By Chris Covert
A post at the AnimalPolitico.com blog by Catalina Perez Correa last week detailed the circumstances by which 44 inmates at a prison in Apodaca, Nuevo Leon were killed allegedly by Los Zetas operatives.
According to the post, the deaths were not a brawl, but rather a deliberate and calculated massacre planned by prison officials and executed by Los Zetas operatives, who were then allowed to escape. The new information emerged from what Ms Perez Correa described as bits of information gathered from disparate sources, electronic mostly which painted a mosaic of treachery by prison officials in collusion with criminals.
The official explanation of the Apodaca prison massacre, lamented Ms. Perez Correa, "seems sufficient to overlap the incompetence in the best-of-the authorities and at worst, complicity..."
Unwittingly, Ms. Perez Correa has provided an insight into the problem of the nexus between government officials in the pay of organized crime and government officials unwilling to entertain the possibility of criminal conduct. It is a strong match to the attitude of a Non-Government Organization report released last week.
The United Nations Mexico report on forced disappearances released ten days ago doesn't just underscore the contrasting possibilities concerning forced disappearances , it virtually elevates them into a missive of confusion and using contradictory concepts which not only do not provide much insight into the problem but also manages to darken what should be a bright spotlight into the nexus between violence and organized crime in Mexico.
The report comes from a visit made by three lawyers with the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances that took place a year ago today. Jasminka Dzumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ariel Dulitzky from the University of Texas and Osman El Hajje of Lebanon were the members of the group which visited mostly government officials including military commanders in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua; Acapulco, Chilpancingo and Atoyac de Alvarez municipalities in Guerrero, and Saltillo, Coahuila.
The problem of forced disappearances is real in Mexico and it is apparently massive. As many as 5,400 missing person cases have been filed with various law enforcement agencies and civilian groups since 2007, the year Mexican president Felipe Calderon Hinojosa decided to take on the drug cartels using the power of his military. The report places the number of missing at 4,618 missing between 2006 and 2010 inclusive, while civil organizations including human rights organizations, placed the number of missing at around 3,000.
Suspected forced disappearances went from four complaints in 2006 to 77 in 2010 in the Comision Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (CNDH) or human rights commission, as a description of how the problem has grown in Mexico.
According to Wikipedia, forced disappearances are described as:
...the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.
The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance was drafted in 2006 and opened to be signed in in 2007. Only 20 nations worldwide have ratified the agreement. Mexico is one of those countries which ratified the agreement.
The Convention went into force in December 2010. Mexico was one of the first countries to be visited by the Working Group.
Among the recommendations of the group was the "homogeneity" of state laws against forced disappearances, where now only eight Mexican states or political entities, Aguascalientes, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Durango, District Federal, Guerrero, Nayarit and Oaxaca states have a law on their books dealing with forced disappearances. Forced disappearances is already on the Mexican federal law books as a crime.
The reason why having state laws dealing with forced disappearances while not directly stated, is so prosecutors can deal with presumably errant public officials who use their power to hold individuals against their will, or to make them disappear. With the statistics provided, a reader could easily conclude that Mexican government officials were actively engaging in kidnapping and disappearances, which is clearly not the case. It is only the proviso within the convention where officials "refuse to acknowledge a disappearance" that the convention comes into force.
The standard is absurd in that it presumes that all government officials who do not recognize a missing person as missing is culpable for the disappearance because they have refused to provide information on a missing person.
The working group characterizes the situation with organized crime in Mexico as a "complex" and "complicated" situation.
Under the convention that assessment is an understatement.
Fortunately for Mexican government officials the report, without quoting any statistics, said a "large number" or kidnappings and disappearances are perpetrated by organized crime. The report fails to state a ratio or a percentage, whether it is a majority, or a lesser "large number." The report also goes on to say that not all disappearances are caused by organized crime.
Cryptically, it says that it has "concrete, detailed and credible cases of disappearances carried out by public authorities or by criminal groups or individuals acting with the direct or indirect support of some officials."
That statement alone is pregnant with innuendo against Mexico's efforts against organized crime all without much supporting evidence, not even anecdotal evidence. And because of the lack of evidence cited in the document, it is suspected that many of the cases the UN refers to that may involve government official complicity are likely anecdotal evidence. If they are not, the report fails to note why such disappearances are widespread outside the work of organized crime with government officials.
Another problem the group has has emerged from meetings held with Mexican military officials specifically in Chilpancingo in Guerrero, Chihuahua and Saltillo, Coahuila.
The report said that military officials admitted that some units were not under the Secretaria de Defensa Nacional's (SEDENA) command; that some of their units were under civilian direction, although the report does not state which units were under which civilian's direction.
In those talks group members said they were not provided with clear indications of how civilian legal authorities deal with civilians detained by the Mexican military. What the group was told is anyone's guess. Mexican military authorities say repeatedly in news releases and in other public events that civilians as well as contraband seized in incidents such as traffic stops and raids are turned over to authorities. Military units while they may act independently, in such incidents as raids, they are dispatched through anonymous citizen's complaints taken by the military or through civilian dispatched means.
However, in case after case, Mexican military are usually very clear about their role in fighting the cartels: they are required to turn over everything they seize to civilian authorities, including suspects and dead bodies. That standard of conduct make sense. The last thing a republic such as Mexico needs in the shooting gallery it has become, are military units taking prizes or war booty.
Another problem that the Working Group has was apparently with talks with civilian authorities and their relationships with military units. Those officials, the report claimed, had little idea of what specific military units were doing at a given moment, all without revealing which officials were interviewed, or even more generically which type of officials were spoken to.
The report notes, snidely, that given the training Mexican military receives ill suits the military for the work of fighting crime, while claiming as proof the increase of human rights claims fielded by Mexican CNDH, going from 182 to more than 1,400 in 2010.
In fact the Mexican Army maintains a human right department since reforms earlier last decade. Within its Mexico City staff SEDENA's human rights department is tasked with investigating human rights claims. The military has always maintained that the overwhelming majority, quoted at 98 percent by SEDENA, are regarded as apocryphal, or as one unidentified Mexican Army field commander puts it: "jokes."
The report further laments the "over-broad concepts of quasi-flagrancy" -- flagrancy in which criminal suspects are detained for several days without charge. Apparently the institution of detaining suspects without charge for longer than a few hours has been banned, but the ban does not go into effect until 2016. However, Mexican civil jurisprudence does provide for detentions without charge for certain individuals considered too dangerous otherwise. Those detentions are limited to 40 days. Mexican military units usually turns over suspects captured following raids who are ordered into detention by a civilian court.
The group claimed it had received detailed documentation several cases of enforced disappearances that have been perpetrated by military in many states like Coahuila, Guerrero, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas -- all locations that organized crime and as well as armed radical leftist groups have in the past attempted to influence government or press against the security efforts in Mexico.
The nature of that information has also not been detailed in the report.
The Working groups stated concern are of instances in which military personnel had interrogated detainees and cases in which military have used torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Those reports are probably also anecdotal.
The Mexican military has long been subject to false charges of torture, often falsely conflated into a widespread practice.. For example, in the firefight in El Charco, Guerrero in 1998, the Mexican Army had been subject to charges of murdering innocent civilians and then torturing civilians in Acapulco in the aftermath. It was later found that the charges were false, based on forensic and medical examinations.
The spotty information the working group reveals is very much in line with information several Mexican government agencies have about forced disappearances. The statistics vary, widely.
The Mexican Secretaria de Seguridad Publica (SSP) has 2,044 cases considered missing persons. The Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR) has a list of SSP 4,400 cases, while the Procuraduria Justicia de Distrito Federal lists 5,229 cases. Finally the CNDH lists 5,397 cases. How many overlap is anyone's guess.
The definition of a forcibly disappeared individual while written in the convention in many cases do not match the individual cases, and by the Working Group's own definition. If organized crime groups are engaging in kidnapping and have the paid clandestine assistance of police officers or government officials, the question arises just how much responsibility does Mexico have for every case.
The question is not asked nor are information provided since the circumstances in such a dangerous environment in which criminal groups use kidnapping and murder as a means for the settling of accounts and of maintaining income. The variances are seemingly endless: kidnapping for ransom, kidnapping when running afoul of a local official, or local drug lord or kidnapping for sex or human trafficking.
Even if low level police officers or officials are aware of a disappearance, why would that make that specific case a forced disappearance by definition provided in the convention? Inasmuch as the Working Group acknowledges -- in less than honest terms -- just how pervasive organized crime is and how activities such as kidnapping are used as a means of income, the report doesn't say.
It is likely neither the working group knows nor do Mexican officials.
Where does the report leave the issue of forced disappearances is the question and for that the Working Group provides only a non-sequitur: It recommends the government of Mexico end forced disappearances by leaving the field to organized crime. The logical fallacy in that recommendation is so blatant as to defy description.
Calderon fielded the Mexican Army and Naval Infantry to the streets to fight organized crime, and organized crime's reaction since 2007 has been to tighten security.
And that usually involves murder and that sometimes involves kidnapping.
Perhaps to the rest of the international community, winning a war against organized crime by losing it may be a charming and endearing rejoinder to the existential threat Mexico faces, but it doesn't help the disappeared nor the rest of the Mexico.
Chris Covert writes Mexican Drug War and national political news for Rantburg.com