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Latin America Mexico one step closer to a military state

The passage of the new Internal Security Law should concern all who care about democracy and human rights, says XOCHI WRIGHT

A RISE in the number of civilian deaths and forced disappearances is likely following the approval of a new security law, say human rights defenders in Mexico.

In spite of a strongly worded list of concerns from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, representations from Amnesty International, a letter from AI general secretary Salil Shetty to the Mexican president  and opposition from dozens of Mexican NGOs, the Mexican Senate has given the green light to the Ley de Seguridad Interna (Internal Security Law) after a 15-hour session.

As the countdown to next year’s presidential election begins, human rights organisations and academics have condemned the move, with one calling the law, which in effect allows the president to hand power to the military to patrol areas which the government deems unstable, a “coup d’etat.”

“It is at best a state-sanctioned attack on democracy,” one researcher told the Star.

The considerable concern over this new law was reflected in the submission of an early day motion to the British Parliament.

It states: “That this House expresses deep concerns about the Security Reform Law (Ley de Seguridad), approved by the Mexican Senate on Friday December 15 2017; notes the concerns of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Justice Mexico Now, Amnesty and other human rights organisations that this law is a mandate for handing unprecedented power to the Mexican Armed Forces; further notes the concerns that this could perpetuate human rights violations in Mexico, including extrajudicial executions, torture and enforced disappearances; believes this law will fail to deliver real solutions to Mexico’s huge security challenges; and further believes that such a transfer of authority to the Mexican armed forces in the run-up to next year’s presidential elections could put democracy in Mexico at risk.”

Since 2006 when former president Felipe Calderon, whose wife Margarita Zavala sought nomination from her husband’s right-wing PAN party earlier this year, launched the so-called “war on drugs,” the military has steadily ratcheted up its presence and is regularly seen outside barracks across the country.  

Since then the number of killings has steadily increased, alongside kidnappings and unresolved disappearances such as the notorious “Ayotzinapa” case of 43 student teachers who vanished while in police custody in the troubled state of Guerrero in September 2014.

For many Mexico-watchers it is a reminder of the years of military presence and oppression in the state of Chiapas during the Zapatista uprising against Nafta in January 1994.

Commentators claim the new law, which is expected to be signed off imminently by President Pena Nieto, will put Mexico at risk of becoming a military state in all but name.

Among the powers the army will have is the ability to carry out internal security operations without seeking approval from Congress.   

Media reports suggest that such operations could last for up to a year with unlimited extensions if the armed forces deem it necessary.
 

Nieto, who is widely seen as responsible for a list of human rights atrocities going back to before he took power in 2012 after a contested election when he claimed to have narrowly beaten former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is prevented by the country’s constitution from running for a third term.

His party’s favoured candidate Antonio Meade is up against Zavala, now running as an independent against a dozen other candidates, including Morena leader Obrador, who visited London in September and met Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and Maria de Jesus Patricio Martinez, the first indigenous woman to run for the presidency.

 

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