State Sanctioned Repression Grows in Latin America

By Joyce Rothermel

Sometimes we can get so caught up in what is happening here in the US that we give little attention to what is happening south of the border.  Let’s take a look at what is going on now in Mexico and Honduras.  Last December, the administration of Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico approved the Internal Security Law.  It provides more power and expands impunity to the Mexican army. The law, which guarantees the presence of the army in the streets, was approved when 2017 became the most violent year in the history of Mexico.  One person was killed every 16 minutes and 9 seconds.  This is the backdrop for the presidential elections that will happen in Mexico this year.

Since the beginning of the War on Drugs, started by former president Felipe Calderón in 2007 and supported by the United States through the Merida Initiative, the Mexican army was sent to the streets to exercise public security actions, taking over police tasks. Although public security is a matter of civil order and not military, the participation of the army in matters of public security was presented as the only alternative to combat organized crime groups and to stop the violence that has left more than 250,000 people dead and more than 30,000 people disappeared in the last 11 years.

The dark past and the participation of the army in situations of violence have been widely documented.  Many Mexicans question the powers granted by the new Internal Security Law. Over the last three years, as a part of the War on Drugs, the army has carried out three of the worst massacres in Mexico’s recent history:

1)  On June 30, 2014 22 civilians were executed by soldiers who received orders from their superiors in Tlatlaya.

2)  On January 5, 2015 16 unarmed people were executed by soldiers and federal police agents in Tanhuato.

3)  On May 22, 2015 agents of the Mexican army and the federal police had a confrontation with 42 people accused of belonging to an organized crime group in Apatzingan. An independent investigation led by the Mexican National Human Rights Commission showed that at least 22 of the 42 people were extrajudicially executed.

Internal Security is a concept that doesn’t appear in the constitution and isn’t defined by any law. The ambiguity of the term allows any activity contrary to the interests of the government, and even the army, to be classified as a matter of Internal Security. Giving the Mexican army the power to determine what deserves to be catalogued as an internal security issue and how to proceed aggravates the situation. Thus, the armed forces may act autonomously, without any accountability to civil authorities, and without the approval of the president.

Human rights organizations, collectives, and individuals from civil society have warned that the Internal Security Law threatens social protest, since it will be the army and public officials who will determine the validity of a demonstration, increasing the risk of repression. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and other international organizations have warned of the risks that this law represents for human rights in Mexico.

While the government of Enrique Peña Nieto and his allies in the U.S. are increasing the militarization of Mexico, victims of state violence and organized crime groups and allies demand a security strategy that removes the army from the streets. There is also a call to the Mexican government to separate its interests from the procurement of justice, thus demanding a cessation of criminalization and violence against activists, journalists and social leaders.

In recent years, impunity for the regime’s allies contrasts with the injustices shown to those who defend and inform their communities.  At least 48 social and indigenous leaders, as well as journalists, were killed in 2017.  In addition, the fight against drugs must move beyond links to national security issues and focus on public health. The Internal Security Law was prepared and pushed by the Secretary of National Defense. Knowing this helps observers understand how the main goal of the law favors the permanence and normalization of the army performing public security tasks.

The post-electoral violence in Honduras, which has left at least 38 people dead and hundreds of others injured, criminalized, and displaced for fear of reprisal, must be a wake-up call for Mexico and the Americas. The Honduran army and police, trained by the United States, are behind the repression of those who reject the fraud through which Juan Orlando Hernández is imposing his regime. It is no coincidence that the Internal Security Law has been approved at a crucial time for Mexico. It seems that Enrique Peña Nieto seeks to follow in the footsteps of Juan Orlando Hernández in Honduras.

We cannot support more bloodshed. We must demand the end of US funding to regimes that murder and criminalize those who fight to defend their lives.  Contact your members in Congress about these important decisions.

(Information for this article comes from the School of the Americas Watch in Washington, DC.  To learn more, go to )

Joyce Rothermel is a member of the Anti-War Committee.

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