combat corruption with a score of 7.78. Continuing to face a humanitarian, political, and economic crisis, Venezuela ranked lowest on the list with a 1.52. The scores are based on 14 indicators (e.g., independence of judicial institutions, strength of investigate journalism) and three sub-categories (legal capacity; democracy and political institutions; and civil society, media, and the private sector). Data is collected from a range of international and national sources, including the World Bank and UNESCO, and from surveys conducted by the report’s co-author, Control Risks.

Looking at the three sub-categories, Mexico ranked eighth region-wide in legal capacity with a score of 4.15 out of 10.00. It also ranked eighth in democracy and political institutions (4.55 of 10.00), and sixth in civil society, media, and the private sector (6.24 of 10.00).

AMLO’s Campaign to Combat Corruption

When looking at levels of corruption since 2019, the report summarizes that “not much has changed for Mexico. In fact,” it continues, “the country has stagnated and maintains a poor ability to detect, punish, and prevent corruption.” This highlights the failure of the López Obrador Administration to adequately address corruption despite campaign promises to do so. “One of the most important [factors that explains Mexico’s paralysis] is having not yet advanced long-term institutional reform.” The authors call out several specific concerns.

First, President López Obrador has largely bypassed or “ignored” the checks put in place by the National Anticorruption System (Sistema Nacional Anticorrupción, SNA). Second, the president has increased the use of public funds on massive infrastructure projects and on combatting the coronavirus. For its part, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates Mexico’s already fraught struggles to combat corruption with the government’s largely unchecked spending amidst real-time, emergency, public health responses. “This combination will only increase the risk of more corruption,” cautions the report.

Former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signs into law the National Anticorruption System in July 2016. Photo: Flickr, Presidencia de la República Mexicana.

Third, the president has continued to undermine and diminish the role of nongovernmental organizations and civil society – a sector that had grown more active in recent years in combatting corruption and calling attention to the need for reform. Finally, the nation’s Financial Intelligence Unit (Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera, UFI) has “drastically expanded its activities” in bringing potential cases of corruption against institutions, which ironically has reduced the independence and efficiency of the very anti-corruption agencies that it monitors, writes El Universal. When comparing such independent variables at the regional level, “Mexico appears to be ranked significantly below other countries like Peru, Colombia, and Brazil, and more closely to Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.”

Public Perception and High-Profile Cases

Corruption in Mexico is nothing new. According to Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer 2019, 44% of Mexicans interviewed in 2019 thought corruption had increased in the previous 12 months. An additional 34% of respondents had paid a bribe in the previous 12 months, a 10% decline from 2017. When asked if they believe most or all people involved in certain institutions are corrupt, 69% of respondents said police are, 58% said government officials are, and 65% said members of Congress are.  

Still, the López Obrador Administration has made some noteworthy investigations into high profile cases of corruption. This includes against the former Secretary of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP), the former CEO of Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), the former head of Altos Hornos de México, and more than a dozen sitting judges and magistrates, including a Supreme Court Justice. Despite these advances, such cases of high-ranking officials and the general presence of corruption throughout Mexico’s government demonstrate just how pervasive and rooted the problem is.

Sources:

“Efforts to Combat Corruption in Mexico Exemplify the Depth of the Problem.” Justice in Mexico. June 11, 2019.

“Global Corruption Barometer: Latin America & The Caribbean 2019: Citizens’ Views and Experiences of Corruption.” Transparency International. September 2019.

Website. “Global Corruption Barometer: Latin America and the Caribbean: Mexico.” Transparency International. September 2019.

“Former Mexican Secretary of Public Security arrested in Texas.” Justice in Mexico. December 19, 2019.

“México sigue reprobado en lucha anticorrupción, según Índice de Capacidad para Combatir la Corrupción 2020.” El Universal. June 8, 2020.

“The 2020 Capacity to Combat Corruption Index.” Americas Society / Council of the Americas. June 8, 2020.

Simon, Roberto and Geert Aalbers. “The Capacity to Combat Corruption (CCC) Index 2020.” Americas Society / Council of the Americas and Control Risks. June 8, 2020.

Bugarin, Inder. “Con la 4T, ven estancado combate a la corrupción en México.” El Universal. June 10, 2020.

“The 2020 Capacity to Combat Corruption (CCC) Index.” Americas Quarterly. Last accessed June 21, 2020.

Domestic Violence in Mexico During COVID-19

Overview

06/16/20 (M MacGregor)- According to a survey by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía), or“INEGI”, 7 out of 10 women in Mexico have experienced violence at some point in their lives, and among those, almost half (43.9%) of women were abused by their boyfriend, husband, or partner. Additionally, according to INEGI, the states with the highest levels of domestic violence are the State of Mexico, Aguascalientes, Jalisco, and Queretaro. Domestic violence is defined by the United Nations as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain control over an intimate partner and encompasses physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological threats that influence another person. At the international and regional level, Mexico is part of various agreements that share the goal of eradicating violence against women. Some of these include the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW 1979), the InterAmerican Commission of Women, and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995). Despite the country’s membership in these agreements, the current COVID-19 pandemic has shown the weaknesses in the Mexican government in protecting women from domestic violence and ensuring their safety.

Domestic Violence During COVID

According to Reuters, since the COVID-19 lockdown, women in Mexico have been fighting “another shadow pandemic”. There has been “an increase in reports of domestic violence, many of those psychological violence”, according to Blanca Aquino, director of the Municipal Institute for Women of Veracruz. Similarly, Maria Noel Baeza, the regional director for UN Women, believes that the lockdown is exacerbating violence against women by forcing them to stay in situations of confinement in which [women] are locked up with their abusers and have very limited outlets to escape violence. 

Before social distancing was implemented in the country, Expansión Política reported that the Mexican emergency number registered 21,727 domestic violence related calls during the month of February. According to El Universal, three weeks after the stay at home orders were issued, Mexican federal authorities estimated that violence against women had increased between 30 and 100%. Almost two months after the first case of COVID-19 in Mexico, the National Network of Shelters (la Red Nacional de Refugios)  observed an “increase of 5% in women’s admissions [to the shelters] and an increase of 60% in guidance via telephone calls, social networks, and email”. Additionally, women’s centers linked to the network are at “80% to 110% of their capacity, especially in entities such as Guanajuato, the State of Mexico, and Chiapas”. These cases of violence against women are expected to persist as the pandemic continues, as human rights specialists in an article by El Sol de Mexico are predicting domestic violence to grow by 92% during the quarantine period.

Government Response

At the national level, many lawyers and human rights activists have criticized the problematic remarks of current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as well as the Mexican government’s failure to release a comprehensive plan to tackle the spike in domestic abuse amid the COVID-19 emergency. According to Latino USA, AMLO stated in a press conference in May 2020 that “violence against women has not increased since the national lockdown” and that “there has been no increase in complaints from women”, despite statistical reports indicating otherwise. Jacqui Hunt, director of Equality Now, a non-governmental organization that aims to promote the rights of women and girls globally, told Independent, “the appalling increase in the number of women murdered and abused in Mexico since the start of 2020 should be seized upon as a watershed moment in which the government finally steps up to address the root causes of harm against women”. Hunt called for the Mexican government to “work closely alongside organizations which help women and girls and provide additional funding to make sure those locked up with their abusers can access safe housing and other specialist support”, as statistics collected by El Sol de Mexico estimate that “two-thirds of the female population in the country over the age of 15 will quarantine alongside a violent partner”.

A gender perspective to combat COVID-19

Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres called for measures to address a “shocking global upsurge in domestic violence against women and girls”, stating that “together, [the international community] can and will prevent violence everywhere, from war zones to people’s homes”. United Nations Women in particular has made a number of recommendations to the Mexican authorities in order to alleviate the conditions that women and girls have experienced during the lockdown. Some of these recommendations include: 

  • Raising awareness of the increased burden on female staff for extra care tasks against COVID-19.
  • Helping employers take into account the risks that their employees displacement will have, as well as ensuring their payments during the quarantine.
  • Protecting the workforce in manufacturing companies (maquiladoras) economically and through labor protection measures since women make up a large part of the workforce.
  • Procuring strategies to protect those affected by the sexual division of labor in areas such as education, social work, which are mostly composed of women.

“No estás sola, seguimos contigo” and “#ContingenciaSinViolencia”

On April 7th, the Mexican government in conjunction with the Citizens’ Council (Consejo Ciudadano) and the Women’s Secretariat (Secretaria de las Mujeres) launched the “No estas sola, seguimos contigo” (“You’re not alone, we are still with you”) initiative to address domestic violence during the quarantine. This program consists of several resources to help women report domestic violence and seek professional help. The resources include chat rooms in which victims can send video, audio, and photos, channels to Moon Centers, or Centro Lunas, which provide psychological and legal care for medium and high risk cases. 

In addition, the government and the National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women (CONAVIM) created a directory to publicize these resources as well as the National Shelter Network so that women can access safe spaces away from their abusers. The hashtag, #ContingencyWithoutViolence, or #ContingenciaSinViolencia was launched by the State of Mexico and has spread on social networks throughout the country. Despite these efforts to address violence against women, the National Shelter Network is lacking the budget and the space to operate effectively and this leads them to deal with double or triple contigency. Milenio reports that several organizations have argued that the “delay in the allocation of financial resources violates the shelters’ operation and rights of women to safety”. Wendy Figueroa, the director of the National Shelter Network, has demanded that the Mexican government “establish a budget, as well as evaluation and monitoring mechanisms that guarantee the permanent flow of resources allowing the shelters to work through the year without impediment”.

In conclusion, it is clear that COVID-19 has exacerbated the effects of domestic violence in Mexico, a country that already suffers from staggering statistics due to the normalization of gender based violence. The implications of the lockdown are widening gender inequalities and increasing violence against women. In order to address this crisis, the Mexican government must strengthen all mechanisms to combat domestic violence at the local, regional and national levels. Steps must be taken immediately because women’s lives depend on it.

Domestic Violence Resources

United States

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Online Chat: https://www.thehotline.org/what-is-live-chat/

Safety planning and legal information: https://www.thehotline.org/help/path-to-safety/

Resources for victims and survivors by State: https://www.thehotline.org/resources/victims-and-survivors/

Mexico:

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 9-1-1

Shelter Network Directory: https://eldiadespues.mx/directorio-de-organizaciones/

Domestic Violence Hotlines by State:

Sources:

Bettinger-Lopez, Caroline. “A Double Pandemic: Domestic Violence in the Age of COVID-19.”  Council on Foreign Relations, 13 May 2020

Oppenheim, Maya. “Mexico sees almost 1,000 women murdered in three months as domestic abuse concerns rise amid coronavirus.” Independent. 28 April 2020. 

Machicao, Monica, Martinez, Ana Isabel, Ramos Miranda, Natalia, & Sigal, Lucila. “Another Pandemic: In Latin America, domestic abuse rises amid lockdown. Reuters. 27 April 2020.

Castellanos, Laura. “México abandona a las mujeres violentadas en esta contingencia.” Aristegui Noticias. 16 April 2020.  

Almazan, Jorge. “CdMx lanza programa para denunciar violencia familiar.” Milenio. 14 April 2020

Galvan, Melissa. “Otra contingencia: la violencia contra las mujeres va en aumento.” Expansión Política. 5 April 2020.

Noticias de las Naciones Unidas. “Ante el aumento de la violencia doméstica por el coronavirus, Guterres llama a la paz en los hogares.” Noticias ONU. 5 April 2020

Ortiz, Alexis. “Coronavirus en México. Estiman aumento de hasta 100% en violencia de género. El Universal. 4 April 2020.

Nava, Cecilia. “En cuarentena, violencia contra la mujer escalará 92%, prevén expertas.” El Sol de México. 26 March 2020. 

De la Peña, Angelica. “El Covid-19 y la perspectiva de género.” El Sol de México. 23 March 2020. 

United Nations Women: Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. “Paying attention to women’s needs and leadership will strengthen COVID-19 responses.” UN Women. 19 March 2020.

Seguridad de Estado de México. “Contingencia sin Violencia.” Twitter. 2020. 

Gobierno de la Ciudad de México: Secretaría de las Mujeres. “Lunas.” Gobierno de la Ciudad de México. 2020.

United Nations. “What is Domestic Abuse?” United Nations. 2020. 

Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática (INEGI). “Encuesta Nacional sobre la Dinámica de las Relaciones en los Hogares (ENDIREH 2016).” INEGI. 18 August 2017.

Red Nacional de Refugios. “Red Nacional de Refugios A.C.” 3 November 2014.

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR). “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.” United Nations. 18 December 1979.

United Nations Women: Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. “The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.” UN Women, September 1995.

 Comisión Nacional para Prevenir y Erradicar la Violencia Contra las Mujeres (CONAVIM). “Sistema Nacional de Prevencion, Atencion, Sancion, y Erradicacion de la Violencia Contra las Mujeres.” 

Latin American News Dispatch. “AMLO Denies Rise of Violence Against Women During Lockdown.” 

National Domestic Violence Hotline. “Get Help.” 

Organization of American States (OAS). “Inter-American Commission of Women”. OAS.

Veracruz Gobierno del Estado. “Instituto Veracruzano de las Mujeres.” IVM. 

AMLO’s Decree Further Militarizes the Public Security Strategy

AMLO rides in ceremony for National Guard inauguration
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at the inauguration of the National Guard in 2019. Photo: Cuartoscuro.

06/12/2020 (written by kheinle) – President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took steps to further institutionalize the military in addressing public safety. On May 11, the president signed an executive decree that expands the armed forces’ involvement in internal affairs nationwide until March 2024 or until the National Guard can assume the responsibilities.

The decree is officially published as, “AGREEMENT that makes the Armed Forces permanently available to fulfill public security duties in an extraordinary, regulated, fiscally managed, subordinate, and complementary manner.” Additional responsibilities include supporting investigations, “detaining suspects, securing crime scenes, and carrying out arrest warrants,” writes the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Despite assuming more domestic duties, however, the decree does not expand oversight on the military. Soldiers will continue to be held to their own internal controls instead of being accountable to civilian institutions.

Why the Increase in Military Presence?

The military is being called into action to curb the continuing rise in crime and violence, which is currently at an all-time high. Mexico’s most violent year on record was 2019 with 35,588 homicides, according to the National System of Public Security (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP). This year is on track to be even higher. There were also more homicides in March 2020 than any other month under the López Obrador Administration (2,616 cases of intentional homicide and 3,000 victims), prompting the president to act.

President López Obrador assigned the National Guard to temper migration flows at the country’s northern and southern borders. Photo: Notimex.

The military’s presence will complement the work of the National Guard, which has arguably not evolved into the force that the president had hoped since it launched in July 2019. President López Obrador created the unit, which now has more than 100,000 troops enlisted, to combat the country’s ongoing challenges with organized crime and violence. Yet the Guard’s responsibilities in public security have adapted considerably since the outset. During their first year on the ground, National Guard troops were largely charged with aiding Mexico’s response to migration influxes at the country’s northern and southern borders and more recently with supporting efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, commented, “The fact is the National Guard is simply an insufficient response to the violence in Mexico. This was always going to be the case,” he continued, “but with all of the extra responsibilities the Guard took on related to forced migration, there are extreme shortages in the workforce.

The president’s newly signed decree hopes to address the rise in violence by bringing in the military to alleviate some of the responsibility of the National Guard until that force is fully capable of handling the task.   

Human Rights Concerns

The military’s presence in domestic affairs continues to raise red flags given the institution’s record with violating human rights. Said Santiago Aguirre, the director of the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center in Mexico City, “In effect, the army and navy are going to be handling police duties until 2024. [Both] have a long history of not being accountable, especially in cases of serious human rights violations.”

Photo: Guardia Nacional.

Concern over the National Guard’s responsibility in violating human rights also persists. The Guard was created as an institution with more accountability to civilian authority. When Congress approved the force in 2019, it instituted constitutional changes that established human rights protocols and protections overseeing the unit. Nevertheless, the National Guard is arguably a militarized force, much to the concern of human rights organizations.  

Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America highlights several ways in which this is so. First, over 75% of the National Guard is composed of soldiers, according to a Mexican government report. This is likely impacted by the fact that National Guard recruitment centers are all located on military bases. Second, the leader of the National Guard has roots in the military as a former member of the armed forces and as a retired general. Finally, the National Guard’s funding and equipment comes from the military.

In her article, Meyer recognizes that the National Guard does indeed have fewer cases of human rights violations documented against it as compared to the military, but it still has some. “Between July and November 2019, the CNDH [National Human Rights Commission, Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos] reported receiving 32 complaints of human rights violations committed by members of the National Guard, including accusations of migrant abuse, torture, and arbitrary detention,” she wrote. Such complaints have continued into the new year.

With a more militarized National Guard and the president’s decree to put the military back on the streets, it will be important to monitor potential rises in human rights violations.

Sources:

Daly, Catherine et al. “Armed with Impunity: Curbing Military Human Rights Abuses in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. July 2012.

“AMLO deploys National Guard amidst controversy.” Justice in Mexico. July 24, 2019.

Gobierno de México. “Informe de seguridad, Guardia Nacional y combate a la delincuencia organizada.” YouTube. April 24, 2020.

Agren, David. “López Obrador accused of militarizing Mexico with new security decree.” The Guardian. May 11, 2020.

Diario Oficial de la Federación. “ACUERDO por el que se dispone de la Fuerza Armada permanente para llevar a cabo tareas de seguridad pública de manera extraordinaria, regulada, fiscalizada, subordinada y complementaria.” Secretaría de Gobernación. May 11, 2020.

Rivers, Matt and Jackie Castillo. “Andrés Manuel López Obrador ordena que los militares vuelvan a las calles para combatir la creciente violencia.” CNN Español. May 12, 2020.

Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. “Incidencia delictiva.” Goberino de México. May 20, 2020.

“Versión estenográfica de la conferencia de prensa matutina del presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador.” Sitio Oficial de Andrés Manuel López Obrador. May 20, 2020.

Meyer, Maureen. “One Year After National Guard’s Creation, Mexico is Far from Demilitarizing Public Security.” Washington Office on Latin America. May 26, 2020.

Centro Nacional de Información. “Incidencia Delictiva del Fuero Común 2020.” Secretaría de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana, Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. May 2020.

Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. “Víctimas y unidades robabas, nueva metodología.” Gobierno de México. Last accessed June 12, 2020.

Environmental Activists Under Attack in Mexico

05/26/20 (written by mvillaseñor in collaboration with aherrera) – Mexican environmental activists have increasingly been under attack. Just in the last five months, at least six environmental activists have been murdered. According to a 2019 report from the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental, CEMDA), homicides are increasingly becoming the primary form of attack against environmental activists in the country. According to the report, environmental activists are at a particularly high risk of retribution due to their vocal criticism against political and economic interests, such as large infrastructure projects and developments. 

Between 2012 and 2019, Mexico has seen a total of at least 499 attacks against environmental activists, including but not limited to threats, criminalization, assault, and homicide. According to data from CEMDA, the number of attacks gradually increased from 24 in 2012, 64 in 2013 and 78 in 2014 to its peak of 107 in 2015 and 85 in 2016. This represents a 346% increase in attacks against environmental activists from 2012 to 2015.

Mexico’s Energy Reform

These observed increases in attacks against environmental activists coincide with the implementation of Mexico’s energy reform. In fact, the aforementioned 2019 report from CEMDA notes the ratification of the energy reform as a relevant factor in the significant increase in homicides of environmental activists. The energy reform was first introduced by Enrique Peña Nieto on August 12, 2013. The reform was backed by his political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) as well as the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN) and was intended to modify the constitution to allow foreign investment in its energy sector. Prior to the energy reform, state-owned Mexican Petroleum (Petróleos Mexicanos, PEMEX) ran the country’s energy industry after President Lázaro Cárdenas del Río expropriated Mexico’s oil sector in 1938. The constitutional reform was debated by congress and approved on December 12, 2013. This was the first time in 75 years that private and foreign investment became allowable in Mexico’s energy sector. On August 2014, further legislation was approved that leveled the playing field for all investors in the sector.

Read more about Mexico’s New Energy Reform in this 2018 report from the Mexico Center at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Read more here about how legislation from the Energy Reform has impacted transparency and human rights as well as infringed on citizen participation at the local and national level. 

Increase in Attacks Against Environmental Activists

Overall the number of attacks has been decreasing with 53 in 2017, 49 in 2018, and most recently 39 in 2019. However, homicides, within this time span, have seen an increase. According to CEMDA, in 2019, homicide was the primary form of aggression with 21.1% of incidences resulting in death, followed by threats with 19.3%, criminalization with 15.8%, and intimidation with 14%. Moreover, CEMDA points out that the primary aggressor is often the government itself. CEMDA attributed 40.5% of overall attacks committed towards environmentalist in 2019 to the government, tied with unidentified aggressors and followed by community members and organized crime each with 4.8%. Attacks perpetrated by the government are primarily attributed to local prosecutors, the National Guard (Guardia Nacional), and state police.

Environmental Activist Homicides in 2020

Mexico has lost at least six environmental activists in 2020. The first case surrounds the murder of 50-year-old Homero Gómez González, an outspoken critic of illegal logging and manager of El Rosario’s monarch butterfly sanctuary in the state of Michoacán. He was last seen on January 13 and was found dead more than two weeks later on January 29. His body was floating in a holding pond near the mountain forest reserve Gómez González was protecting. Initial reports from Michoacán’s state prosecutors pointed to drowning as the cause of death, but a more detailed autopsy later revealed evidence of a head injury. Days before Gómez González was found, another environmental activist from the same region was reported missing. Raúl Hernández Romero, a 44-year-old conservation activist and part-time tour guide at El Rosario was reported missing on January 27. His body was found five days later at the top of a hill in El Campanario monarch butterfly sanctuary. According to news reports, he too had a head injury and his body was covered in bruises.

Following the deaths of these two activists, a third activist was reported missing on March 19, 2020. Paulina Gómez Palacios Escudero, a 50-year-old environmental activist from the state of San Luis Potosí disappeared when she was traveling from Matehuala in her home state to the community of El Salvador in the neighboring state of Zacatecas. Her body was later found on March 22, according to the autopsy, she died from a gunshot wound to the face. She was considered a guardian of the sacred territory Wirikuta and a friend of the indigenous community, Wixárika. According to a report published by Intercontinental Cry, the Wixárika community has been actively fighting for years to protect their sacred lands from mining companies. On September 2013, a federal district judge approved a temporary suspension on all concessions to mining companies in the sacred territory of Wirikuta. In 2009, 36 concessions had been granted to Canadian mining company, First Majestic Silver, 70% of these concessions were within the Wirikuta territory.

A day after Gómez Palacio Escudero’s body was found, the fourth environmental activist was murdered. On March 23, 2020, Isaac Medardo Herrera Aviles was murdered in his home in Jiutepec, Morelos when gunmen knocked at his door and shot him point blank, fleeing the scene before they could be apprehended. Herrera Aviles was a longtime activist and lawyer in the state of Morelos. Most recently he had stopped the company, Casas Ara, from developing a real estate project in the premises of “Los Venados,” a 56,000 square meter forest in the middle of Jiutepec. Herrera Aviles and community members had successfully stopped the project and were waiting for local authorities to deem the land a natural reserve. In 2007, the activist had legally represented advocates of 13 communities who were attempting to stop another real estate development project in Emiliano Zapata, Morelos, near the Chihuahuita natural spring where developers were also seeking to extract the water.

Two weeks later, Adán Vez Lira became the fifth environmental activist to be murdered in Mexico. He was from the state of Veracruz and founder of the ecotourism cooperative, “La Mancha en Movimiento”. According to news reports, Vez Lira was shot to death on April 8 while riding his motorcycle from La Mancha to Palmas de Abajo, Veracruz. He had dedicated more than two decades of his life to defending the bird observatory in La Mancha Ecological Reserve and El Llano. According to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, he had also actively opposed mining projects by Almaden Minerals and Candelaria Mining, both Canadian mining companies with interests in the region.

The most recent homicide targeted Eugui Roy Martínez Pérez, a 21-year-old environmental activist from the state of Oaxaca murdered in San Agustín Loxicha, Oaxaca. Martínez Pérez was studying biology at the Technological Institute of the Valley of Oaxaca (Instituto Tecnológico del Valle de Oaxaca, ITVO) and was a member of the Organization for Environmental Protection in Oaxaca. Additionally, people close to Martínez Pérez indicated he had a particular passion for the care, defense, and conservation of reptiles and amphibians. According to Oaxaca’s Attorney General office, he was murdered on May 7 when a group of armed individuals forcefully entered his home and removed him from the premises. He was later found nearby with signs of torture and a gunshot wound. According to his sister, Martínez Pérez decided to spend his quarantine in San Agustín Loxicha, “collecting insects, studying, writing for a magazine, looking after a few deer’s, [in addition to] creating content for his blog.”

Mexico’s current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has called these deaths “regrettable” and “painful,” but human rights groups are demanding the government do more. For example, the Center for Human Rights Zeferino Ladrillero is asking the government to prioritize the lives of individuals defending the environment, land, forests, and water over the interest of private entities. Others are calling for better monitoring and prevention mechanisms to protect marginalized communities, particularly indigenous groups, who are vulnerable to the loss of land and private interest groups entering their territory. Furthermore, environmental activists point out that at least 80% of activists murdered defending the environment have been indigenous. A recent released report from Front Line Defenders, an international foundation based in Ireland that seeks to protect human rights around the globe, showed Mexico and Brazil tied as the fourth most dangerous countries in the world for activists. However, it is worth noting that Front Line Defenders’ report encompasses all human rights activists, not only environmentalists.  Nonetheless, looking forward, it is imperative that the government analyze and address the divisive culture it is promoting against activists.

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