Friendly Fire

Sending soldiers to do the job of police has led to widespread abusesA cure worse than the disease? ISRAEL ARZATE was walking to his home in Ciudad Juárez in February 2010 when a truck pulled up. Two men forced him into the back seat. When they got out, he says, they blindfolded him, made him strip, and applied electric shocks before suffocating him with a plastic bag. He finally broke when they told him that without his co-operation, his wife would be found “dumped and raped in an empty lot”.Gangsters rich on drug profits have brought hell to Juárez, a dusty border city full of such grim tales. Yet Mr Arzate’s alleged torturers were not criminals but soldiers. As part of a crackdown on organised crime, Felipe Calderón, the president, has sent 50,000 troops to police the streets of Mexico. They have helped to kill or capture some of the country’s most wanted kingpins. But poorly trained and under pressure to get results, some have resorted to the same tactics as the criminals.Complaints against the army have soared. In the four years to 2006, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) received 691 such accusations. In the next four years, following the troops’ deployment, it received 4,803. Officials admit that many cases go unreported. On November 9th, Human Rights Watch (HRW), a lobby, presented evidence of the police and army’s role in 24 extrajudicial killings, 39 disappearances and 170 cases of torture since December 2006—all in just five of Mexico’s 31 states. “Rather than strengthening public security in Mexico, Calderón’s ‘war’ has exacerbated a climate of violence, lawlessness and fear,” it said.Not everyone wants the troops out: soldiers patrol only at state governments’ request, notes Felipe Zamora, the undersecretary for human rights. And despite the violence, Mr Calderón has not exercised his option to suspend some human rights by declaring a state of emergency, he says.Still, the government has shown little interest in prosecuting offenders. Rogue soldiers have operated with impunity, partly because investigations against them are run by secret military tribunals even when the alleged crime is against a civilian. The number of investigations carried out by the army rose from 210 in 2007 to 1,293 in 2009, according to HRW. But so far only 29 soldiers have been convicted.That partly reflects the glacial pace of justice. Raúl Plascencia, head of the CNDH, is critical of the army’s investigations, but says that many are still open and may yet yield convictions. On November 4th a military tribunal sentenced 14 soldiers to long jail terms for a checkpoint shooting that killed five women and children in 2007.Better still would be to bring soldiers into the civilian legal system. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has declared Mexico’s military tribunals illegal four times. In July the country’s own Supreme Court ruled in agreement. But the tribunals go on. Mr Zamora says that changing the law is a “high priority”. But Mr Calderón himself has suggested placing only some crimes under civilian jurisdiction, leaving others—including extrajudicial execution—to the army. With the war going badly, the government seems in no hurry to expose soldiers’ wrongdoing.Brushing such problems under the carpet will ultimately be counter-productive. The government’s biggest task, Mr Zamora says, is to “rebuild the social fabric” of the country. For people like Mr Arzate, still behind bars following his “confession” to helping a drug gang massacre teenagers, faith in society will be hard to restore.

Dejar un comentario

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada. Los campos obligatorios están marcados con *