The Mexican government’s “War on Drugs” – Have they failed to protect human rights?
An examination of Mexico’s drug war, and its subsequent human rights violations.
Presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of
University of Glasgow
Joseph Andrew Mclean
Chapter 1: Introduction
1.1 Background and Context
1.2 Aims and Objectives
Chapter 2: Literature Review
Chapter 3: Mexican drug war
3.2 Relationship between Mexico and United States of America
3.3 Corruption in Mexico
Chapter 4: Human Rights in Mexico
4.2 Mexico’s human rights record
4.3 The impact of the war on drugs on human rights
Chapter 5: Conclusion
5.3 Future Work
This dissertation will centre on the Mexican government’s war on drugs. It examines the government’s human rights record and the subsequent violations which have occurred in the country, as a result of the decade’s long campaign. The main hypothesis proposes that the brutal force used by the police, security forces and military in their attempts to put an end to the illicit narcotics trade, has resulted in widespread human rights violations in Mexico. It will also demonstrate that the government’s tactics have had very little real impact on the drug trade itself, which continues to thrive and flourish.
The paper addresses the notion that despite the increased attempts by the Mexican government to eradicate the drug trade, they have systematically failed to do so, and argues that they have also failed to protect the human rights of its citizens. This paper will also examine the factors attributable to the problems of corruption in Mexico. It will include a critical analysis of the cost involved in the war on drugs, in both financial and human terms, and it will demonstrate the need for a renewed approach in the government’s tactics. The current methods being deployed by the government have failed to stop the drug trade and this paper argues that they are causing widespread human rights failures in the country.
This perspective will be supported by a detailed research of the information and statistics that are available on the Mexican drug war. This involves the analysis of books, articles and official government documents which have been published both in Mexico and the United States of America.
The paper concludes that the Mexican government has committed human rights violations and has reneged on its commitments to international treaties and conventions and to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Chapter 1: Introduction
1.1 Background and Context
I was initially drawn to this research question after studying at the University of California from 2011 to 2012. My interest in the topic was ignited by reading the daily press updates on the on-going drug war, which was taking place across the border in neighbouring Mexico. It was during my year abroad that I began to research more about the Mexican government’s daily battle to stop drugs crossing its border into the United States. I was alarmed to read of the reported death toll and the statistic that the drug war in Mexico has claimed more than ‘50,000 lives in the past six years’ (Washington Post, 2012). I wanted to examine the links between the attempts by the Mexican government to eradicate the drug trade and the impact the drug war has had upon human rights in the country. I also wanted to explore Mexico’s relationship with the United States, as both nations are intertwined in this on-going conflict.
The main basis of this dissertation will be the focus on the litany of human rights violations that result from the Mexican government’s war on drugs and the government’s use of torture and corporal punishment as a tactic in the war. The paper will also highlight how the war has had an impact the war has on innocent civilians, who are caught up in the cross fire between the government and the cartels. The paper will also focus on corruption in Mexico, linking it to the drug trade and detailing how it affects human rights.
1.2 Aims and Objectives
The aim of this research is to try and fully understand the impact drug policy has had on the communities and the people across Mexico. The objective is to highlight the impact of drug control on a human rights level, and to demonstrate that the strict policies have left a trail of destruction and devastation in their wake, namely from gang killings and violence, incarceration for minor drug related crimes and from police brutality. The research highlights that the death toll in this on-going war is rising on a daily basis. The research also examines the fact that the Mexican drug trade exists because of the demand created by end users in the United States of America.
This paper will demonstrate the links between Mexico and the United States of America, both in a political context and in terms of the war on drugs. The paper will show that the drug trade’s roots are in Mexico, but the demand for the product comes from America. This paper aims to show that all of the focus on the drug war is aimed south of the border by the United States government, who support the Mexican government’s efforts to stop the trade. However it seems very little effort has been made by the United States to stop the demand for drugs in their own nation. Overall this paper will examine the human rights violations caused by Mexico’s ‘War on Drugs’ and it will put forward an argument on whether the war can actually ever be won. The objective will be to see if there is an alternative method to eradicate the trade, and more importantly to examine if there is a way to prevent further human rights violations being carried out.
In order to answer the question of human rights violations taking place in Mexico, it was essential to gain a broader understanding of the drug war and of the drug trade in the country. The research involved in this paper is garnered from a variety of sources, but it was initially obtained through newspaper articles in California. This early knowledge was then built upon and expanded through a range of books, articles and publications, which fully analysed human rights issues in Mexico. The research also focused on government policies and practices regarding the drug war and human rights treaties and conventions. This research was crucial in providing an in-depth understanding of the drug war in Mexico and to highlight the subsequent human rights violations.
The Mexican drug war is an on-going armed conflict, which has witnessed intense fighting between the Mexican government and the various drug cartels in the region. The conflict and violence between both factions has escalated dramatically in recent decades, as rival drug cartels fight for control of the lucrative and illicit drug trade. The government’s attempts to combat and eradicate the drug problem have been marked by criticism in Mexico and beyond, most notably for their brutal tactics and human rights violations. The human rights issues have been well documented by high profile media coverage, both in Mexico and in the international press, and by human rights activists such as Human Rights Watch. I feel there is a need to examine this topic, to ascertain if the Mexican government believes the human rights violations can be justified. It explores the notion that the need to protect human rights far outweighs the end results, in terms of combating the drug trade. The paper also examines if there is an alternative solution available, which could offer better results than the current tactics being employed in Mexico.
Chapter 2. Literature Review
The main focus of this paper is to highlight the human rights violations taking place in Mexico. The information to support this argument has been drawn from books, official government documents, human rights observer’s publications and press coverage on the issue. Much has been written about the ‘War on Drugs’ and the human rights record of the Mexican government and it is through a process of analysis that conclusions have been drawn about which literature to align my argument with.
In order to exhibit a better understanding of where the research of this paper fits into the question of human rights violations in Mexico, it is essential to provide a review of the existing literature. The literature available covers various aspects of the drug war, including the political history of Mexico and the history of the drug trade and the cartels in the country. The literature also details the financial aspect of the drug war with analysis on the money being spent by both the Mexican and American governments to try and eradicate it. This information is crucial in providing a background and an understanding of the main issues relating to the drug war in Mexico.
The background knowledge ascertained from the United Nations sources and key documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, provide grounding for understanding Mexico’s political requirements, as a member of the UN, to protect human rights. For example Article 5 of the Declaration states ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ (United Nations, 1948). In Article 7 of the Declaration it states ‘All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any
discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.’ (United Nations, 1948). These cornerstones of human rights were adopted by the General Assembly on 10 December 1948, and voted for and approved by Mexico, one of the 48 countries to vote in its favour. This source provides an example of Mexico’s declarations and commitments to protecting human rights. It also acknowledges the fact they were instrumental in the construction and adoption of treaties that were put in place to ensure that human rights were protected both in Mexico and on an international level.
The litany of human rights abuses that have been carried out across Mexico in the name of drug control are contravening the agreements they made with the United Nations. The argument stated in this paper and supported by current literature is that the Mexican government should abolish abusive practices that ‘contravene human rights standards and norms’ (Global Commission on Drug Policy, 2011). There is also an argument put forward that criticises the current international system of drug control and claims it is completely wrong. The war on drugs has been focused on creating a drug free world, almost exclusively through use of law enforcement policies and criminal sanctions, yet this approach has not been successful. The UN Special Rapporteur, Anand Grover stated that “mounting evidence suggests this approach has failed. While drugs may have a pernicious effect on individual lives and society, this excessively punitive regime has resulted in countless human rights violations.” (Grover, 2010). The argument of balancing the results of the drug war against the violation of human rights is a strong one. It calls into question the legality of the drug war and poses the important question, should the campaign be allowed to continue in its current guise?
The literature gives both an overview of the Mexican drug trade, detailing the historical aspects of its development and expansion, and also on the impact of the drug trade on the Mexican nation and its people. The broader research also gives an explanation as to why Mexico became such a strategic drug trafficking route. The more detailed literature highlights the impact on human rights as a result of the drug war and the tactics used by the Mexican government. For example the tactics have had a severe impact on the government’s finances, with financial costs involved in the drug war proving to be a major bone of contention, as the bulk of Mexico’s federal budget for the administration of justice is ‘devoted to the enforcement of antidrug laws’ (Toro, 1995: 2). This demonstrates that the enforcement of antidrug laws takes up a significant portion of the Mexican government’s annual budget. The other significant factor is that Mexican drug-control policies ‘have not been adequate in reducing drug-related activities’ (Toro, 1995: 2) in the country. This argument is one that I want to draw upon, when establishing my case for the Mexican government adopting a new approach to fighting this war on drugs. It also supports the concept that a change of policy will eradicate or at the very least, significantly reduce the amount of human rights violations taking place in the country. The failed attempts by a succession of administrations, presidents and agencies are a stark reminder of how policies designed to control the drug trade, have ultimately failed, as the illicit trade continues to be a lucrative business for criminals and criminal gangs and cartels in Mexico.
The Mexican government has been widely criticised by human rights observers such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), and their publications outline the key issues regarding human rights violations in the country. Jose Miguel Vivanco, the director of the America’s division of Human Rights Watch has been extremely vocal in his criticism of both the Mexican and American government’s involvement and attitude towards Mexico’s human rights records. He has also openly criticised Anthony Wayne, the U.S ambassador to Mexico, who ‘celebrated Mexico’s human rights achievements’ (Vivanco, 2013) and who congratulated the governments ‘efforts to promote the defense of human rights in Mexico’ (Wayne, 2012). It seems the view of the American government differs from that of human rights activists and defenders, when it comes to the success of Mexico’s human rights records. This contrast in views will be examined in more detail in later chapters, which deal specifically with Mexico’s relationship with the United States and provide evidence of support from President Obama and his administration.
One key aspect of the government’s failure has been the issue of disappearances, which are part of the horrid legacy of Mexico’s drug war. During President Calderón’s tenure, ‘soldiers and police officers systematically tortured civilians to extract confessions in the fight against cartels, and they committed widespread executions.’ (Vivanco, 2013). Almost none of these abusive soldiers or police officers have ever been punished. Of the roughly ‘5,000 investigations that military prosecutors opened into alleged abuses from the start of the Calderón presidency, in December 2006, through April 2012, only 38 soldiers have been sentenced.’ (Vivanco, 2013). These statistics offer the stark reality that the majority of abuses go unrecorded and undocumented in Mexico. They also highlight that even from the small number of abuses which are investigated; the prosecution and conviction rate is disparately low.
The Mexican government have attempted to keep the human rights abuses out of the public domain, with President Calderón even claiming that he was ‘not aware of a single human rights violation by security forces’ (Vivanco, 2013) during his term in office. While President Peña Nieto has at least acknowledged the failures of the Calderón administration, it seems that Washington is blinkered to the truth. In fact, the Obama administration have ‘lauded Calderón’s great courage’ (Vivanco, 2013) and President Obama has not publicly expressed any concern about the human rights abuses committed by the Mexican government and its security forces.
In contrast the Obama administration has invested heavily in Mexico’s war effort. Since 2007, the United States has ‘given about $2 billion to combat organized crime’ (Vivanco, 2013). A portion of the aid directed to security forces is supposed to be pegged annually to an ‘assessment of whether Mexico is meeting a set of human rights conditions’ (Vivanco, 2013). Although those conditions have never been met, Washington has repeatedly released the funds to Mexico. Instead of turning a blind eye to the goings on south of the border, the Obama administration should be enforcing the human rights conditions that Congress has placed on U.S. aid to Mexico. President Obama should be asking President Peña Nieto to investigate and prosecute past human rights abuses in Mexico and help to devise a plan to prevent them from happening again.
The argument that Mexico has failed in its duty to protect human rights has been attributed to the unique political system which ‘has long fostered serious human rights abuses by both the military and the police’ (Youngers & Rosin, 2005: 266). The one-party rule ‘severely crippled Mexico’s civilian institutions, breeding a culture of authoritarianism and impunity’ (Youngers & Rosin, 2005: 266) which in turn impacted severely on the protection of human rights. This is evident in Calderon’s administration, when this culture of authoritarianism prevailed, and the greater cause of the drug war was deemed more important than protecting human rights. This single minded and bloody approach to the drug problem by the Mexican government only led to more widespread problems, such as corruption and torture. It is evident that a change of tactics is needed in Mexico, as the war on drugs cannot continue at its current rate of fatalities, causalities and disappearances. Instead of reducing violence, Mexico’s ‘war on drugs’ has resulted in a dramatic increase in ‘killings, torture, and other appalling abuses by security forces, which only make the climate of lawlessness and fear worse in many parts of the country’ Vivanco, 2013).
These findings draw comparisons between the attempts by the Mexican government to control drugs and the efforts of the United States government during alcohol prohibition. This theory is discussed by Richard Stevenson of Liverpool University. He argues that there is little sign that the war is actually being won and reviews the alternatives to prohibition which, he says, creates external costs in terms of ‘gangsterism, corruption and law enforcement costs.’ (Stevenson, 1994: 38). He produces a detailed case for legalisation and calls for radical changes to current drug policies and argues it should no longer be an offence to possess drugs, to use them or to trade them, but in a radical theory, they would be available for sale legally and they would ‘carry a health warning and sale to children would be illegal.’ (Stevenson, 1994: 67). This is a radical departure from the current government theories on tackling the drug trade.
The main aim of the Mexican government has been to target drug producers, traffickers and dealers, in the hope that this will end the drug trade. What the governments fail to comprehend or are too afraid to admit, are that drugs are continuing to be purchased and smuggled from Mexico into America. It is evident that regardless of how much money or effort is spent trying to eradicate the trade at its source in Mexico; the illegal trade continues and shows no sign of decline. The comprehensive arguments for change and the adoption of new tactics are ones that are supported in this paper. It is evident the current system is a failure and it cannot continue in Mexico.
It has also to be noted that some scholars argue against any changes to drug policies, sighting it would lead to increased use of drugs and in turn cause an increase in drug abuse, but I feel this view can be countered by the same argument that took place during prohibition in America. The fact alcohol was made illegal, meant people drank illicit moonshine and other substances that were worse for their health than the legally produced, controlled and regulated brand name alcohol. This argument can also be countered by demonstrating that just because alcohol is legal, doesn’t mean everyone will necessary end up addicted to it. The benefits of legalising the drug trade far outweigh most of the negative aspects; this is certainly true in terms of protecting the fundamental human rights of the Mexican people.
The drug trade illustrates the Mexican governments ‘inability to fulfil a longstanding goal’ (Levy & Brahn, 2001: 213) of preventing matters originating outside the country from damaging its future development and prospects. Mexico does not have a large drug problem in terms of consuming the end product, the main problem for Mexico and its citizens is that due to decades of misdirected antidrug policies, the country has risen to be the ‘top drug exporter’ (Levy & Brahn, 2001: 213) to the United States of America. The efforts by the Mexican government, backed by U.S financial aid and military hardware will never be effective ‘unless they can change behaviour inside the United States itself’ (Levy & Brahn, 2001: 213). Meaning the demand for the product in America would have to decrease, before we would see any decline in the drug producing and trafficking in Mexico. As long as the demand for the product is there, Mexico will continue to supply it. In simple financial terms a drug such as marijuana brings a Mexican farmer ‘more income for a few pounds than corn does for a ton’ (Levy & Brahn, 2001: 213). This is why drugs have become Mexico’s leading cash crop and why by the 1970s the country accounted for around 70 per cent of the U.S. marijuana market.
Chapter 3. Mexico’s War on Drugs
The drug war has raged for over 50 years in Mexico and it has cost the government a substantial amount of money. An example of this cost is the statistic that from 2006 to 2012, President Calderón sent more than 50,000 soldiers onto Mexico’s streets and ‘invested billions of dollars on equipment and training’ (Rawlins, 2011) in order to try and win the war on drugs. This demonstrates the government’s willingness to eradicate the drug trade, but at what cost? The financial cost to the country is substantial, but more pertinent than the cost in terms of dollars, are the human costs, which are a result of the government’s efforts to control the drug trade and to stem the flow of narcotics across the Mexican border, into the United States. The human cost can be calculated in terms of missing people; with an estimated ‘25,000 people having disappeared in drug-related violence’ (Vivanco, 2013). This demonstrates that an alarming number of Mexican citizens who have simply vanished from society and these disappearances have all been attributed to the on-going drug war in Mexico.
The Mexican government were one of the seventy-three states to be represented at the United Nations ‘Conference for the Adoption of a Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs’ (UNODC, 1961), which met at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva from the 24th of January to the 25th of March 1961, with the intention of adopting a ‘Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs’ (UNODC, 1961). This international treaty is regarded as a milestone in the history of international drug control. The single convention ‘codified all existing multilateral treaties’ (UNODC, 1961) on drug control and extended the existing control systems to include the cultivation of plants that were grown as the raw material of narcotic drugs. The principal objectives of the convention were to limit the ‘possession, use, trade, distribution, import, export, manufacture and production of drugs, and to address drug trafficking through international cooperation, with its main criteria to deter and discourage drug traffickers.’ (UNODC, 1961). To achieve the many objectives outlined in the treaty, many countries, such as the United States and Mexico, declared a “War on Drugs.” The resulting decade’s long campaign against the illegal drug trade has had a considerable and lasting impact in Mexico, most notably on its human rights record.
It is ironic to note that in Mexico’s Sierra Madre region, production of drugs such as heroin ‘boomed as a result of drug wars in Europe and Southeast Asia’ (McCoy, 2003: 397). The antidrug policies and campaigns fought across the globe are linked, as a campaign in one part of the world simply increases prices and shifts production elsewhere. For this reason Mexico became America’s ‘main heroin supplier’ (McCoy, 2003: 397). By the end of 1994 the Mexian drug cartels had reported ‘gross revenues of $30 billion’ (McCoy, 2003: 397). This figure is more than the Mexico’s oil exports which are in the region of $7 billion and for this reason the country has been dubbed as a ‘narco-state’ (McCoy, 2003: 397). The antidrug policies in Mexico produce some victories and are said to provide ‘welcome but temporary material relief as well as temporary political gains’ (Levy & Brahn, 2001: 216). But given the figures involved in the drug trade, these small drug seizures and successful raids are a drop in the ocean compared with the vast quantities of drugs flowing across the U.S. border. The argument this paper puts forward is to ask if the war on drugs can really be justified. It also proposes that the cost to human rights in Mexico far outweighs the returns in terms of drug seizures. This paper also agrees with the principle that counternarcotic efforts in Latin America have been a failure. The U.S. should ‘reduce use of cocaine and other illegal drugs’ (Clawson & Lee, 1998: 211) and perhaps this would have a lasting impact on the drug cartels in Mexico.
3.2 Mexico and the United States
The expanding drugs trade ‘triggered a number of U.S. policies toward Mexico’ (Youngers & Rosin, 2005: 263). The reason the policies were toward Mexico, was due to the dominant belief in the United States that the ‘root of the drug problem is in the availability of narcotics, not the existence of an extensive and growing demand for them’ (Gonzalez & Tienda, 1989: 6). This has seen the focus of the drug war concentrating its efforts on the tackling the suppliers, rather than the consumers. In this case the focus is on Mexico and its traffickers, than America and its end users. The U.S. government has concentrated its fight against drugs outside of the country, ‘transferring the costs and responsibilities of the fight to governments in drug-producing countries’ (Gonzalez & Tienda, 1989: 6) i.e Mexico.
The drug control policies were introduced to increase Mexico’s ability to disrupt and ultimately dismantle drug-trafficking cartels, however these policies have not had a ‘discernible impact on the amount of drugs entering the United States via Mexico’ (Youngers & Rosin, 2005: 264). An example of these policies dates back as far as 1975 with Operation Condor, which has been described as a ‘comprehensive interdiction program that attacked poppy growers’ (McCoy, 2003: 397). This campaign by the Mexican government involved troops uprooting poppy plats by hand, while a fleet of eighty aircraft, most of which were supplied by the U.S, sprayed the opium fields with herbicides. These early campaigns in the drug war quite literally attacked the root of the problem, but fast forward a few decades an heroin is still being grown and cultivated in Mexico and the country remains the ‘top drug exporter to the United States’ (Levy & Brahn, 2001: 214). The tactics used in the war on drugs have had little impact on the trade, but they have in fact become ‘obstacles to consolidating democracy and protecting human rights’ (Youngers & Rosin, 2005: 264).
The leaders of both countries have been vocal in their views on the drug trade. This was highly evident in a joint press conference held between President Obama and President Calderon in Washington on March 3rd 2011. President Obama remarked that Mexico and the United States are “deepening our cooperation against the drug cartels that threaten both our peoples’ (Obama, 2011), showing a solidarity and unity with Mexico. President Obama seems clear enough on his principles and objectives, but he makes no mention of the collateral damage this fight against the cartels has caused. In stark contrast to the abuses being carried out in Mexico, President Obama has actually praised Mexico for ‘playing a leading role at the United Nations in suspending Libya from the Human Rights Council’ (Obama, 2011). This eagerness to be involved in international affairs regarding human rights smacks of hypocrisy by the Mexican government. They are standing up to Libya’s human rights abuses, yet they are perfectly happy to tolerate and perpetrate their own home-grown violations. President Obama noted that this stance by the Mexican government ‘reflects our commitment to the shared values of freedom and justice and rule of law’ (Obama, 2011). President Calderón shared these sentiments during his visit, when he told Congress that Mexico is “standing tall” and is ready to take its “rightful place in the world.” (Calderon, 2011). The Obama administration has been quick to praise Mexico for its involvement in foreign affairs, but not as forthcoming when it comes to appraising the war on drugs or the human rights record by a succession of Mexican government’s. The legitimacy of Mexico’s standing in the UN is called into question, as it surely is in no position to pass judgement on other nations, when it cannot protect simple and fundamentally basic human rights in its own country.
To cement the unity between both nations President Obama reaffirmed that in terms of the war on drugs ‘Mexico has a full partner with the United States. Because whether they live in Texas or Tijuana, our people have a right to be safe in their communities’ (Obama, 2011). This notion of safety seems to involve obliterating the drug cartels from local communities, but the real threat to safety in Mexico has come from the deployment of the military onto the streets. This has caused the violence to escalate, and it has done very little to impact the cartels. To prove their commitment to the cause the United States government have vowed to continue to ‘speed up the delivery of equipment and training that our Mexican partners need to keep up this fight.’ (Obama, 2011). An example of this link between both countries and human rights violations is the fact that Mexican police and soldiers have committed grave human rights violations while carrying out their drug control efforts. In some cases, ‘abusive soldiers have been the beneficiaries of U.S training or other assistance’ (Youngers & Rosin, 2005: 262). The close ties between both nations, means they ultimately share responsibility for the human rights violations in Mexico, but the U.S. seems reluctant to do so. It has been said that in the past the United States tended to ‘ignore corrupt and abusive practices’ (Youngers & Rosin, 2005: 266) by the Mexican military and intelligence services because they were ‘anti-Communist allies’ (Youngers & Rosin, 2005: 266). These close historical ties have continued to the present day and it looks as if the U.S. government is choosing to ignore the modern day abuses on the basis that Mexico is committed to a war on drugs and this anti-drug stance fits into the American government’s ideologies and policies on drug control. The American government is committed to helping Mexico in its war efforts and unfortunately the assistance from across the border helps to continue the cycle of human rights violations.
This commitment by the United States helps to sustain one of the largest trading relationships in the world. President Calderon has also worked closely with previous American President’s, such as George W. Bush. During this administration, President Bush announced the Merida Initiative, a ‘$1.6 billion security aid package including Black Hawk helicopters, police training and intelligence sharing for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean’ (Washington Post, 2012). This financial backing demonstrated America’s desire to target its fight against drugs south of the border. This sense of shared responsibility was reflected in President Calderon’s views on the way forward for the war on drugs. He stated “both governments have taken on our positions as co-responsible parties in the fight against transnational organized crime. And today we have reached increased levels of exchange of information that are unheard of in the past” (Calderon, 2011).
This rhetoric enforces the notion that both nations are intertwined in the drug war. The United States has backed Mexico in terms of funding and the supply of military hardware and the Mexican government essentially do America’s dirty work, by targeting the source of the problem, the growers and major suppliers. The major question to be asked is why the United States continues to fund this military campaign in Mexico when it yields such poor results, both in terms of drug seizures and human rights violations. The U.S. border with Mexico has become the chief point of entry for cocaine smuggling and the DEA estimates that ‘as much as 65 per cent of the cocaine that enters the United States crosses the Mexican border’ (Singer, 2008: 177). Mexico based cartels are also believed to ‘control between 70 and 90 per cent of methamphetamine’ (Singer, 2008: 194) production and distribution in the United States. These figures demonstrate that the drug trade is flourishing in Mexico and the drug enforcement policies are having very little impact in stopping the supply chain.
The war against drugs ‘touches on sensitive national security and political issues’ (Gonzalez & Tienda, 1989: 5) in both Mexico and America. The issue was so sensitive to the United States, they felt it was in their best interest to ‘furnish aircraft, technology, and instruction’ (Gonzalez & Tienda, 1989: 73) to Mexico, in an attempt to attack the drug trade at its source. The Mexican government took this opportunity, with the ultimate desire to ‘master the arts of crop destruction and trafficker interdiction’ (Gonzalez & Tienda, 1989: 77). This influx of technology and training from the United States was viewed as a positive move in the drug war, but the sad fact of the matter is most of the technology and weapons have proved to be useless. In terms of results, the United States government has received little by way of return, as the flow of drugs from Mexico continues to stream across its border. It has been said that Mexico and the United States are ‘bound together by history, trade and movement of people’ (MacDonald, 1988: 69). They are also now bound together in the war on drugs.
This paper believes that it is essential that the United States government acknowledges the human rights violations taking place in Mexico. The conclusion on the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico is that it’s essential for the U.S. to seek more clarity on the tactics used by the military forces. The U.S. government cannot continue to supply training and military hardware without scrutinising the tactics being used in the war on drugs; they cannot condone or ignore the human rights abuses being carried out across the border.
3.3 Corruption in Mexico
Corruption in Mexico is inextricably linked to the war on drugs, put simply; the vast sums of money involved in the drug trade make corruption inevitable. This is due to the fact police officers and military personnel earn relatively low wages and the lure of easy money can be too tempting to resist. The corruption that has eroded the justice system in Mexico is fuelled by drug money and the opportunity to benefit from their riches has affected every level of Mexican society. The U.S. State Department estimate that American drug users send ‘between $19 and $29 billion annually into the coffers of Mexican drug cartels’ (Rawlins, 2011). This staggering sum of money demonstrates how lucrative the drug trade is for the Mexican cartels. It also helps to explain why corruption is so rife among government officials and security forces. The vast majority of this money flowing into Mexico will be in cash and with so much money at stake for the cartels; they can afford to offload some of it in the form of bribes and backhanders to officials. The illegal drug trade has been estimated to make up ‘3 to 4 per cent of Mexico’s $1.5 trillion annual GDP, totalling as much as $30 billion – and employs at least half a million people.’ (Rawlins, 2011) These figures show that it’s more than just the cartels that are profiting; the illegal money is also findings its way into many legal institutions and organisations and it is being laundered through legitimate companies and corporations.
It is no surprise then, to learn that the police in Mexico are easily bought, in part because ‘in many cities, they earn less than teachers or even burrito vendors.’ (Rawlins, 2011). Corruption has infected many people and places in Mexican society, from ‘pilots responsible for spraying crops, to prison officials, to middle-level officers and officials, state politicians and heads of police’ (Toro, 1995: 55). The pilots, most likely using equipment and technology supplied by the United States accept cash bribes to avoid spraying defoliants in certain drug growing regions. Drug-related corruption exists throughout Mexico as the law enforcement officials are ‘underpaid and poorly regulated’ (MacDonald, 1988: 81). This poor regulation also impacts on human rights in Mexico, as many law enforcement officials are free to do as they please in terms of torture and brutality without the threat of any repercussions.
As drugs such as cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine surged across the border from Mexico to the United States, the amount of corruption also increased. It has been documented that Mexico’s cartels, which are known by the city, state or region in which they dominate, such as Tijuana, Sinaloa and The Gulf etc., increased their bribes year on year to allow the drug trade to operate. An example of this figure is that bribes paid in 1983 were quoted as being around $3 million and this figure was ‘raised to $460 million a decade later’ (McCoy, 2003: 443). This figure is more than the budget of Mexico’s attorney general and demonstrates the vast sums involved in corruption.
One of the worst cases of corruption in the law enforcement agencies in Mexico involved Arturo Durazo Moreno, the Chief of Police in Mexico City. Moreno was rewarded with this top job after spending some time as President Portillo’s bodyguard. It has been said that Moreno made full use of his new high profile position to ‘amass a personal fortune, including real estate in the United States’ (MacDonald, 1988: 81). Moreno was said to have reigned over Mexico City in a ‘kinglike fashion’ (Freemantle, 1986: 149). His official state salary was $1,000 per month, yet he managed to build two estates ‘one covering 600 acres near Acapulco’ (Freemantle, 1986: 149) and the other on the outskirts of Mexico City, ‘valued at $15,000,000’ (Freemantle, 1986: 150).
The vast fortune accrued by Moreno has been linked to the fact that within his department for the ‘Investigation and Prevention of Delinquency’ with nearly 3,000 staff, he created a ‘torturing, murdering, vigilante squad estimated to have been responsible for at least twenty assassinations’ (Freemantle, 1986: 151). This link between high profile figures in law enforcement and corruption is systematic of the problem of trying to stop the illegal drug trade. The cartels can offer more money than the government and in the case of Moreno, status and public office can be bought as guns for hire to protect the cartels. The majority of the atrocities carried out by Moreno and his department were not to stop the drug trade, but merely to stop certain drug dealers operating and to allow his paymasters to profit from new drug trafficking routes.
It is a sad reflection on the widespread issue of corruption in Mexico, that the United States view, in an official government report, find that the political and law enforcement system is epitomised by the following statement ‘corruption of Mexican police officials is well documented and is essential to the smooth operation of the Mexican trafficking organizations’ (PCOC, 1986:109). This acknowledgment by the United States government that corruption exists in Mexico proves that they know it goes on, yet they fail to make any attempt to stop it or hold back funding, financial aid or supplies as a deterrent against it happening. It is due to this lack of ‘oversight and accountability’ (HRW, 1990) that both governments have essentially ‘permitted and possibly even fostered corruption’ (HRW, 1990) in Mexico.
Corruption in Mexico is linked not just to the drug trade but also to human rights violations. The example of Police chief Arturo Durazo Moreno, is just one of many involving accusations of widespread abuse by corrupt officials. The lure of profiting from the Mexican drug trade has proved to be too tempting for many low paid government employees. If this was there only crime, it would be understandable given the unique circumstances in the country. They are guilty of corruption by striving to earn more money and to top up their low wage government salaries. Yet, many of these government employees do not stop at earning drug money, for simply looking the other way. It is evident that many are involved in committing human rights violations on Mexican citizens, by using brutal force and torture to favour certain drug cartels over rival factions.
To increase transparency and accountability, the Mexican ‘restructured and augmented their Internal Affairs offices’ (INCS, 2012) in an effort to clamp down on corruption. They implemented a series of programs in ‘all law enforcement agencies called ‘The Center for Evaluation and Control of Trust’ (INCS, 2012), which introduced new labour laws and placed ‘constrains on judges from reinstating police officers fired for corruption’ (INCS, 2012). These efforts, combined with leadership changes within many high profile public offices have had a positive impact. In 2011 ‘over 40 high ranking officials and hundreds more employees were dismissed from service due to allegations of corruption’ (INCS, 2012). This shows that the government are facing up to the issues of corruption in Mexico, but the question remains if they are doing enough to completely eradicate the problem. By simply rooting out the corrupt officials and police officers, the government might dismiss them from service, but they are doing very little to hold anyone accountable.
They investigate a very low percentage of human rights violations and by clearing out corrupt staff; they are allowing the violations to go unpunished. Human Rights Watch found evidence that ‘strongly suggests the participation of security forces in more than 170 cases of torture, 39 disappearances, and 24 extrajudicial killings’ (HRW, 2011) yet virtually none of these cases are ‘being adequately investigated’ (HRW, 2011). Human rights activists have called on President Obama to make a ‘robust, public case for addressing the abusive practices of Mexico’s security forces’ (Vivanco, 2013). This is needed to help build trust in the security forces and to ensure corrupt officials are held accountable for their part in committing human rights violations. The hardest part for the Mexican government is in competing with the riches of the drug cartels. They can’t afford to pay anywhere near the same some being offered in bribes and backhanders and as long as this continues to be the case, corruption will always exist in Mexico. An example of this disparity is the Mexican general being ‘offered U.S. $1 million a month to go easy on the Tijuana cartel’ (Youngers & Rosin, 2005: 269). These extortionate sums of money prove how lucrative the drug trade is and how easy it is to corrupt government employees. It would take a person of considerable character and strength to refuse $1 million a month for simply turning a blind eye to the goings on of a local drug cartel. The war on drugs costs the Mexican government millions of dollars every year, looking at the evidence of corruption and the profits being made by cartels, it is proof that the government’s money would be better spent on other aspects of Mexican society. The war on drugs seems to be unwinnable given the unfair advantage of the cartels, which have nothing to lose and everything to gain by continuing to harvest and traffic drugs.
Chapter 4: Human Rights in Mexico
Mexico’s military and police have committed widespread human rights violations in their ‘efforts to combat organized crime’ (HRW, 2011). Human Rights Watch found that a wide array of justice officials are implicated in human rights violations. They include judges who admit evidence that was likely to have been obtained through torture, prosecutors who obtain “confessions” from defendants who are being held incommunicado on military bases, and medical experts who omit or play down signs of physical injuries when they examine detainees.’ (HRW, 2011). The extent of the human rights violations is more widespread than the killings and shootings taking place on the streets in Mexico. The murders and assassinations are in the public eye and well documented in the press, but the more sinister aspects of human rights violations taking place, are those by justice and law enforcement officials, that take place out of public view.
The security forces in Mexico have participated in ‘widespread enforced disappearances and virtually none of the victims have been found or those responsible brought to justice’ (HRW, 2013). This factor is exacerbating the suffering of families of the disappeared, as they can find no closure or comfort in the fact the perpetrators have been punished for their human rights violations. The 176-page report, “Mexico’s Disappeared: The Enduring Cost of a Crisis Ignored,” documents nearly ‘250 disappearances’ (HRW, 2013) during the administration of former President Felipe Calderón, from December 2006 to December 2012. In 149 of those cases, Human Rights Watch found compelling evidence of ‘enforced disappearances, involving the participation of state agents’ (HRW, 2013). This evidence demonstrates the level of human rights violations taking place and shows that the issue has been on-going from one administration to the next. The acceptance of human rights violations as being part of drug war seems to be commonplace in Mexico and among its government officials. Efforts by the Calderón administration to address this problem were chastised for being ‘belated and grossly inadequate’ (HRW, 2013). For most of his presidency, Calderón denied that security forces had committed human rights violations, but in his last year in office he ‘acknowledged that abuses had occurred and pledged to take steps to address them’ (HRW, 2013). But he did not fulfil most of his commitments, such as ‘completing a national registry of the disappeared, or submitting a new legislative proposal to Congress to reform the Code of Military Justice that complied with four rulings on the issue by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ (HRW, 2013). From the very top, down, the attitude towards human rights violations in Mexico has been very poor, from Presidents to Police officers; they have conducted themselves in a manner which has allowed human rights violations such as torture and disappearances to be perpetrated.
According to the Human Rights Watch, torture continues to be widespread in Mexico. The ‘UN Committee Against Torture’ issued a report in 2003 that concluded the Mexican military and police were using methods such as beatings, electric shocks, simulated executions, suffocation with plastic bags, and depravation of food and water’ (HRW, 1990) to obtain information or confessions. These human rights violations are being carried out in attempt to investigate crime and to combat the drug trade. It is shocking evidence of the extent of the human rights problems in Mexico, when such brutality and barbarity can be used by those in positions of authority and power. Human rights problems persist in Mexico because of the criminal justice system, which ‘does not adequately safeguard against abuse’ (Youngers & Rosin, 2005: 269). It has been said that in contrast the criminal justice system actually ‘provides incentives for illegal arrest and torture’ (Youngers & Rosin, 2005: 269). This lack of accountability is a major issue in Mexican human rights violations.
4.2 Mexico’s human rights record
Mexico is rated as ‘partly free’ by Freedom House and this standing is certainly as a result of the countries war on drugs. The human rights record of Mexico can be measured against the backdrop of its military-led offensive on the powerful drug-trafficking cartels operating in the country. An estimated ‘70,000 people were killed’ (Wilkinson, 2013) during President Calderon’s six-year term. Thousands of Mexican citizens, ‘possibly as many as 20,000 have disappeared, never to be heard from again’ (Wilkinson, 2013). The state security and law enforcement forces in Mexico have participated in the kidnappings and disappearances of a large number of these missing citizens and yet nobody has been held accountable. The government’s ‘failure to investigate most cases only compounds the atrocity’ (Wilkinson, 2013) and highlights the disparity between the praise heaped on Mexico by President Obama and the U.S Ambassador for its human rights track record and what is actually going on in the country.
The celebration of failed policies in Mexico, by the United States government, will do nothing to help Mexico ‘break out of this cycle of violence and lawlessness’ (HRW, 2011). The action required by both governments is to put a stop to human rights violations in Mexico and to prevent any further atrocities taking place. They have to take responsibility for their actions, tactics and practices and above all else they have to investigate and prosecute those officials who commit human rights violations. Human Rights Watch has been documenting human rights abuses linked to ‘drug enforcement laws, policies and practices’ (HRW) for more than a decade. They highlight the fact that ‘drug control efforts result in serious human rights abuses’ (HRW) including ‘torture, ill-treatment by police, extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detention’ (HRW). It is evident from their research that some governments, including Mexico seem to have justified the widespread human rights abuses in the name of fighting a drug war.
One example of the torture being carried out by the Mexican authorities was documented in a newspaper article for the Huffington Post in 2011. It recalls how Israel Arzate Melendez was ‘snatched off the street’ (Corcoran, 2011) by Mexican soldiers. He was taken to an unnamed location were the soldiers gave him ‘electric shocks, asphyxiated him and threatened that his wife would be raped and killed unless he admitted to a role in one of Mexico’s most infamous cases of drug violence’ (Corcoran, 2011). When Arzate told a Mexican judge that he was tortured into ‘falsely confessing’ (Corcoran, 2011) to a role in the 2010 massacre of 15 teens at a party in Ciudad Juarez, she responded by telling him that his account was ‘too detailed to be fabricated’ (Corcoran, 2011). This case with Arzate was among dozens more cited by Human Rights Watch that criticises Mexico’s human rights record in its war against drugs.
4.3 Impact of war on drugs on human rights
The overwhelming issue affecting Mexican human rights is undoubtedly the increase in violence and murders since 2006. According to the General Attorney’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República-PGR), there were ‘12,456 homicides in 2010, and a cumulative of 30,196 homicides since December 2006’ (Amnesty International, 2011) when Felipe Calderón became president of Mexico. The reason for this increase in violence and murder is linked to the tactics used by President Calderon, mainly his deployment of military forces to combat drug cartels. Human Rights Watch found evidence to suggest that members of all branches of the security forces have carried out ‘enforced disappearances: the Army, the Navy, and the federal and local police’ (HRW, 2011). In some cases, such as a series of more than 20 enforced disappearances by Navy personnel in June and July 2011 in Nuevo León and Tamaulipas, the ‘common modus operandi of the crimes, the scale of the operations, and the inconsistent accounts by the Navy suggest the crimes may have been planned and coordinated’ (HRW, 2011). These forced disappearances are not random acts of violence by government personnel, but methodical and meticulous tactics employed to cause disruption to the drug trade. They show little regard for human rights and highlight the hypocrisy of the Mexican government, who have been so keen to be involved in world affairs and human rights issues, such as those discussed earlier in this paper to do with Libya.
The alarming fact is that Mexican state agents have collaborated directly with drug cartels and according to Human Rights Watch, in over 60 cases they operated alongside or on behalf of these organised crime groups to ‘disappear people and extort payments from their families’ (HRW, 2011). For example, evidence indicates that local police in Pesquería, Nuevo León ‘arbitrarily detained 19 construction workers in May 2011 and handed them over to an organized crime group’ (HRW, 2013). President Calderón’s militarisation strategy has resulted in accusations such as these, which are a serious breach of human rights. The military tactics used in the war on drugs has created an environment in which human rights violations can occur and rather than strengthening public security in Mexico, President Calderón’s war has ‘exacerbated a climate of violence, lawlessness, and fear in many parts of the country’ (Rawlins, 2011). In December 2006 the military were deployed in Mexico, including ‘6,500 troops to battle drug traffickers in Michoacan’ (Washington Post, 2012).
This marked a major escalation of the government’s campaign against the cartels. Today, ‘50,000 troops patrol Mexico’s streets and highways’ (Washington Post, 2012). But this influx of military presence has had little impact on the drug trade itself. Instead of diminishing the cartels’ presence, in many instances President Calderón’s strategy has amplified drug-related violence. According to the Mexican government’s figures, as of September 2012, a ‘total of 47,515 people have been killed in drug-related violence’ (Rawlins, 2011) since President Calderón began his military assault on criminal cartels. Since 2006, more than ‘3,000 Mexican soldiers and police have been killed by the cartels’ (Rawlins, 2011). Instead of reducing violence, Mexico’s drug war has resulted in a dramatic increase in ‘killings, torture, and other appalling abuses’ (Vivanco, 2013) by security forces. Yet, Anthony Wayne, the U.S Ambassador to Mexico celebrated the countries human rights achievements. It has been said that it is ‘hard to imagine a less appropriate time for such undeserved praise’ (Vivanco, 2013).
To highlight the issue of disappearances, Mexico’s attorney general has compiled a list showing that ‘more than 25,000 adults and children have gone missing in Mexico in the past six years’ (Booth, 2012). The data sets submitted by state prosecutors and ‘vetted by the federal government but never released to the public’ (Booth, 2012), chronicle the disappearance of tens of thousands of people in the chaos and violence that have enveloped Mexico during its fight against cartels. The names on the list — many more than in previous, nongovernment estimates — are ‘recorded in Microsoft Excel columns, along with the dates they disappeared, their ages, the clothes they were wearing, their jobs and a few brief, often chilling, details’ (Booth, 2012). The list offers a rare glimpse of the running tally the Mexican government has been keeping, and it confirms what human rights activists and families of the missing have been saying: that Mexico has seen an explosion in the number of such cases and that the government appears to be doing very little to stop them. The list provides clear evidence that thousands of Mexicans have gone missing and that the government knew about them’ (HRW, 2012) but has done next to nothing in attempting to prevent them happening or to fully investigate the incidents.
The violence, brutality and human rights violations are not solely being perpetrated by Mexican law enforcement agencies. The conflict between the cartels also causes widespread atrocities. An example of this violence was in 2011, when forty nine torsos were found along a Mexican highway in the northern city of Monterrey. The headless torsos of forty three men and six women were found early on a Sunday morning along a stretch of highway between the U.S. border and Monterrey. The killings are part of an ever escalating series of horrific mass killings among warring drug gangs in Mexico. The atrocity was attributed to the Zetas drug cartel who ‘scrawled a message on a banner’ (Miroff, 2012) left with the victims. The message included ‘threats to Mexican authorities and the Zetas’ main criminal rivals, the Gulf cartel and Sinaloa cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’ (Miroff, 2012). Mexico’s presidential candidates have campaigned in the area, which is less than 75 miles from the U.S. border, on pledges that they will halt the violence that has turned Monterrey, ‘the once-safe industrial capital of northern Mexico, into a gangster horror show’ (Miroff, 2012). This gangster horror show has witnessed Monterrey’s renowned business community being ‘besieged by kidnappers and extortionists’ (Miroff, 2012) and the threat to the city is so great that it risks ‘becoming a drag on the entire Mexican economy’ (Miroff, 2012). This highlights the issues of violence impacting upon the lives of ordinary Mexican citizens. A once-safe industrial region has now become a lawless bandit town, where cartels display and exert extreme brutality and violence, all in the name of increasing their profitable trade. This show of strength and defiance by hanging forty nine torsos on a high way, demonstrates the mind set of cartels such as the Zetas. They are showing contempt for the Mexican government’s drug war and they are demonstrating in a very public manner, that they are capable of executing any potential rivals to their trafficking business.
Another area which has been badly affected by the drug was has been Ciudad Juarez. Since 2008, more than 10,000 people have died there, making the city ‘one of the most murderous places on Earth’ (Washington Post, 2012). The drug war has escalated in terms of the death toll, but it has also expanded in terms of tactics and technology. Experts have revealed that a car bomb that exploded near the U.S. border in Ciudad Juarez was a ‘sophisticated device never before seen in Mexico, triggered by a cell phone’ (Washington Post, 2012) after police and medical workers were lured to the scene. This tactic of employing improvised explosive devices shows the sophistication of some of the cartels operating in Mexico. They are employing guerrilla tactics more akin with Iraq and Afghanistan than the streets of Latin America.
In San Fernando, an hour south of the Texas border, gunmen from the Zetas drug cartel abducted and murdered seventy two migrants at a ranch near the town. The massacre draws ‘new attention to the horrors facing U.S.-bound migrants, mostly from Central America’ (Washington Post, 2012) who are increasingly being preyed upon by criminal gangs, as they attempt to cross Mexico. The cross-border flow of money and guns into Mexico from the United States has enabled these well-armed and well-funded cartels to engage in such violent activities. They employ ‘advanced military tactics and utilize sophisticated weaponry such as sniper rifles, grenades, rocket-propelled grenades and even mortars’ (INCS, 2012) in attacks on security personnel. Drug trafficking organisations have openly challenged the government security agencies, through a series of armed conflict and intimidation. They have also fought amongst themselves to control key drug distribution routes. The results of this conflict have led to ‘unprecedented violence and a general sense of insecurity in certain areas of the country’ (INCS, 2012) particularly near the U.S. border. Between January and September 2009, there were ‘5,874 drug-related murders in Mexico, an almost 5 per cent increase over 2008 (5,600)’ (INCS, 2012).
The figures make for startling reading and demonstrate how the money being generated in the illegal drug trade in Mexico is being used to keep the cartels in control and to keep them one step ahead of the government law enforcement agencies. Just as the Mexican government has employed technology and weapons purchased or received in aid from the United States, so have the cartels. As much as ‘80 per cent of the 150,000 weapons confiscated’ (Vivanco, 2013) by Mexican authorities, were purchased in U.S. gun shops. As long as the drug trade continues in its current form, so will the gun trade. The Mexican cartels will continually update their arsenal and the supply chain for these weapons starts in the United States of America.
The analysis of Mexico’s human rights record demonstrates that they are fundamentally failing to ‘honour and protect the human dignity’ (Carey et al, 2010: 18) of each of its citizens. It is evident that freedom from torture, ‘arguably the most widely recognized and universally accepted’ (Carey et al, 2010: 73) human rights, is being denied to a lot of Mexican citizens. This is again linked to the tactics employed by the government and the cartels in the on-going drug war. Torture is a daily part of the drug war and it contravenes many of the symbolic treaties Mexico signed and helped to install in international politics.
Human rights are relevant to our day to day life and they protect our freedom to control our own life. As a citizen we effectively take part in decisions made by public authorities, who impact upon our rights, but in doing so we should expect to get fair and equal services from these public authorities and institutions. These expectations are not being met by the Mexican government and they are certainly not providing the core principles of human rights such as dignity, fairness, equality, respect and autonomy. These fundamental rights and freedoms, set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be shared by all human beings and they should not be restricted or denied as result of a war on drugs. It is absurd to witness the continuation and escalation of this war, decade after decade, and as the years go by it becomes more apparent that it is a war that seems impossible to win. The figures relating to the death toll, showing the number of deaths in 2010 as representing ‘41.2% of the total number of homicides since 2006’ (Amnesty International, 2013) demonstrates the huge increase in murders in Mexico. The figures are increasing year on year and proving that the military presence in Mexico is having a detrimental effect on human rights. As the army and police improve their defence technology, so do the cartels. This evolution of new weaponry and technology shows no signs of halting. The access to weapons will continue to increase and the bloodshed and murder rates will also increase. There has to come a point, where the Mexican government has to seriously evaluate if they can justify continuing this war on drugs.
The reports of serious human rights violations committed by members of the military, federal, state and municipal police forces cannot be ignored. The high risk of abduction, kidnapping, murder, abuse and extortion by corrupt Mexican officials and drug cartels all relates to the illegal trade in drugs. The money at stake for the traffickers ensures that these human rights violations will continue, as there is too much profit to make, to worry about human rights records.
The job of defending and protecting human rights can also be a life-threatening existence in Mexico. Amnesty International reports that ‘scores of activists have suffered death threats, intimidation, and harassment’ (AI, 2013) in the last few years in Mexico. The report claims that some of the human rights activists have ‘been killed for doing their job’ (Amnesty International, 2013). This proves how difficult it is to protect human rights in Mexico and to campaign for them in safe environment. The Mexican authorities have at least recognised that adopting and implementing an ‘effective and comprehensive protection programme (mecanismo de protección)’ (Amnesty International, 2013) as requested by human rights defenders, is paramount. However, they are yet to ‘fulfil their promise’ (Amnesty International, 2013). It seems that the Mexican government have adopted a suitable programme to protect human rights activists, but this is all very well, if they do not follow through with implementing it. The same can be said for their involvement in the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is all very well signing a treaty; it is another thing entirely in terms of commitment to upholding the terms and conditions of it, and demonstrating positive actions in protecting the cornerstones of the human rights treaties.
The overall failure by the Mexican government to uphold and protect Articles of the Universal declaration of human rights, including Article 9 ‘no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile’ (UN, 1948) and Article 12 ‘Everyone has the right to protection of the law against such interference and attacks’ (UN, 1948) demonstrates how poor their human rights record actually is. They are falling way short of basic expectations in accordance with the United Nations. These human rights are part of the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world and they are being denied to Mexican citizens, as a result of a war on drugs.
One of the main reasons for this failure is that military abuses persist, because soldiers who commit human rights violations against civilians are almost never brought to justice. Such cases continue to be investigated and prosecuted under military jurisdiction, despite rulings by Mexico’s Supreme Court and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that civilian prosecutors and courts should handle military abuses. The Military Prosecutor’s Office ‘opened 3,671 investigations into human rights violations committed by the army against civilians from 2007 to June 2011’ (HRW, 2012) and yet only ‘15 soldiers were convicted’ (HRW, 2012) during that period. These figures prove there is no real deterrent for the military to stop committing human rights violations. As long as the conviction rates remain so low, the temptation to commit violations will always outweigh the threat of punishment. The military forces basically have not much to lose in their campaign; they are relatively free to do as they please in order to try and disrupt the drug trade and its traffickers.
Chapter 5: Conclusion
The research carried out in this paper indicates that the Mexican government has failed to protect the human rights of its citizens. The fateful war Mexico is fighting against drug cartels and traffickers, which has cost more than 50,000 lives in the past six years has been a catastrophic failure. President Calderon said he had hoped to “make Mexico a rule-of-law state, where the police and judiciary are effective and incorruptible” (Calderon, 2011). In reality the use of military force has created a corrupt and lawless state, where both sides are committing human rights violations and both are feeding off the lucrative drug trade.
The physical integrity rights, based on the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which refers to the right to be ‘free from political violence and terror, such as torture, arbitrary imprisonment and extrajudicial killings’ (Carey et al, 2010: 107) are not being upheld in Mexico. The drug control policies and legislation are not allowing them to be upheld, as the power is shared between the government forces and the cartels. The citizens, who are literally caught in the crossfire, are the ones who are really suffering as a result of this war on drugs. All of the human rights violations and abuses discussed in this paper have been committed in the name of fighting a war on drugs. The broader view of the tactics used, might curry favour in some circles, but the bottom line is they are not producing results.
If the government had been successful in eliminating the drug trade and the traffickers in Mexico, then perhaps there could be some justification for a short term, but rather heavy handed approach. However this has not been the case. The drug war has raged on for decades and the same tactics initially employed by the Mexican government in the 1970s, fully supported and funded by the United States of America, are still being used to this day.
The fact that these human rights violations have been allowed to continue, with little damnation from the United States, including from President Obama, shows America is more interested in attacking the source of the problem. This notion that the drug trade will simply cease, by eradicating the crops and disrupting the supply of drugs is obsolete, when faced with the facts that the drug trade from Mexico to the United States is a multi-billion dollar industry. This industry has evolved from the first drug networks made up of small family-based groups who smuggled drugs and other contraband across the U.S. border to a lucrative trade operating on a wide scale and employing tens of thousands of people. The landscape of the drug trade in Mexico, from its small beginnings was ‘changed drastically’ (Youngers & Rosin, 2005: 263) in the mid-1908s. Ironically this change came as a result of a ‘major U.S. interdiction effort to shut down Florida.’ (Youngers &Rosin, 2005: 263). At that time, Florida was the main entry point for Columbian cocaine and when one border crossing was on lockdown, they simply rerouted their product through Mexico. As a result of strict drug enforcement at one section of the U.S. border, it allowed the trade to flourish at another. The Columbian traffickers took advantage of Mexico’s 2,000 mile border with the United States and so began a shift in the landscape, from small time producers, to major players in the drug trafficking business. This shows how limited success in one part of combating drug trafficking simply allows it to move elsewhere and continue to thrive.
The Mexican cartels that prospered as a result of the cocaine trade have gone on to develop into sophisticated and powerful organisations. They were ‘enriched and emboldened’ (Youngers & Rosin, 2005: 264) by the lucrative cocaine trade. It is ironic to think that this early rise to prominence was as a result of government tactics to stop drug trafficking. It highlights how the disruption of the trade merely allows it to prosper elsewhere. This prosperous business in Mexico has led to the escalation in violence and has left a ‘trail of intimidation, terror and bloodshed’ (Youngers & Rosin, 2005: 263) in its wake.
This paper has examined this trail of bloodshed and terror, left in the wake of the drug war and shows how the U.S. policies toward Mexico have not had a discernible impact on the amount of drugs entering the country. The policies have in fact become ‘obstacles to consolidating democracy and protecting human rights’ (Youngers & Rosin, 2005: 264). Just like the 1980s campaign against Columbian cocaine, the drug policies are failing, but no one from the U.S. or Mexican governments seems willing to admit this fact. The few successes of the drug war, including the capturing of major traffickers have failed to really make a significant dent in the flow of illegal drugs from Mexico to the United States. When the trade is disrupted by an arrest, the power simply shifts to another cartel or major player in the drug trade. There is always someone or some group willing to fill the gap that is left by an arrest. The simple fact is there is so much money involved in the drug trade and the rewards for continuing the trade far outweigh the negatives for the cartels.
This paper has examined the fact that human rights abuses have become an institutionalised part of Mexican society. It condemns the fact that torture is ‘habitual and is used systematically’ (HRW, 1990) as a resource in criminal investigations. It also criticises the fact it is so easy for the police and military personnel to arrest people and to torture them. The objective was to demonstrate that human rights violations are taking place in Mexico, this paper has shown this to be the case with evidence from Human Rights Watch and other publications who cite individual accounts of violations. One of the sad realisations that have been garnered from this research is that not only are human rights violations taking place in Mexico, they actually seem to be commonplace. They are accepted as part and parcel of the on-going war on drugs and this is a wholly unacceptable justification for perpetrating them.
The investigations by Human Rights Watch and the journalists in Mexico and the United States, which show the military corruption scandals and the lack of oversight and accountability within their ranks has gone someway to proving that corruption in Mexico is also linked to the drug trade. This was one of the objectives of this paper, in the hope it would call into question the benefits of continuing a war on drugs in Mexico. The research carried out on corruption proves that the drug trade has permeated its way into all levels of society.
The overall findings are that human rights violations have occurred and will continue to occur in Mexico. The evidence from previous wars to combat the drug trade suggests that perhaps in today’s world, there is a need to rethink and reshape policy. Mexico is not winning the war on drugs and this paper has demonstrated that it is a futile exercise to continue with the same policies. It is time to implement change in Mexico and the evidence supported in this paper suggests a radical rethink is required by the government.
5.3 Future Work
The limitations of this work are that government sources and information is difficult to access. This paper would be improved by having access to more official government documents and reports, both from Mexico and the United States concerning the war on drugs and human rights in Mexico. The initial research from sources such as Human Rights Watch have inspired a desire to find out more about human rights violations in Mexico and to fully examine the war on drugs, not just in Mexico and Latin America, but on a global scale. The scope for applying this research to other countries is one that will be developed, in order to better understand the war on drugs in global terms.
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