US-Trained Mexican Troops go Unpunished for Human Rights Violations

A Mexican marine stands by the body of a gunman after shots were exchanged in the city of Culiacan on Feb. 7, 2017. The Sinaloa state prosecutor’s office said the men attacked the marines, leaving one of them dead/Photo: Rashide Frias - AP
US-Trained Mexican Troops go Unpunished for Human Rights Violations

A study published Tuesday by the advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has revealed the woeful inadequacy of the Mexican government in pursuing cases of human rights violations committed by soldiers against civilians — in spite of recent reforms that allow such cases to be heard by civilian, rather than military, courts. According to its website, WOLA is “a leading research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas.”

WOLA’s report, titled “Overlooking Justice: Human Rights Violations Committed by Mexican Soldiers Against Civilians are Met with Impunity,” examined data made available by Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR). The data showed clearly that the vast majority of investigations, even those in which abundant evidence exists to show proof of wrongdoing, fail to result in punishments for those accused of abuses of human rights, such as extrajudicial killings, torture, kidnappings and the use of excessive force. In all, only 16 of the 505 criminal investigations PGR launched between 2012 and 2016 ended with a conviction.

Furthermore, of those 505 cases, only two involved commanding officers — with the vast majority examining the conduct of rank-and-file soldiers, many of whom claim to have been following the orders of their superiors. WOLA cited this trend as a strong indication that Mexico’s military leadership operates with relative impunity.

The WOLA study also found that the PGR put minimal effort into amassing the evidence needed to successfully prosecute cases, suggesting that many were set up to fail. In addition, it found numerous examples of the Mexican military intervening in cases by limiting civilian access to testimony or by altering crime scenes — actions which further derailed investigations into potential abuses.

Ximena Suárez, WOLA’s Associate for Mexico and lead author of the report, stated in a press release:

Civilian oversight of the military is essential to any democracy, yet the PGR has failed to hold the military accountable for human rights violations. This is particularly important given the government’s reliance on soldiers to patrol streets and take the leading role in the fight against organized crime.”

In response to the report, the Mexican government defended its rights record.

A government statement, cited by the Associated Press, said that the PGR is working toward “structural and institutional changes to put an end to impunity and pursue human-rights violations” through the creation of special investigative units and that the Mexican military would undergo increased human-rights training.

Major U.S. funding related to its “wars” on drugs and terrorism

As Suárez noted, Mexico in recent years — since former Mexican president Felipe Calderón authorized an “all-out war” on drug cartels in 2006 — has become particularly reliant on its military for its controversial crackdown on drug gangs as well as for general policing activity. This “war” — claiming over 23,000 lives last year alone — has continued under the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, despite drawing criticism that it has militarized the streets of Mexico and actually worsened the situation. Current legislation being considered by the Mexican Congress would further expand the Mexican military’s role in matters of public security, while further weakening the civilian justice system.

The Mexican military, despite its high body-count since the drug war began and its tendency to commit human rights violations against civilians, continues to enjoy strong support from the United States.

Since 2008, the U.S. Department of Defense has given over $521 million in assistance to the Mexican military via its Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program and Section 1004 Counter-Drug Assistance Program. In addition, over the course of the drug war, the U.S. military has overseen and paid for the training of large parts of the Mexican military — a program that has increased in recent years, jumping from $3 million in 2009 to $15 million in 2013. Between 2010 and 2015, the U.S. military taught 7,678 elite courses to nearly 9,000 members of the Mexican military, at an estimated cost of $60 million. These courses have covered a wide range of topics, including sniper training, explosives, and psychological operations (psyops).

The U.S. government has also funded the other side of the conflict, having allowed the sale of more than $1.25 million worth of guns to the Mexican Sinaloa cartel in a failed sting operation known as “Fast and Furious.”

In addition, to support from the U.S. government, the U.S. corporate media has also been supportive of the Mexican military, even when it has been caught committing extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses. A 2016 article from The New York Times stated that some consider extrajudicial killings committed by the military a “form of pragmatism,” as the armed forces “cannot rely on the shaky legal system” to properly prosecute those suspected of drug trafficking.

CBS News last year stated that “Mexico’s armed forces have increasingly been pulled into the conflict because police forces are often corrupt or unreliable. That has had its own toll on the troops, who are frequently ambushed and accused of illegally executing detained cartel suspects in some cases.” CBS failed to note that the same police forces that are “corrupt or unreliable” have also been trained, in many cases, by the U.S. government.

The substantial support the Mexican military received from the U.S. is second only, within Latin America, to that received by Colombia. Like the Mexican military, the Colombian military – trained and funded to a large degree by the United States via “Plan Colombia” — has also been exposed as serially violating human rights of Colombian civilians and sharing corrupt connections to drug traffickers, even taking part in the drug trade themselves. Indeed, the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP) has described the Colombian military as being among “the biggest heroin and cocaine trading institutions” in the world. Colombian military officials have also assisted in training the Mexican military in recent years.

Ultimately, the U.S.’ aid and support for the Mexican military is likely to continue – regardless of whether the military’s human rights abuses continue to go unpunished or not. For much of the past century, the U.S. has repeatedly provided aid to militaries and paramilitary groups throughout Latin America that have partaken in grave human rights abuses as well as genocide.

Yet, despite the abuses, U.S. aid to Latin America has only grown, particularly since the advent of the U.S.’ War on Drugs in Latin America. As MintPress News has previously noted, however, the consequence of this war – as opposed to decreasing drug trafficking – has instead concentrated it in the hands of a wealthy oligarchy that supports the U.S.’ ambitions for dominance of the region.

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