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.

Award-winning Journalist Javier Valdez Murdered

Javier Valdez speaking at a book launch in November 2016. Source: The Committee to Protect Journalists

Javier Valdez speaking at a book launch in November 2016. Source: The Committee to Protect Journalists

06/08/17 (written by Lucy Clement La Rosa)- Mexican journalist, Javier Valdez Cárdenas, was shot and killed on a busy street of his hometown, Culiacán, Sinaloa, on Monday, May 15th. So far, the gunmen are unidentified. Valdez was an awarded journalist and author, well-known for his outspoken stance on drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico. In 2011, Valdez received the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), as well as the Maria Moors Cabot Prize from the Colombia Graduate School of Journalism. Valdez recently published a book on the dangers of narco-journalism in 2016.

At the time of his death, Valdez was working as a correspondent for La Jornada, a daily newspaper based in Mexico City. In the past, Valdez also worked for Agence France-Presse and cofounded Ríodoce, a weekly newspaper based in Culiacán, capital of the Mexican state, Sinaloa. Sinaloa is home to the Sinaloa cartel, one of the most prominent drug cartels in Mexico, as well as home of the infamous drug lord, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. Ríodoce was independently founded in 2003, and the weekly newspaper focused its efforts on the need for honest reports of drug cartel activities in Sinaloa. With the recent extradition of Guzmán to the United States, Valdez had warned that violence in Sinaloa was rising.

Journalists targeted in Mexico

Valdez is the sixth journalist murdered in Mexico this year. According to 2016 CPJ reports, Mexico ranked 7thOn the other hand, the Justice in Mexico’s Memoria dataset identifies journalists murdered regardless of motive. With this less conservative approach, Justice in Mexico identified the murders of 14 journalists and other media workers in 2016, bringing the total number of journalists murdered from 2000-2016 to 142. According to Justice in Mexico, the Memoria project offers a more pragmatic perspective of violence against journalists in Mexico and seeks to increase the transparency and accuracy of crime reports in Mexico.

The pattern of violence against journalists has been publicly recognized both within and outside of Mexico. Earlier this March, dozens of local journalists protested and demanded justice for Mexican journalists after their former colleague at La Jornada, Miroslava Breach, was murdered. Additionally, the CPJ recently published a special report titled, “No Excuse: Mexico must break cycle of impunity in journalists’ murders.”

Following reports of Valdez’s death, several journalists and government officials continued to convey their outrage, including Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Nieto condemned the murder over Twitter and expressed his support for “freedom of expression and press.” CPJ representative, Jan-Albert Hoosten, called Valdez’s murder “an attack on independent journalism not just in Sinaloa, but in Mexico as a whole.”

Criticism heightened on Mexican impunity

Local journalists protesting the pattern of violence against journalists in Mexico. Source: Noroeste

Local journalists protesting the pattern of violence against journalists in Mexico. Source: Noroeste

Since Valdez’s death, public backlash concerning the pattern of violence against journalists in Mexico has only grown. Several public protests have specifically demanded that perpetrators be identified and held responsible for their crimes against journalism. The public blames government negligence, pointing to various ominous statistics. As reported by El País, only three cases, out of more than 798 cases of violence (including harassment, assault and homicide) against journalists since 2010, have concluded with convictions. According to The New York Times, out of 117 murders investigated since 2000, only eight cases have been pursued and one solved. President Nieto has been especially criticized for his failure to improve the cycle of impunity in Mexico, despite his repeated promises to protect journalists and freedom of expression.     

Among heightened tensions, journalists continue to be targeted. On the same day of Valdez’s murder, unidentified gunmen shot Sonia Córdoba and her son, Jonathan Rodríguez Córdoba; both were associated with a weekly newspaper in the Jalisco state. Sonia was hospitalized with injuries while her son was killed in the attack. On May 18th, Salvador Adame, a journalist from the Michoacán state, was abducted and has yet to be heard from. Adame had been targeted by organized crime groups several times before his abduction.

On May 24th, under the slogan, “Basta Ya (Enough Already),” around 40 Mexican media agencies, both national and international, signed a joint statement asking the government to honor their promises to end violence against journalists. The agencies included El Pais, El Nacional, Ríodoce, Noroeste, and Animal Político. The statement read, “The right to information guaranteed by the state is another principle of freedom of expression in our country that we demand, today more than ever.” 

Sources

Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2016.” Justice in Mexico. March 30, 2017.

Ahmed, Azam. “In Mexico, ‘It’s Easy to Kill a Journalist.'” The New York Times. April 29, 2017.

Crusading Mexican journalist Javier Valdez shot dead in Sinaloa.” The Guardian. May 15, 2017.

Mexican journalist and CPJ awardee Javier Valdez Cárdenas murdered.” Committee to Protect Journalists. May 15, 2017.

Asesinado en México Javier Valdez, el gran cronista del narco en Sinaloa.” El País. May 16, 215.

Award-Winning Journalist Killed in Mexico.” The Atlantic. May 16, 2017.

Mexican drug trade reporter Javier Valdez killed.” BBC News. May 16, 2017.

Separate attacks kill renowned Mexican reporter, wound local magazine executive.” Reuters. May 16, 2017.

Exigen periodistas justicia para Javier Valdez.” Noroeste. May 17, 2017.

El presidente acaba de descubrir que en México matan periodistas.” El País. May 18, 2017.

La desaparición de Salvador Adame indigna a los periodistas del Estado mexicano de Michoacán.” El País. May 23, 2017.

La prensa Mexicana dice “basta ya” a las agresiones contra periodistas.” El País. May 24, 2017.

 

Open Society Justice Initiative report details crimes against humanity in Mexico

cover report

Source: Open Society Justice Initiative.

10/03/16 (written by kheinle) — A report released by the Open Society Justice Initiative in June 2016 provides a scathing overview of crimes against humanity being committed in Mexico. The report, Undeniable Atrocities: Confronting Crimes Against Humanity in Mexico, finds that not only have crimes against humanity occurred, but also that those responsible, namely the Mexican government and the Zetas criminal organization, have not been held accountable. This argument is largely built on the legal standards outlined in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, to which Mexico has been privy to since 2005. As Robert Varenik, Acting Executive Director of Open Society Justice Initiative, synthesized in a communication,

“Based on three years of research and over 100 interviews, the [Undeniable Atrocities] report examines the devastating toll of drug-related violence in Mexico and finds a reasonable basis to believe that federal security forces and members of criminal cartels have, since 2006, perpetrated killings, enforced disappearances, and torture on a widespread and systematic scale such that they constitute crimes against humanity.”

To arrive at the conclusion, the report begins with homicides. Only 10% of homicide cases that occurred between 2007 and 2012 resulted in convictions, the report reads, and only 16% of homicide investigations opened by federal prosecutors from 2009 through July 2015 led to indictments. The data proves worse for disappearances, whether criminal or enforced (perpetrated by state actors/law enforcement). As of February 2015, only 13 convictions resulted from 313 federal investigations into enforced disappearances, and not until August 2015 was a single soldier ever convicted for his or her involvement in cases of disappearances despite evidence proving otherwise. Meanwhile, 12 indictments and eight judgments were issued in 1,884 federal investigations into torture between 2006 and 2014, and cases of torture resulted in only six convictions between 2007 and April 2015.

Taking these findings into consideration vis-à-vis Mexico’s obligation to the standards set forth in the Rome Statute, the “analysis finds that the situation in Mexico meets the legal definition of crimes against humanity.” The report also considers Mexico’s responsibility as a state to protect its people, arguing that the government’s ability to do so has been undermined by its own legitimate strategy launched in 2007 by then President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) against organized crime. Undeniable Atrocities writes that the strategy “deployed the military and federal police [to the streets] to use overwhelming extrajudicial force against civilian populations perceived to be associated with criminal cartels, without adequate regulations on the use of force, and with almost no accountability for any of the abuses that followed.” Not only has this strategy led to an increase in human rights violations without proper oversight of the deployed military and police, but it also has hindered the Mexican government’s ability to protect its people. This can be considered ironic given the strategy’s ultimate goal was to increase the country’s safety and security by eliminating organized crime.

The government’s role in human rights violations discussed in Undeniable Atrocities (homicide, enforced disappearance, and torture) has long been a focus of national and international concern. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) is a reputable, independent source that documents these violations by state actors, as found in their public Recommendations (Recomendaciones) that detail credible accusations of violations and recommendations for how to mitigate and rectify the situation.

enforced disappearances and indictments

Source: “Undeniable Atrocities: Confronting Crimes against Humanity in Mexico.” Open Society Justice Initiative.

In 2016 alone, five such CNDH recommendations have been issued to the Secretary of National Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) and an additional five to the Secretary of the Navy (Secretaría de Marina). The rate of recommendations issued against SEDENA (five recommendations over nine months for a .56 rate of recommendations/month) is significantly less than what Justice in Mexico documented in its 2012 report, “Armed with Impunity: Curbing Military Human Rights Abuses in Mexico.” Data used in that report shows that over a 62-month span under President Calderón dating May 2007 through July 2012, 101 recommendations were issued against SEDENA at a rate of 1.62 per month, thus nearly tripling SEDENA’s current rate. On the other hand, SEMAR’s rate of recommendations in 2016 (.56) is significantly higher than its rate under Calderón, when only 17 recommendations were issued during the same 62-month span (.27 recommendations/month).

Both military entities were recently issued recommendations from CNDH documenting human rights abuses, thus falling in line with the Undeniable Atrocities report. In August 2016, for example, CNDH’s “Recomendación No. 42/2016” detailed SEDENA’s role in a case in Tecpan de Galeana, Guerrero in 2012 that involved illegal search, arbitrary detention, and arbitrary execution of two minors and four adults. Two weeks later, CNDH issued a recommendation against SEMAR (Recomendación No. 43/2016) about a 2013 case in San Luis Potosí that involved violations of seven victims’ rights to liberty, personal security, personal integrity, and access to justice, as well as the torture of one of the victims.

The role of authorities in violating human rights and committing crimes against humanity, as Undeniable Atrocities argues, thus continues to be a pressing and present issue in Mexico. According to Jorge Castañeda, Mexico’s former foreign minister (2000-2003), the Open Society Justice Initiative’s report is “the most crushing critique to date of the war against drugs waged by [Presidents] Calderón and Peña Nieto since the end of 2007.” Respected and well-known Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui also weighed in after reading the report, declaring that a “big debate” should be initiated in Mexico to address the crimes against humanity and hold those responsible accountable. The Undeniable Atrocities report builds on that comment with its recommendation. “The government must act without delay,” it reads, “to acknowledge the gravity of the situation: it must initiate urgent, extraordinary measures, including the invitation of international assistance to ensure independent, genuine investigations and prosecutions.” It will be interesting to see how the Peña Nieto administration addresses such calls for action during its final two years in office.

Sources:

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

Full Report. “Undeniable Atrocities: Confronting Crimes Against Humanity in Mexico.” Open Society Justice Initiatives. June 2016.

Press Release. “Undeniable Atrocities: Confronting Crimes Against Humanity in Mexico.” Open Society Justice Initiatives. June 2016.

“Undeniable Atrocities: Reactions.” Open Society Foundations. June 2016.

Recomendación No. 42/2016. Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. August 31, 2016.

Recomendación No. 43/2016. Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. September 14, 2016.

Email communication. Varenik, Robert O. via Jillian Winkler. Open Society Justice Initiatives and Open Society Foundations. September 21, 2016.

“La CNDH emite recomendación al Ejército por el asesinato de 6 personas, entre ellas 2 menores, ocurrido en Guerrero.” Sin Embargo. September 27, 2016.

Web. “Recomendaciones.” Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. Last accessed October 1, 2016.