Friday, August 19, 2016

Mexican police arbitrarily executed 22 in raid last year (Aug. 19, 2016)

Mexican federal police officers summarily executed 22 people in a raid last year on a ranch occupied by members of a drug gang, according to a report released yesterday by the country’s National Human Rights Commission. 

At least one person was burned alive and several others have evidence of torture, reports Animal Político. Thirteen of the victims were shot in the back. Officers also moved bodies and planted guns at the scene to corroborate their version that the deaths occurred in a gun battle, says the report. 

"The investigation confirmed facts that show grave human rights violations attributable to public servants of the federal police," commission President Luis Raul Gonzalez Perez said. He said the organism will present a criminal case against the leadership in charge of the operative and all functionaries who had knowledge of the irregularities.

The report also accuses the federal prosecutors office and the Michoacán prosecutors office of wrongdoing in relation to poor investigation and irregular autopsies of the victims, notes Aristegui Noticias.

The Human Rights Commission report agreed with authorities who said ranch near Tanhuanto in Michoacán had been taken over by a criminal group, and that the police had been fired upon, but concluded that many of the 42 civilian deaths entailed close range shootings from behind or above. (See post for May 26, 2015 on the incident.)

The fight in May of last year, involved the police ambush of suspected Jalisco New Generation Cartel members holed up in a ranch. About 100 militarized police on the ground were backed up by Black Hawk helicopter in a two hour fight, and the lopsided kill rate -- 42 civilians to one police officer -- pointed to human rights abuses, report Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.

Animal Político analyzes 700 page report and contrasts its findings with the official police account of the events.

The national security commissioner, which oversees the federal police, denies the report's accusations, saying police were responding to gunfire, notes the Associated Press.

The report represents yet another blow to the current administration's extremely spotty human rights record, and a rebuke to the Mexican security forces, notes the New York Times. Yet the commission's recommendations in such cases have infrequently lead to concrete action, observes the WSJ.

The AP notes the similarities of the case with the so-called "Tlatlaya Massacre" of 2014, in which the human rights commission found that soldiers executed at least a dozen alleged gang members after they surrendered. (See post for July 2, 2015.)

News Briefs
  • Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe's championship of the cause of justice for human rights atrocities carried out by the FARC -- part of his narrative against the peace accord negotiated by President Juan Manuel Santos -- is ironic given his own checkered history when it comes to human rights, notes Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco in an op-ed in the Miami Herald and El Tiempo. Uribe's championship of the cause means "any criticism of this seriously flawed deal risks being dismissed as self-serving hypocrisy," argues Vivanco, noting that the notorious "false positives" scandal in which the army systematically murdered thousands of civilians who were then reported as enemy combatants, occurred under Uribe's administration. As a Senator, Uribe has introduced legislation that would exonerate Army members convicted of these crimes. The peace accord should be opposed because it would mean impunity for atrocities committed by both sides, says Vivanco.
  • On the issue of the peace accord, the Miami Herald visits Marquetalia, the birthplace of the FARC, where villagers worry about what might happen once the guerrillas lay down arms and potentially create a power vacuum in the area. 
  • A U.S. federal appeals panel found upheld that the U.N. cannot be sued in the U.S., a setback for a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of thousands of cholera victims in Haiti, reports the New York Times. The decision comes the day after the U.N. admitted partial responsibility for the 2010 outbreak of the disease that killed at least 10,000 people. (See yesterday's briefs.) Plaintiffs have 90 days to file a Supreme Court appeal, but said yesterday that their response will depend on how the U.N. follows up on yesterday's statements. “If the U.N. provides remedies to victims out of court, an appeal will be unnecessary,” said a lawyer for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.
  • U.N. auditors found that poor sanitation at peacekeeper camps in Haiti persisted years after studies linked the organization's forces to the 2010 cholera outbreak, reports the New York Times. While their reports point to an intent to avoid another public health crisis, "the findings also provide some insight into how peacekeepers and their supervisors may have been either unaware of or lax about the need to enforce rigorous protocols for wastewater, sewage and hazardous waste disposal at United Nations missions — despite the known risks and the lessons learned from Haiti."
  • Haiti's provisional electoral council announced anti-fraud reforms for the upcoming October presidential election redo. All Haitians -- including political party monitors -- will be required to cast their ballots where they are registered to vote and people working the polling places will receive more comprehensive training, reports AFP.
  • Former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos launched a website where citizens can contribute proposals for constitutional reform. The project accompanies the government's push to renew the 1980 constitution passed by dictator Augusto Pinochet. Reformers hope to present a project in Congress late next year, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • Honduras has fired more than 300 senior police officers linked to organized crime, following recommendations of an investigating commission. Next more than 10,000 lower ranking officers will be investigated, reports Deutsche Welle. The commission also found that Honduras will need to "implement similar purge processes" in other areas of the national justice system. (See April 6's post.)
  • A New York Times Sunday Review piece by Sonia Nazaro last week focused on the success of American funding of anti-violence programs in Honduras -- and made the case that cutting off funding due to human rights concerns would be anti-productive. (See Monday's post.) However, the New Yorker looks at the links between violence against Honduran social activists and U.S. funding of security forces there -- making the case that two hundred million dollars in police and military aid to Honduras since the 2009 coup has served to "prop up a government that has increasingly used state security forces to repress dissent." The piece quotes Dana Frank, a Honduras expert at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who says "there’s a great deal of evidence that the U.S. is funding violence creation by the government on a grand scale ... Members of the Honduran élite and the government officials they work with know quite well that the corrupt criminal-justice system largely guarantees them impunity, and they continue to test what they can get away with, including widespread violence by state security forces. They have a long history of all kinds of astonishingly open criminal behavior."
  • There is a disconnect between Argentine President Mauricio Macri's discourse on holding Venezuela accountable for human rights violations and the ambiguous stance taken by his foreign relations minister, Susana Malcorra, who is angling for the position of U.N. Secretary General, reason for which she's avoiding alienating China and Russia with their veto votes, argues Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco in an op-ed in Clarín. Vivanco said this is one reason he presented a recent report on Venezuelan abuses -- detailing how since May of this year the government has detained 21 people on allegations that they were planning, fomenting, or had participated in violent anti-government actions -- in Buenos Aires. (See July 28's post.) He notes that there are over 90 people considered political prisoners in Venezuela at this time and calls on Argentina to accompany OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro's push to pressure the Venezuelan government. (See June 17's post, for example.)
  • The issue of Venezuela is causing a rift in the Mercosur trade bloc, with Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina blocking the passing of the bloc's rotating presidency to Venezuela. This week Uruguay's foreign minister caused a furor (in the diplomatic world anyway) when he said Brazil had attempted to pressure Uruguay into accompanying its position. Uruguay now says it was a misunderstanding and both countries are now downplaying the episode, reports the Buenos Aires Herald.
  • Venezuela's new interior minister Nestor Reverol (see Aug. 3's briefs), relaunched a stalled gun control campaign in the country, destroying 2,000 guns in a Caracas public square this week, reports Reuters.
  • A group of 650 Cuban migrants trying to reach the U.S. crossed through the Darian jungle border between Colombia and Panama, where they are now stranded due to closed borders across Central America, reports the Miami Herald.
  • In the meantime, Cuban diplomats are stepping up efforts against the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows Cubans who reach the U.S. to remain. In recent days they have called on President Barack Obama to use executive power to end the policy which has led to a human resources drain for the island, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Commercial flights between Cuba and the U.S. will officially begin at the end of the month -- Cuba approved Jet Blue and American Airlines flights, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Cuban beaches, a new tourism beacon, are suffering from a rubbish problem, reports the Associated Press, a symptom of disintegration of national values, bemoan some Cubans.
  • Will Cuba's apparently successful fight to control Zika become a model? The Miami Herald reports on an article in Nature, which details the 1981 strategy against mosquito-borne hemorrhagic dengue fever, including measures such as fining residents with mosquitos breeding around their homes, a national reporting system for mosquito-borne disease and intensive pesticide spraying.
  • U.S. Olympics swimmer Ryan Lochte apologized for misrepresenting an episode in which he had claimed he was robbed at gunpoint in Brazil last weekend, reports the Wall Street Journal. His teammate James Feigen, who was also involved in the case, agreed to pay$10,800 to a charitable institution in Brazil to avoid formal charges for giving a false account of a crime. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Argentina's Supreme Court annulled President Mauricio Macri's natural gas hikes for residents -- the court found that the government is free to raise prices, but must first hold public comment sessions. The temporary reversal will prove costly for Macri's attempt to reduce budget deficit, says the Wall Street Journal. The hikes have proved politically costly, angering residents and some who say they have fueled an already high inflation rate.

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