Mexico News and Analysis: August 3-16, 2009

1. Acteal assassins released from prison
2. Calderon denies army abuses
3. North American Summit denies support for Zelaya
4. Seven hundred customs officials replaced  



1. Acteal assassins released from prison
In an unprecedented ruling on Wednesday that overturned a lower court on legalistic rather than constitutional grounds, the Supreme Court released 20 prisoners serving time for the infamous Acteal massacre in which paramilitaries gunned down 45 indigenous members of Las Abejas, a pacifist group, on December 22, 1997.  At least 30 additional paramilitary members will be released in coming days as Justices complete paperwork.  In its 4-1 decision, the Supreme Court ignored eye witness evidence from survivors, focusing instead on mismanagement of the investigation by the Federal Attorney General and fabrication of evidence by presiding judges.  “This tribunal is not absolving anyone of guilt,” claimed Justice Jose Ramon Cossio.  “We determined that the complainants did not receive due process, which is not equivalent to a pronouncement of innocence.”  However, dozens of paramilitary members, many who confessed to their crimes, are now free, and some have threatened to return to seek revenge against survivors of the massacre who testified against them.  Human rights groups universally criticized the decision on three grounds: confessed assassins were released from prison, eye witnesses are now in danger, and the intellectual authors of the massacre have never been brought to justice. 

Religious leaders affiliated with both the PRI and PAN organized the legal defense of the paramilitaries under the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE).  CIDE is suing the Fray Bartolome Human Rights Center, community leaders from Mitziton, and Hermann Bellinghausen, reporter from La Jornada, for defamation of character.  The religious leaders are affiliated with the Eagle’s Wings and the Army of God, evangelical groups who claim as members the paramilitaries who carried out the Acteal massacre.


2. Calderon denies army abuses
Despite ample proof to the contrary, on Monday President Felipe Calderon denied that Mexican officials have committed human rights abuses under his watch. During a press conference with President Barak Obama, Calderon challenged human rights organization to site “one single case” in which police, soldiers or other government officials committed an abuse and not suffered legal consequences.  National and international human rights organizations, including the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), a government agency, were quick to point out dozens of cases, including murder, torture and rape committed by soldiers and police, that have gone unpunished.  The (mis)statements by Calderon came as the Obama administration finds itself under increasing pressure to deny funds for military assistance to Mexico under the Merida Initiative because of increasing human rights abuses, particularly by the army.

In related news, the Supreme Court upheld this week the army’s right to try crimes committed by active duty forces in military courts rather than civilian courts, including crimes committed against civilians.  To date, military courts have offered virtual immunity to soldiers accused of serious human rights violations against civilians. 


3. North American Summit denies support for Zelaya
Despite claims by the Calderon administration that the restoration of deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya would be a top priority at this week’s North America summit, the Presidents of Canada, the US and Mexico offered only lukewarm support for “democracy” and no specific support for Zelaya as the meeting came to a close on Monday.  Obama also rejected popular calls for renegotiation of NAFTA, citing the worldwide recession as an excuse.


4. Seven hundred customs officials replaced
Mexico replaced all 700 of its Customs inspectors on Saturday night with newly trained agents.  The shake-up will nearly double the size of the inspection force to 1,400.  Federal officials claimed the old inspectors were not fired, but rather their contracts were not renewed when they expired.  Each of the new inspectors underwent months of training and background checks, including lie detector tests and blood samples to identify drug use.  The new agents will focus on increasing import taxes and preventing contraband, including weapons imported from the US for use by drug cartels.