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article imageOp-Ed: Mexico — 1st place for worst human rights developments 2014 Special

By Glen Olives     Dec 19, 2014 in World
Chihuahua - In its December 16 report, Freedom House says developments in Mexico for human rights the worst, citing the recent murder of 43 students by corrupt officials in cahoots with drug gangs. This Digital Journalist based in Mexico tells you why.
For those that follow international news on human rights, and even for those who don't, we've all heard something about what transpired in Mexico's Guerrero State back in September of this year: 43 university students from Ayotzinapa, studying to be teachers in their rural communities, were abducted and killed in Iguala where they planned a protest about lack of funding for their school.
The ensuing investigation uncovered that their protest was to coincide — quite by accident — with a speech given by the local mayor’s wife, which apparently didn’t sit very well with her. The mayor ordered the police to detain the students, which they did, before handing them over to a local drug gang. The gang executed them and burned their bodies at a landfill, later dumping them into a local river.
The news hit everyone hard, Mexicans and expats alike; it was a collective punch in the gut, especially since with the election of Enrique Peña Nieto as the new President, the narco war had been noticeably quieter. People were asking themselves, “What have we become?” “Who are we as a nation?” The mood, especially in the state of Guerrero and in Mexico City, was palpably somber. Then, after people caught their collective breaths, massive protests erupted. The response to the righteously indignant protesters by some Mexican legislators was to call for a law amending the Constitution and banning public protest.
This is what led to Freedom House's recent condemnation of of human rights abuses in Mexico as being the worst development in 2014.
Since 2006, over 120,000 people have been murdered in Mexico's narco wars, and more than 25,000 disappeared, presumed dead. More combatant casualties than the decades-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. As a university professor for more than 10 years in the State of Chihuahua, at the very heart of the war, I have seen it up close.
My first direct experience with Mexico's narco wars came on one idle summer day in 2011. I was returning home from an insufferably boring faculty meeting, my tie loosened, the air conditioning full-blast in my little Seat Cordoba, waiting at the traffic light on an overpass only a few kilometers from my house. I could taste the ice-cold Indio beer waiting for me. A Jeep pulled up directly in front of me, blocking the intersection. A man wearing a black ski mask exited the back holding an AK-47. He unloaded a full magazine into the VW Jetta waiting at the light in front of me. I saw the wide-eyed surprise of the two young male passengers, the half-second of hesitation, the ‘Oh Shit’ moment just before the bullets’ impact. I slunk down low in my seat and turned to look straight ahead, barely able to see above the steering wheel. My heart suddenly pounding. Another volley erupted–presumably a second clip was emptied — and the Jeep was gone. It couldn’t have taken more than 10 seconds. Nothing to be done, no available escape, only the brief fiery fear that a stray bullet might part my head as clean as a machete could a coconut. The light turned green and I accelerated. In the rear-view mirror I could see cars driving around the Jetta as if it were occupied by a couple of hapless motorists who ran out of gas.
Then there was the bloody body in the street I encountered just outside of Wal-Mart so freshly killed the police had not arrived yet and no crowds had the time to gather. There were the two hours locked inside a convenience store on a late-night run for cigarettes because a gun battle had erupted outside. When another midday firefight broke out in the parking lot of a strip mall where my wife’s family owns a store, our kids were almost trampled by people running for safety. The only casualties were a dead policeman and a bullet hole my brother in laws’ delivery truck.
For many years there was a tacit understanding between the Mexican government and the various drug cartels, a sort of tolerated symbiosis. Though this is somewhat of an oversimplification, the agreement more-or-less consisted of the government occasionally arresting a top cartel leader and interdicting drugs headed for the border, in exchange for the cartels keeping their cool. There was always some violence between competing cartels, and between various state and federal police agencies and cartels, but the grease of corruption kept this to a minimally acceptable level.
But then the conservative National Action Party (Partido Accion Nacional or PAN) candidate, Felipe Caldarón, won the 2006 presidential election, and made good on his promise to clean up corruption and rid Mexico of the drug cartels. The results were entirely predictable: assassinations at traffic lights, on the street, at car washes, in bars and restaurants, became a daily occurrence. Massacres of dozens of people at single locations became common. Running gun battles now included grenades and rockets. Mexicans who had the financial means moved into gated neighborhoods, or out of the country altogether (providing a real estate boom in El Paso, Texas during the economic meltdown of 2008).
On December 17 my article "Good Politics, Bad Policy: Our Disastrous War on Drugs" was published in The Baffler, in which I recount a brief history of America's War on Drugs, and more importantly, why it is so asinine, outrageously expensive and inarguably counterproductive. (It is a distillation of sorts of a much longer academic article to be published this month by the National Autonomous University of Mexico, "Slowly Learning the Hard Way: America's War on Drugs and Implications for Mexico.")
Smokes marijuana
Smokes marijuana
File photo by Foxtongue
The thesis of that paper, far too long to even synopsize here, is that America's War on Drugs, resulting in the U.S. having the highest prison population of any country in the world and costing over a trillion dollars since 1971, is an abomination of public policy of epic proportions. Not only has the rate of drug use remained essentially unchanged since the War on Drugs began in earnest in 1972, one could hardly expect that in Mexico where some 40 percent of the population live below the poverty line, and where the police are so poorly paid, would be able to effectively curtail an industry which is the world's most lucrative business market, accounting for revenue of around $300 billion dollars annually.
Freedom House was correct in its estimation that one of the worst human rights developments for 2014 belongs to Mexico.
I only argue that the United States should have been included as well.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about human rights mexico, drug war violence mexico, War on drugs
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