Security forces in the Mexican government may have been cooperating to facilitate hundreds of “enforced disappearances” of citizens as part of the failing struggle to rein in drug gangs, according to a new report.
Mexico has been steeped in a conflict with drug cartels for the last six years, resulting in the death of over 50,000 Mexican civilians. During the course of that conflict, hundreds of civilians have gone missing — or “disappeared” — and are presumed to be dead. Prominent NGO Human Rights Watch, in their report titled “Mexico’s Disappeared: The Enduring Cost of a Legacy Ignored,” alleges that the government of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón has not only failed to bring disappearances under control, but actively taken part in some instances:
Human Rights Watch has documented nearly 250 such “disappearances” that have occurred since 2007. In more than 140 of these cases, evidence suggests that these were enforced disappearances—meaning that state agents participated directly in the crime, or indirectly through support or acquiescence. These crimes were committed by members of every security force involved in public security operations, sometimes acting in conjunction with organized crime. In the remaining cases, we were not able to determine based on available evidence whether state actors participated in the crime, though they may have.
The report goes on to describe several of those disappearances in-depth, including the beatings by local police, detentions by federal police, and possible shootings ordered by the Navy. Calderon’s war on the cartels did not go as planned, with actions to rein in fighting between organized crime rings instead leading to greater bloodshed. By conquering all elements of crime and supplanting the government, the Zetas — the largest of the cartels — currently controls the third-largest state in Mexico.
In the end, Human Rights Watch urged newly sworn-in President Peña Nieto to take action to reverse the policies of his predecessor. “While disappearances may have started on Calderón’s watch, they did not end with his term,” Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco said in a release. In a visit to the White House in November, Nieto pledged to reduce violence within his country, without offering details on how.
Instability in Mexico is finally making its way into the politics of the United States, though in the context of border security and immigration reform rather than the war on drugs. During a town hall meeting, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) faced down a constituent who said invading Mexico was necessary to “clean up the cartels.” Despite the worries of many conservatives, the achieved nearly all of the targets for border enforcement in 2007, with 81 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border now meeting one of the top three levels of “operational control” by U.S. enforcement officials.