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Is Mexico's War on Drugs Unconstitutional?

New America Media, News Report, Jos Luis Sierra Posted: Apr 28, 2009

Editors Note: Mexican President Felipe Caldern has given a green light to the Mexican military to patrol the country's hot spots in its fight against drug cartels. But a new human rights report, which has not been released to any other media, documents that this has had a more sinister effect: Mexican civilians claim that they have been the victims of unlawful search and seizure, violence and even torture at the hands of the military. And according to legal experts, the powers granted to the Mexican military and federal police go beyond those allowed by the Mexican Constitution. NAM contributor Jos Luis Sierra has this report, the second in a two-part series.

JUAREZ, Mexico -- Mexican President Caldern was more than happy to announce that U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted this month that part of the responsibility for the drug problem lies with the United States, where more than 90 percent of the drugs coming through Mexico are consumed. Caldern was also happy to hear Obama say that the Mexican president was involved in a very courageous war against the drug cartels. Obama pledged his full support, including more than $100 billion in military equipment and other logistical support to fight the war on drugs.

Yet, after the governments media circus about the war against the drug cartels, a couple of high-profile arrests of its high-ranking members and several seizures of arms and drugs - mostly marijuana - the real leaders are still on the loose, and the executions, although less frequent, continue.

Equally troubling, legal experts believe the powers granted to the Mexican army and federal police in their war on drug cartels are unconstitutional.

According to the Mexican Constitution, no one can be judged by private laws or a special tribunal. However, several accounts by civilians reveal that soldiers and federal officers frequently abuse their power. While it is difficult to prove their allegations, many civilians allege that they have been taken to isolated areas, or torture chambers, under suspicion of being cartel members for interrogations that are expunged from the civil trial that many suspects have to face when their cases are turned over to the attorney general.

How can you defend a client against drug charges when the prosecution doesnt even bother to show you proof that the suspect was indeed caught in the possession of drugs? said a lawyer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. I agree, they have to do a dangerous job, but you cant apply the law by breaking the law.

But they are not simply breaking the law.

By being given a green light in this war against the drug cartels, Mexicos federal police and soldiers are, according to some legal scholars, breaking articles 14, 16, and 17 of the Mexican Constitution -- all of them related to the rights of citizens to be charged, tried and convicted by the proper tribunals.

We dont know where it is happening, but we are getting a lot of clues from the detainees, that the soldiers have isolated places to torture people in search of information about the drug lords, said another lawyer, who asked not to be identified. The problem is that even in the event that those confessions were true, they are getting them through torture, and that by itself is a violation of the Constitution. You cant live in a country where there is no respect for the law.

We dont know how much its going to cost, and the final result is unknown, but the only thing this whole operation has accomplished so far is to raise the political profile of the armed forces, the military, and a de facto suspension of the Constitutional rights of individuals, said the lawyer.

The body count has dropped since Caldern deployed troops to patrol the city, from a daily average of 40 deaths to just two or three. But the fear of being arrested for practically no reason, disappeared for days, and tortured by the very force that is supposed to protect the population, is on the rise.

Aguas, an expression to warn someone of the possibility of getting wet, now is commonly used to refer ro interactions with the police or military, such as the possibility of being subjected to a search. Most of the incidents dont go beyond a quick questioning by a police officer or a soldier. But sometimes these check points turn deadly - even for the forces involved in this security operations. In one incident, military forces reportedly fired on police patrols, severely wounding Cesar Antonio Gomez, a police officer, in his vehicle.

Civilians have also been killed in these operations. Hector Carrillo Griego, 20, was fatally wounded on May 4, 2008, when soldiers reportedly shot at his vehicle after he didnt respond to orders to stop. The case is still open and none of the soldiers allegedly involved in the shooting have been charged.

Heads of the military operations have systematically declined to be interviewed about this or any other case. The most they have done is to release a terse press release stating a non-guilty plea and a pledge to cooperate with the investigations. Most cases in which military personnel are involved are turned over to the PGR (Procuraduria General de la Republica), the equivalent of the Federal General Attorneys Office. However, no one from this office was willing to discuss the cases.

While there are no reports on the amount of money being spent in this operation, the Federal Attorney Generals Office revealed recently that in 2008, more than 60,000 individuals were arrested for federal crimes. Thousands more have been detained by the municipal police and held without a legal hearings for days.

The cost of housing these individuals plus the cost of the operation amounts to millions of dollars per day, with few or no results.

Caldern got into a war against the drug cartels and forgot more pressing issues, like public health or education, said Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, chief investigator of the Chihuahua Human Rights Commission.

This whole fiasco is merely a show to divert the attention of the population from subjects that are far more important and much more difficult to resolve, like unemployment, or public healthcare, says Luis Herrera, an attorney and teacher at the local law school. The bottom line is that this whole operation has damaged our way of life and has not resulted in the arrests of the leaders of the drug cartels. We are not any better off. We are worse off.

Related Articles:

Militarys Battle Against Mexican Drug Cartels Terrorizes Civilians

New Report Reveals Accounts of Torture, Violence by Mexican Army

When U.S. Says 'Insatiable,' Mexico Hears '12-Step Program'

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