Todos Somos Juarez?

Maureen Meyer
Tuesday, October 19, 2010

todossomosjuarezOn October 12, 2010, Mexican president Felipe Calderon traveled to Ciudad Juarez to attend a meeting evaluating the “Todos Somos Juarez” program which was announced seven months ago as a way to “rebuild” the violence-plagued city. Far from receiving praise during his visit, where Calderon inaugurated a mental health hospital and a public park as part of “Todos Somos Juarez,” the president was confronted with widespread protests from journalists and citizens. As one student commented, “Calderon is coming to open a psychiatric center when he is the creator of our psychosis. How does he dare to show his face?”  

While Ciudad Juarez is by no means the only city in Mexico ravaged by violence, it continues to be one of the most visible examples of the Mexican government’s failed security strategy to combat organized crime in the country. Although the Federal Police replaced the military as the lead body responsible for security in Juarez last April, the situation has continued to deteriorate and drug-related killings in October already top 200, putting it in place to be the most violent month on record. In the past week alone, five children, one as young as one year old, were found abandoned on the street or at day care centers when their parents failed to pick them up – their parents had been “levantados” (taken away) and subsequently killed by criminal groups.

The security crisis in Ciudad Juarez and other parts of Mexico underscores the need for a dramatic shift in strategy to implement long-term solutions to the historic institutional weaknesses in Mexico that have contributed to the expansion of the drug trade in the country. One essential element of this strategy should be gaining public trust in the law enforcement and military bodies that are supposed to protect the citizenry.  Currently it is estimated that only 25% of crimes are reported in Mexico and that of these, only 2% ever result in a conviction of the person responsible.  

A new report by the Washington Office on Latin America and the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center (Center Prodh), “Abused and Afraid in Ciudad Juarez,” provides a snapshot of how deploying security forces without the necessary controls only undermines efforts to combat drug trafficking and enhance citizen security. The report highlights five cases of human rights abuses committed by Mexican soldiers deployed in the city in the context of the largest counter-drug operation in Mexico, “Joint Operation Chihuahua.” It argues that instead of decreasing violence and increasing citizen trust in the security forces, the widespread abuses perpetrated by the military – including forced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary detentions –  undermine security efforts in the city and decrease the population’s willingness to collaborate in the struggle against any type of crime.  

There are clearly public security challenges facing Mexico, but these do not justify the use of illegal tactics by law enforcement agencies and the military against the population.   As a way to combat impunity and strengthen the rule of law in the country, the Mexican government should hold members of the military and the police accountable for the human rights violations they commit and increase its efforts to strengthen the police and criminal justice system. Mexico needs effective police and judiciaries, free from corruption, to be able to identify, prosecute and punish criminals so that the population trusts, not fears, the government bodies responsible for protecting them.

Maureen Meyer is the Associate for Mexico and Central America at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and one of the authors of  “Abused and Afraid in Ciudad Juarez,” a report by the Washington Office on Latin America and the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center (Center Prodh).