Mexico News and Analysis: August 17-30, 2009

1. Anti-kidnapping chief suspended
2. State re-writes history
3. Documents prove government-paramilitary link in Chiapas
4. Mexico decriminalizes drug possession for personal use
5. ORGANIZATIONS document human rights abuses


1. Anti-kidnapping chief suspended
The head of Mexico’s elite anti-kidnapping squad, Juan Maya Aviles, was suspended last week over a foiled rescue attempt in which officers killed two of their FBI-trained commanders and the kidnapping victim died.  Two other officers were detained for ignoring a tip from the victim’s driver that she would be kidnapped.  A late night rescue attempt on July 3 turned into disaster when police shot two of their supervisors from behind, including the head of Mexico City’s elite rapid response unit.  During the melee, one kidnapper killed the victim, then committed suicide, while seven kidnappers were captured. 

Police are widely suspected of leading or protecting some of Mexico’s most dangerous kidnapping rings.  Last year Mexico City police arrested a former officer and an active duty federal agent in the kidnapping and murder of the 14-year-old son of a wealthy sporting goods magnate.


2. State re-writes history
New history textbooks introduced this school year as part of the Integral Reform of Basic Education (RIEB) eliminate the Spanish conquest of Mexico and three decades of colonial domination.  Fernando Gonzalez, Undersecretary for Basic Education and a relative of Elba Esther Gordillo, the powerful “president for life” of the teacher’s union, implemented the reform measures, which will affect all public school students from first through sixth grade.  Gordillo is a close ally of President Felipe Calderon whose education reforms have been widely criticized.


3. Documents prove government-paramilitary link in Chiapas
New documents uncovered by the Washington, DC-based National Security Archives demonstrate a direct link between the Mexican Army and paramilitary groups in Chiapas.  The documents show that paramilitary groups, including those that participated in the Acteal massacre, were under the direct supervision of Army intelligence agencies.  A cable sent by Mexican army officials to the Defense Intelligence Agency, part of the Pentagon, on May 4, 1999, indicates that army troops organized paramilitary operations in Chiapas beginning in mid 1994 as part of a comprehensive counterinsurgency effort that included arming and training, plus coordination of intelligence and protection from local authorities.  Kate Doyle, Director of the Mexican Project at the National Security Archive, said the documents contradict the official history of the Acteal massacre, in which paramilitaries murdered 45 indigenous in December, 1997.  The new documents came to light under the Freedom of Information Act.


4. Mexico decriminalizes drug possession for personal use
Mexico decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, LSD and amphetamines in an effort to treat drug abuse as a health problem rather than a legal issue.  The new law is one of the most liberal drug possession laws in the world.  Officials said the new law will prevent corrupt police from shaking down casual users and offer addicts free treatment, though the law provides no new funds for treatment facilities which are notoriously inadequate.  The Federal Attorney General’s office claimed, “This is not legalization.  This is regulating the issue and giving citizens greater legal certainty.”  The new law prescribes maximum quantities for “personal use,” including about four joints of marijuana, a half gram of cocaine, 50 milligrams of heroin, 40 milligrams of methamphetamine and 0.015 milligrams of LSD.  The new law differentiates addicts and casual users from drug traffickers, whose turf battles caused the deaths of more than 11,000 people during the Calderon administration.


5. ORGANIZATIONS document human rights abuses
In response to President Felipe Calderon’s public challenge several weeks ago, a coalition of human rights organizations documented seven recent cases of serious human rights violations by police or army troops.  On August 10, Calderon claimed federal security officials were acting with scrupulous attention to human rights, and he challenged human rights organizations to site a single case of impunity.  The coalition provided detailed documentation on a series of egregious human rights violations, including murder, beatings, arbitrary arrest, torture, death threats against arrestees and their families, property destruction, and warrantless home invasions.  All the cases occurred under the watch of Calderon, and none of the officials involved have been arrested or prosecuted.

In related news, former National Action Party (PAN) President Manuel Espino complained of a warrantless search of his home in Ciudad Juarez carried out by the army during a birthday party organized by his teenage children.  Troops entered the home at 2:00am and searched the garage and garden for thirty minutes.

And in further related news, on August 19, the US Senate released 15% of the military aid withheld under the Merida Initiative in lieu of a report confirming Mexico’s respect for human rights.  The State Department issued a favorable report on human rights despite efforts by non-governmental organizations and some lawmakers to shine a light on recent abuses by the army.  Part of the aid was linked to advances in the murder investigation of Brad Will, a US journalists gunned down on October 27, 2007, in Oaxaca by paramilitary groups associated with Governor Ulises Ruiz.  Juan Martinez, a member of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO), a group that collaborated closely with Will, spent the past ten months in prison charged with the murder, despite eye-witness evidence that he was not present at the crime scene.  Will’s family has rejected the findings of the investigation and they consider Martinez to be a scapegoat.  Martinez was arrested only days before the deadline for demonstrating advances in the investigation, and even local judges are claiming there is no evidence linking him to the murder.