Monthly Archives: January 2014

Officials Investigate Family of a Journalist Critical of Chiapas Authorities (Luis Pablo Beauregard, EL PAÍS)

This article first appeared in Spanish in El País. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Officials Investigate Family of a Journalist Critical of Chiapas Authorities
by Luis Pablo Beauregard (EL PAÍS)

–       State prosecutors act on criminal complaint about 2013 allegations

The Attorney General of the State of Chiapas (in southeast Mexico, bordering Guatemala) on Tuesday ordered V.S. to give a statement about allegations of extortion. The person under investigation is the sister of Sandra de los Santos and Patricia Chandomi, two journalists critical of state authorities led by Governor Manuel Velasco of the Partido Verde and the PRI. One of the accused’s sisters has called it “an intimidating tactic” since officials have only just begun to investigate a criminal complaint dated June 2013.

Sandra de los Santos edits the webpage Chiapas Paralelo, a leftist electronic media outlet. “The page is very outspoken. The truth is that they’ve tried to buy us off, but we haven’t been bought,” the editor said. This Tuesday the website published an open letter to the governor. The text of the letter states, “there are a series of irregularities [in the judicial investigation]. The point of this action is to threaten the freedom of expression of Chiapas Paralelo’s staff.”

Authorities called V.S. to appear because she could be linked to a June 2013 attempt to extort by telephone. On those calls she is supposed to have asked for amounts from 400 pesos (USD$30) to 1,500 pesos (USD$113). De Los Santos commented the allegations are “groundless” because the alleged victim has not filed a complaint. A third party, assumed to be the father of the victim, made the complaint. “The person who allegedly carried out the extortion can’t be found and bank deposits or payments to V.S. don’t even exist,” states the letter’s text.

The crime is under investigation by the Prosecutor for High Profile Matters, charged with pursuing political cases or those of great social impact. “What’s this case doing with them?” Santos has asked. The reporter says that her 34-year old sister is a domestic help, and works as a receptionist in a business: “she has nothing to do with the media” and she’s neither linked to politics nor social activism. The letter states that the prosecutor, Raciel López Salazar, told them that the investigation was just “a routine matter.”

Article XIX – an NGO that oversees global freedom of expression issues – issued an alert on 25 January for judicial “harassment” against the family of De Los Santos. “The journalist sees this action as attempt to pressure both the outlet’s and her editorial line,” read the NGO’s alert.

This case isn’t the first attempt to intimidate journalists critical of Chiapas’s government. During Juan Sabines’s governorship (2006 – 2012), officials tried to link Isaín Mandujano, a reporter for newsweekly Proceso, with an attack on another journalist. They accused him of attempted homicide. Under pressure from national media outlets and human rights organs, the state’s prosecutor had to withdraw the charges, admitting that no evidence existed to link Mandujano with the case.

In November 2010 authorities detained a young reporter named Héctor Bautista after they received an anonymous tip off naming him as author of “negative comments that attempt to undermine good government.” The public prosecutor tried to tie Bautista to thousands of images of child pornography. Bautista was in charge of the webpage, dealing with touchy subjects for state authorities: the inexplicable increase in Chiapas’s public debt – in a few years it went from USD$66million to USD$1.8billion. The young reporter spent 40 days in prison and was freed only thanks to pressure from civil society.

Bautista’s and Mandujano’s cases occurred during the preceding governor’s administration. At that time, Raciel López was chief prosecutor. In Manuel Velasco’s administration López has continued in the post despite criticism identifying him as responsible for the persecution of journalists and political adversaries during Sabines’s governorship. Among other things, he is investigating 56 former officials.

At the beginning of this month, El País questioned Manuel Velasco about this controversial person. “He’s one of my security officials. We are one of Mexico’s three safest states. He’s not there to persecute anybody. During my first year we haven’t gone after anybody,” said the young governor.

This unofficial translation has used corrected dates concerning the alleged extortion in June 2013.

Journalist Luis Pablo Beauregard reports for El País from Mexico. This story first appeared with the title, “El Gobierno de Chiapas investiga a la familia de una periodista crítica,” available at:

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.


Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Break-in at Home of Veracruz Photojournalist, Félix Márquez (RevistaEra.Com)

This news brief first appeared in It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Translator’s note: The significance of this story lies in the fact that it documents the third break in and robbery at the home of a Veracruz journalist during January 2014. Earlier in the month, journalists Gabriela Lira and Raymundo León experienced similar acts in different cities, suggesting a modus operandi, maybe even a strategy. As one journalist working in Veracruz told me, “Something fishy is going on.” PT

Break-in at Home of Veracruz Photojournalist
by Revista Era, 30 January 2014

– Early in the morning of 30 January 2014 photojournalist Félix Marquez´s home was robbed of computers, cell phones, and personal documents

Veracruz, Ver.- The home of a Veracruz photojournalist was broken into this morning, and robbed of computers, cell phones, and personal documents.

The robbery took place early in the morning, when the family noticed that the house had been broken into.

After reporting the robbery, the Naval Police took an hour to arrive. The Veracruz journalist already filed a complaint with the state’s attorney general, in the hope of finding out who was responsible.

This is not the first time that Veracruz media workers have been robbed in their homes of their personal equipment. The same happened to Regina Martínez, Proceso’s correspondent, who was killed in her home. The same happened to Andrés Timoteo, Notiver columnist and former correspondent for the Jornada, who currently lives out of the state.

A number of journalists working in the state have expressed sympathy for the photojournalist, taking to social media networks, demanding punishment for those responsible.

Félix Márquez is a photojournalist with Cuartooscuro, Associated Press, and a collaborator of various media outlets within the state, including Revista Era. He shot the photos of Tlalixcoyan that proved the existence of militia in the state. These photos provoked threats from the then head of public safety, Arturo Bermúdez Zurita, who said he wanted Márquez imprisoned.

– Tlalixcoyan joins the militia

– Urban militia, a new strategy

This news article was published by, a digital magazine from Veracruz, under the title “Asaltan casa de fotoperiodista #Veracruz,” available at:

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Tagged , , , , , ,

Backtracking on Freedom of Expression at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (José Miguel Vivanco, Op-ed, El País)

This article first appeared in El País on 11 November 2013. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Backtracking on Freedom of Expression at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
by José Miguel Vivanco (HRW / Op-Ed El País)

–        Jailing a journalist for informing about the obvious maladministration of public property sets a regrettable precedent

With the stroke of a pen, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights led by Judge Diego Garciá-Sayan has jeopardized both freedom of expression and basic guarantees in criminal procedure. Within the region, institutional weakness is the norm, so the judgment amounts to a serious reversal that will weaken rights and fundamental freedoms. But it also makes the fight against corruption more difficult, and that’s a battle we continue to lose.

In a recent judgment – decided by a narrow majority – the Court has backtracked on important precedents it has defended for years. Three of the seven judges cast valuable votes that show deep divisions exist at the Court.

The regrettable decision in Mémoli v. Argentina deals with a criminal sentence against a journalist who informed about the evident maladministration of public property. Pablo Mémoli, editor of a newspaper in a small city in the province of Buenos Aires, warned that a private society had sold public property belonging to the town. Thanks to the news, the justice system intervened. Those affected by, and who learned of, the illegitimate sale recovered their money. Surprisingly, the same judge who canceled the contracts decided that the society’s directors had acted unaware that the public property did not belong to them.

In a strange twist, the only ones tried for these facts were those who spread the news. Mémoli was found guilty of defamation and sentenced to five months in prison. His father, who belonged to the society and had filed a complaint with the relevant authorities, was sentenced to a month in prison. As if that weren’t enough, the criminal sentences imposed a lien on the Mémolis’ property and also made them liable for suit in civil jurisdiction.

In 2008 – in the case of Kimel v. Argentina – the Inter-American Court decided that its criminal defamation law was incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights. For the Court, the crime’s definition was ambiguous, violating the legal principle that criminal behavior must be precisely stated. As a result of the Court’s judgment in Kimel, Argentina decriminalized slander and libel when the offensive statements referred to subjects of public interest.

In this case the Court should have required that the Mémolis – guilty for a crime now inexistent in Argentina – benefit from the principle that when one law is more favorable to the accused than another, the more favorable should apply. However, without any reasonable explanation, and going against the grain of its jurisprudence, the Court backtracked, validating the criminal sentence and its effects.

This case centered on freedom of expression, and the Court redefined that right in ways that pale in comparison to its precedents. For example, for the majority of judges, the maladministration of public property did not pass the public interest test; or, still more serious, the continent’s highest human rights court gave its blessing to criminalizing opinion. The four judges in the majority never even asked if the Mémolis’ complaints were truthful – according to its own jurisprudence truthful statements can´t be considered offensive. For the Court, the sentence against the journalist did not violate his right to freedom of expression, and he was denied relief.

In a Court hearing, Catalina Botero, the Organization of American States (OAS) Freedom of Expression Rapporteur, argued that the sentence against the Mémolis “discourages [freedom of speech] and encourages juridical uncertainty” suggesting that it affects “hundreds of journalists in the region who are now more defenseless.”

Thankfully – and perhaps because it wasn’t a part of this litigation – the Inter-American human rights jurisprudence still stands that decriminalizes insulting public officials, protecting criticism of them.

It’s very sad that García-Sayán’s Court has cast aside the established jurisprudence built on the sacrifices of those who have risked themselves to rein in official abuse about matters of public interest. In the Americas those who can regularly intimidate judges, so the Court has deprived the region of a key tool to fight against the abuse of power and corruption.

Human rights defender José Miguel Vivanco is executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. This article first appeared in El País on 11 November 2013 bearing the title, “El Tribunal de las Américas Retrocede en la Libre Expresión,” available at

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Ecuador’s Communications Law aims for Cartoonist Bonil (Soraya Constante, El País)

This article first appeared in El País on 23 January 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Ecuador’s Communications Law aims for Cartoonist Bonil
by Soraya Constante (El País)

–        Cartoonist must testify about a sketch of a break in at home of journalist Villavicencio

Seven months after its approval, Ecuador’s Communications Law – which Human Rights Watch considers “restricting press freedom” – has come into force. The first person to appear before the Superintendent of Information and Communication is cartoonist Xavier Bonilla (Bonil). An internal report from this agency alleges that Bonil distorted the truth and supported social unrest when on 28 December he published a cartoon in newspaper El Universo about a break in at the apartment of Fernando Villavicencio, a journalist and an advisor to an opposition lawmaker.

The cartoon appeared with the caption: “Police and prosecutors raid the home of Fernando Villavicencio and carry off documents alleging corruption.” The cartoon used Christmas as a hook to narrate what happened on the night of 26 and morning of 27 December, according to those affected and media reports.

In its first three months, the Information Superintendent has processed 52 cases, of which 20 have been resolved. The agency’s head, Carlos Ochoa did not provide more information about its operation, and what little is known about it is thanks to an interview he gave to Noticias Andes, a state news agency. “We don’t analyze cases publicly. We inform the parties in the dispute, and after a legal process we asses whether the law has been violated or not,” Ochoa told the news agency.

Bonil’s case has drawn attention because President Rafael Correa mentioned it in a broadcast on 4 January. On his show, La Canallada de la Semana [Weekly Roundup] he labeled Xavier Bonilla “sick, a hitman who uses ink,” and threatened to enforce the Communications Law. “We’ll file a complaint because now we have the Communications Law defending us. Otherwise, cartoonists who dressed themselves up as comedians will just spew their hate.”

The first working day after Correa made these announcements, the Superintendent for Information and Communication, Carlos Ochoa, asked newspaper El Universo for copies of the cartoon, and its author’s identity. As a result, the cartoonist and his lawyer went public about the process. Last Tuesday they replied to the Superintendent with a seven-page submission explaining different ways to look at caricature. “At base and in essence, it rests on exaggerating and poking fun at reality … it’s graphic, humorous opinion, so it’s as subject to its creator’s perspective as it is to that of the person looking at it,” states the text. The cartoonist also cited the press reports where he drew information for the sketch.

Bonil’s lawyer explained that the next step is an appearance where the parties present evidence and documents relevant to the case. The Superintendent has five days to schedule that meeting and then two days to issue a sanction, or archive the case. The new regulations for the Communications Law guide this process. President Rafael Correa issued those regulations at the beginning of this week, saying that they clarified parts of the Communications Law passed in June 2013.

The regulations – made up of 89 articles and 4 transitional provisions – go even further than the Communications Law in a desire to control content. César Ricaurte, director of the Andean Foundation for the Observation and Study of the Media (Fundamedios), worries about the control of internet-based media, something that wasn’t part of the actual law but now appears in the regulations. “Legally speaking, it’s schizophrenic: one part of the regulations guarantees rights, but another article restricts them. Article 2 doesn’t place controls on content created by citizens and legal entities on their blogs, social networks, and personal, business, or institutional web pages. But Article 3 says that all Internet media are subject to the law. So that means Internet-based content is subject to control.”

Ricaurte’s team has been working since 2008 on a register of restrictions to press freedom. Just in the last year they report 174 threats against journalists and communications media. “State officials carry out the majority of the threats, abusing the powers of their office, and the principal aggressor is President Rafael Correa. He’s seen as responsible for 13% of the threats,” Ricaurte indicated. “The president continues a stigmatizing and systematic discourse inveighing against journalists and the media. He’s described journalists in the harshest terms. On his Saturday program he identifies them by name and broadcasts what they look like. He does that after he receives criticism, or with op-eds he doesn’t like.”

Add to those threats rulings against the media, journalists, and editorial columnists. Fundamedios counts 42 judgments since 2008, with an increase in the number of cases imitating the judgment Rafael Correa won against newspaper El Universo. Correa asked for USD$40million in damages. Last year, a former judge claimed damages against a media outlet in the border province of Esmeraldas, claiming payment of USD$30million. “When the President won against El Universo, he asked citizens to seek judgments against the media and reporters. As a consequence, there’s been an increasing in using the justice system to quiet journalists,” Ricaurte relates.

Correa has railed against international media. In October he took to Twitter to accuse the magazine The Economist of lacking impartiality based on an article it published about Texaco-Chevron operations. This year he has done the same with the magazine Newsweek and newspaper the Miami Herald. The magazine raised questions about the state’s role in the massacre of isolated indigenous people; while the newspaper referred to break-ins at the house and office of opposition lawmaker, Cléver Jimenez, and his advisor, Fernando Villavicencio. This issue has become untouchable for the government.

Human Rights Watch’s report on the Americas published this week agrees with Fundamendios. On the Communications Law, the NGO confirms that it contains “vague provisions that allow arbitrary prosecutions and censorship.” The organization warned that the rules “opens the door to censorship by giving the government or judges the power to decide if information is truthful.”

Newspaper El País has also been the target of attacks by Ecuador’s government. Today, it attacked the newspaper for publishing an interview with Fernando Villavicencio who is now in Washington, weighing an asylum request. The Ecuadorean government’s principal argument is that large media groups work against progressive governments.

Journalist Soraya Constante reports for El País from Quito, Ecuador. This article first appeared in Spanish on 23 January 2014 with the title “El caricaturista Bonil, primer señalado por la Ley de Comunicación de Ecuador,” available at:

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a pro bono translation service to provide distinctive, quality Spanish-language journalism to English-speaking readers.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Killing of Mexican journalist sparks human rights ombudsman’s investigation
 (Diego Cruz, UT Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas Blog)

Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission will investigate the Jan. 23 murder of a journalist in Guerrero. It is the first killing of a journalist in Mexico this year.

Miguel Ángel Guzmán Garduño, an opinion columnist for the daily paper Vértice, was found dead in his Chilpancingo home after being robbed of his possessions, according to Diario de Guerrero. Authorities say Guzmán died from blows days before being discovered. The crime’s motive remains as yet unknown but authorities said the probable motive was the theft of electrical and domestic appliances and his car.

Guzmán was a primary school teacher, as well as a journalist. He had also worked as the head of public relations for the state of Guerrero’s public sector workers’ union (SUSPEG).

Independent of the motive, the CNDH insisted in a press statement concerning the case that the state’s obligation is to prevent acts that endanger freedom of expression.

“Federal and state authorities have the obligation to conduct a timely and effective investigation into threats against journalists in order to counter impunity and stop the deterioration of freedom of expression,” the CNDH said.

Mexico’s human rights ombudsman Raúl Plascencia Villanueva ordered his officials to visit the crime scene to analyze what happened and conduct their own investigation.

According to the CNDH, 87 journalists or media workers have been killed as a result of their work since 2000. In 2013 two reporters were murdered in Mexico, according to organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

This post was translated by human rights investigator and journalist Patrick Timmons, editor of the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Militia and the Community Police: Perspectives on their Differences from Guerrero, Michoacán, and Morelos (Jaime Quintana Guerrero, DESINFORMEMONOS)

This article first appeared in Desinformemonos on 26 January 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Militia and the Community Police: Perspectives on their Differences from Guerrero, Michoacán, and Morelos
By Jaime Quintana Guerrero

  • Three members of community justice systems from three Mexican states explain their mechanism’s birth, and how community justice responds to indigenous communities
  • Community justice differs from the militia, but the three agree that everybody needs to find their own path to freedom

Mexico. “If your struggle is freedom, then welcome. But if the struggle is filled with fear and terror, then we know that the paramilitaries have arrived or are coming.” So warns community justice member, Salvador Campanur, a Purhépecha. With Claudio Carrasco from Guerrero’s Community Police, and Guillermo Hernández from Tepotzlán in Morelos State, Campanur explains that community justice systems are rooted in ancient traditions and respond to popular assemblies. The three add that community justice forms part of the complex construction of popular autonomy, while the militias respond to the interests of specific groups.

Salvador Campanur begins to refer to events in Michoacán, where militias battle to expel the Knights Templar criminal group. Campanur comes from Cherán – one of the hotspots where the autonomy movement began in 2011 – and from where the community police expelled the talamontes. He explains that the situation for indigenous townships differs to those of cities or ejidos [communal landholdings]. But he emphasizes that each community needs to find its own path to freedom, “and that we can’t order anybody to do what we have done.”

“The community police,” explains Guillermo Hernández Chapa, from the township of Tepotzlán in Morelos, “respond to the need for autonomy — where the people consider security fundamental for every aspect of their development.”

The Militia and Community Based Policing

Salvador Campanur says that indigenous communities are not just fighting to defend themselves, but against all forms of outside interference. Take extractive industries, for example, “these divide communities, families, and inhabitants.”

Claudio Carrasco from Guerrero’s community police describes how his organization differs from his state’s militias: “those groups don’t apply justice. They don’t respond to popular assemblies. They hand detainees over to government officials.”

A member of the Mepháa community, Carrasco explains that the militia want to operate like the community police but that they don’t have the people or the experience to investigate the detainees for their alleged crimes. He states emphatically this means that, “one hears of the militia torturing people, or letting criminals walk free.”

The state of Morelos has not seen a militia movement emerge like those in Michoacán and Guerrero, explains Guillermo Hernández. “We recognize that the militia responds to specific groups and not to community assemblies.” In Metepec, for example, the owners of avocado orchards created groups to guard their production process. But no community assembly recognizes them.

One other difference exists between the militia and the community police, says the Tepoztlán community member: “the militia enter into agreements with government bodies. But community groups don’t enter agreements because we aren’t waiting for the government’s recognition. Instead, the community police operate under agreements between the general assemblies and the communities.”

The Birth of the Community Police

Community members and indigenous people agree that even before the Mexcian Revolution, local people organized security and justice. “Before armies arrived in the Americas, traditional mechanisms already existed,” explains Campanur.

On 15 April 2011, Cherán Township in Michoacán became tired of the extortions, murders, and clandestine logging of their forests, so its people started an armed uprising using sticks, stones, and machetes. To start the process of organizing security in the Purhépecha township “we had to weather several experiences: the way the government and political parties treated us, divisions within the community, and the presence of organized crime,” remembers Campanur. “In a community, when one wants to organize, confront, and make good on one’s promises, that’s when we turn to the knowledge and wisdom of our ancestors, the things we base ourselves on.”

Cherán’s residents identified that the land “is our house and we have to defend it. That’s the way we understand how to defend the land our ancestors bequeathed us,” reminds the Purhépecha community member. Later, they organized security using torchlight patrols to confront “the bad guys” who, they complained, were supported by armed groups and the military. They took back their land using those methods. Afterwards they organized elections according to their community traditions, processes recognized by official electoral institutes.

Cherán’s community guards provide security to around 20,000 inhabitants over an area of 27 thousand hectares of communal land.

Salvador Campanur explains the community patrol’s membership: “there’s no way to say who can or can’t join a patrol. It’s a duty for children, youth, adults, and old alike,” and nobody receives pay.

In Guerrero’s Costa Chica and on the Mountain, the Regional Coordinator of Community Policing Authorities (CRAC-PC) has 18 years experience providing a system of security, justice, and re-education. Claudio Carrasco, a Mepháa, indicates that, “police selection is based on an open competition run by the community’s general assembly. The village has to choose 14 officers, including first and second commanders.” To nominate commanders and coordinators, the townships convene a regional general assembly where all the communities meet.

The CRAC brings together ethnic communities of Mepháa, Ñu, Savi, Ñancu, Ñomdaa, afro-mestizos, and mestizos. “We have our own rules, and nobody is above them. Not even our regional assembly can change them,” explains Carrasco.

On the Costa Chica and in the mountains – in areas of drug cultivation and transshipment – there are active organized crime groups like Los Pelones and the Independent Cartel. In 2012 the community police confiscated weapons, trucks and drugs from one of these cartels.

Claudio Carrasco was once a coordinator but now is a CRAC council member. He remembers that in the justice system “we came to do a good job and grow. But all of a sudden mining interests appeared and generated a conflict which provoked the formation of a militia.” The former coordinator explains that his community stopped the businesses from coming in, so the government tried to find a way to divide the CRAC. “Divisions erupted, and then the militia arrived.” They tried to take away the community justice system.

“The militias arose spontaneously, so to speak. There’s no project. And from what we know, the government creates them and supports them. But we don’t know to what end,” says the CRAC coordinator.

In the state of Morelos, birthplace of historic leaders like Emiliano Zapata, Rubén Jaramillo, “El Güero” Medrano, and Félix Serdán, some of its regions continue with community security procedures, or “farmers’ patrols.”

Community policing practices have been reinforced in the wake of Rubén Jaramillo’s experiences,” explains Hernández Chapa. “In the ‘sixties, we had community justices of the peace, a post that existed to resolve internal disputes. But the post got lost at the national level of state justice. In the eighties, we still resolved things at the community level,” tells Hernández Chapa.

The patrols were called the “twenties” because indigenous people took turns every twenty days. But things began to change when authorities started to pay for the community’s security, meaning that the communities supported the municipal president. Hernández Chapa explains that in this way in some places, communal practices weakened.

Ocotepec, was the first community in Morelos to put the traditional practices of community safety above municipal law. In 2013 Temoac Township decided to re-establish community patrols in response to violence and home robberies. The communities selected a commander and twelve people to take charge of security. In some cases the patrols have arrested officials so that they answer to the communities.

Patrols are part clandestine, says Tepoztlán’s patrol member, Guillermo Hernández Chapa. Community policing has brought him into conflict with municipal authorities. “In order to be in a position of authority, including policing, you ought to have fulfilled other requirements,” added the patrol member.

Campanur specifies that Cherán did not invent this fight or the way of defending itself. It can’t tell any other community how to do it. “In the first place we are respectful of every group’s autonomy,” he indicates. “We can’t tell anybody to walk the same path as ours. We respect each other’s autonomy and ways of thinking. If they are pursuing freedom on their own terms then we must respect them.” But the Purhépecha community member underlined that “we want them to respect the steps we have taken in our own communities.”

Author Jaime Quintana Guerrero sits on the editorial board of Desinformemonos. This article first appeared under the title, “Autodefensas y policías comunitarias, diferencias vistas desde los pueblos,” at

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Michoacán and the Militia: How did we get here? (Salvador Maldonado, Nexos)

This article first appeared in Nexos’s Blog de Redacción on 14 January 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Michoacán and the Militia: How did we get here?
by Salvador Maldonado

Recent events in Michoacán – heralded by the gradual advance of militia groups into areas where organized crime has operated unchecked – have again drawn the attention of Mexican society and the international community. The reports, images, and videos circulating on social media about the armed conflict reveal dramatic fragments in the fight over security among a people that have suffered an infinite number of atrocities and injustices. The local population trapped in the conflict tells increasingly painful stories about the current situation’s complexity. The taking of Parácuaro, Antúnez and Nueva Italia by the militia, and organized crime’s response, have raised a red flag about the future of Michoacán’s security. What seems to be developing as a result of latest events?

The first element in play concerns how the militia uprising at the beginning of 2013 can be accounted for by institutional changes at the state level: the elections of November 2011 saw the PRD’s removal from two consecutive terms in state government after falling to the PRI, led by Fausto Vallejo. The second element is that the militia uprising took place at the moment when organized crime seems to have acquired its greatest influence over Michoacán society. Drug cultivation and trafficking are not the only things raising people’s ire: kidnappings, extortion and, worse still, property snatching, abuses, expulsions and forced exile. The third element relates to the disruption in agreements and alliances among those – forced or voluntarily – tied to the world of drug trafficking or affected by it. That’s to say, the centralizing thrust of organized crime’s power relations has affected important actors in one way or another, among them agri-business, traders, intermediaries, and farmers.

Questions concerning these three elements have swirled around the rise of the militia in the configuration of the new political order. The militia’s emergence is a type of redoubling of dominant power relations. Specific social groups are unwilling to accept the rules and practices dictated by organized crime. The militia groups’ strength arises from bringing together and capitalizing on the interests and frustrations of sectors of the population using the language of state security. Yet, even in spite of this campaign, the militia has been unable to re-establish security. Just as the militia movement is winning popular support, it should not cry victory over eradicating organized crime. Inside the militia exists an infinity of interests and projects that, sooner or later, will unbridle other sad realities. After all, the militia comes from a “civil society” connected to the politics and economy of a populous region.

These questions arise at a crucial moment in Michoacán’s armed conflict. The militia has managed to make itself a central actor in ousting organized crime. But their growth has forced them to take unclear positions, or, in some cases to make shady deals. The state government’s systematic disqualification of the militia contrasts with the position of the federal government that, until a few days ago, implicitly supported the militia in cleaning society of crime. For their part, the members of the Knights Templar imagine that behind the militia groups they can find other cartels, or perhaps a Colombian-style paramilitary strategy to eradicate them. A delicate and dangerous point seems to emerge here. If the state government systematically denies the militia’s legality through not allowing their greater expansion, the federal government is discretely acting otherwise. In the meantime, the Knights Templar has taken to the mountains to lie in wait.

The principal elements defining the armed conflict’s setting are the militia’s make up, characterized by diverse groups of different strengths, people who have changed gangs, or people who just want to settle scores against organized crime. Add to this the contradictions between the federal and state governments, resistance by organized crime, and probable incursion by other cartels. However, at the root of the latest events in Michoacán’s Tierra Caliente and resulting from the militia taking Nueva Italia in armed confrontation against organized crime, a new situation confronts their future security. The extraordinary meeting between the federal and state governments to announce a new security strategy questioned the militia groups’ so-called legality. Government officials announced they would no longer tolerate taking territory, asking the groups to return home and lay down their arms. Meanwhile the governor promised to deal with things from Apatzingán, so as to create greater ties to the local population. For their part, the militia resists such demands, imagining the danger they could confront if they give up their arms and return to their communities as regular citizens.

One thing seems clear in this setting: the new forms of Michoacán’s armed conflict require dealing with it in a more complex way than just re-establishing “order” or the “law.” Otherwise, should things unravel, there will be a high cost to human life. If the militia puts down its weapons and its members return to civilian life, they will confront a real and merciless offensive on the part of organized crime. In their own communities and families, people know perfectly well who is who, something that will undoubtedly quicken the violence’s depth. To the current areas of conflict this brings other complications: today’s armed violence will daily worsen. If organized crime begins an offensive against “turncoats” or those that supposedly betrayed them, the problem will deepen. The capacity of organized crime to re-establish dominance in a world filled with hidden complicities should not be underestimated. Similarly, if armed forces like the Army and the Federal Police believe they can take total charge of security, pushing the militia out, then even the finest intelligence work will not be able to dismantle organized crime structures. Drug trafficking crystallizes a thick network around the same economic, political, and social organization of a people and their markets, whether local, national, or international. The Army’s presence in the region to combat drug trafficking dates from the ´sixties, and it hasn’t made a meaningful impact, not because the Army is ineffective, but because of the complexity of the economy and those involved. We must not overlook the fact that the violence lived by the people in the region is historic, with distinct dimensions. The capacity for their resistance makes them look for different ways – legal or illegal, formal or informal – to confront their adversaries. Thus, we must not view these populations only as objects of intervention, as if their capacity for organizing did not exist.

What seems most plausible in this sad panorama is a public negotiation between the many legal or semi-legal actors. The objective must be to construct substantive and systematic policy agendas, focused on real problems that can be fashioned according to prevailing obstacles. This situation demands listening and dialogue, without pre-established positions or official behavior invalidating the possibility of agreement.

Professor and researcher Salvador Maldonado Aranda works at El Colegio de Michoacán. His recent research focuses on ungovernable territories. This piece was first published in Spanish on the Blog de Redacción of the news magazine Nexos

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Crime of Marijuana Smoking in Mexico (CounterPunch)

The Crime of Marijuana Smoking in Mexico
By Carole Simonnet
(Translated by Patrick Timmons)

Translator’s Note

This text is an unauthorized translation of an article that first appeared in Spanish on 13 September 2013 in a Mexican investigative news magazine Enfoque. The now defunct magazine used to accompany the newspaper Reforma. Carlos’s story stands out because Simonnet’s investigation offers a rare, first-hand glimpse into the human consequences of Mexico’s contradictory drugs policies. PT

Carlos faces a criminal sentence for smoking marijuana. He’s the embodiment of the consequences of Mexico’s contradictory public drug policies.

Carlos bought the marijuana for 25 pesos, about four grams, so he could smoke two joints with a couple of friends. After smoking the joints he was arrested and sent to the public prosecutor. He spent 55 hours locked up. To avoid being fingerprinted, the authorities extorted the family. Even though the family paid 4,000 pesos, Carlos was arraigned on charges of endangering public health by trafficking in drugs.

Carlos is living proof of the consequences of Mexico’s contradictory public drug policies. It’s legal to carry and use small doses of the drug (up to five grams of cannabis), but its cultivation and distribution constitute a criminal offence.

The young man tells his story of what happened on 18 June 2013 under the pseudonym of Carlos. He won’t give his real name because he’s going to appear before a judge to clarify his legal situation. He fears reprisals.

He’s already filed a complaint describing this story with Mexico City’s human rights commission (CDHDF). If the judge finds him guilty he’ll face a prison sentence between ten to thirty-six months, and a fine of up to eighty days of minimum salary. If things don’t go so badly, the judge could commute the sentence to rehabilitation through treatment.

Carlos is eighteen years old. While he talks, his skinny body moves with agility in his light blue jeans, a white shirt, a black sweater, and some tennis shoes made by a U.S. brand. He’s wearing silver hoops in his ears, and he has a piercing in his lower lip. He finished secondary school, but he stopped studying because he was rejected twice from schools to prepare for college. He works in a car supply store.

Around three thirty in the afternoon on the Tuesday of his arrest, two judicial police officers drove up on motorbikes, stopping Carlos and two friends as they stepped out of a park in Coyoacán. They were a couple of blocks from the store where they illegally bought the drug. The three youths had finished sharing the joint. Their stash of the drug was in an open bag hidden in their clothing.

Hey, come here! You look like you’re doing something suspicious. Tell me what you are carrying before we search you,” one of the police officers said to them.

“I told them that I had a small bag enough for two joints of marijuana that cost us 25 pesos. I also told them that we’d used before, so they might give us a break. The officers told us, ‘Let’s see, How much cash are you carrying?’ So I told them that we only had 50 pesos.” Carlos told me this in an attempt to recreate the dialogue with the two police officers that he calls Judases.

“No, that’s not enough for me. I’ll need at least 100 pesos from each of you. I don’t know how you’ll find it, but that’s not going to put me off,” the same officer said to them.

Over the last five months, they had been stopped by police officers on two other occasions, but each time they made a “contribution for soft drinks” and the officers let them go. This time the extortion took on an added dimension. The police officers rejected the 50 pesos, taking them to the local magistrate, and leaving them waiting for hours in a police truck. Finally they let Carlos’s friends go and they took him to the local prosecutor.

In 2009, at the height of the drug war, Felipe Calderón’s government passed legislation reforming the Federal Health Code. Part of the reform stipulated that consumers caught with less than five grams of marijuana would not face criminal charges. But the changes brought in with the new law also instructed police to send users to prosecutors for addiction treatment. Treatment is compulsory after three detentions.

The health code reform also made Mexico’s states and Federal District (Mexico City) responsible for seizing marijuana if the trafficked quantity is less than five kilograms. Identifying these crimes is the job of local authorities, who then send the detained on to prosecutors and local judges.

“I knew on Tuesday night that they had planted something on me because one of the police officers told me so. But it wasn’t until Thursday night that they released me under caution after they had asked me to sign a sheet petitioning for my rehabilitation,” Carlos remembered. He stressed that the authorities never took his statement, only asking him three questions: was he carrying the marijuana, where did he buy it, and how long had he been using.

An officer advised him to lie about where Carlos obtained the product, telling him that in Coyoacán the sellers would come for his family. Instead the officer suggested Carlos identify Tepito (— translator’s  note: an infamous downtown neighbourhood in Mexico City well-known for selling contraband). The officer said Carlos should also say he’d been using for about two years, instead of the accurate figure of five months. The higher figure would indicate Carlos was drug-dependent.

Carlos’s mother was present at our interview. She continued with the story. The officers called her and her husband to frighten them. When they arrived at the police station, they showed them a Ziploc bag with about twenty to thirty grams of cannabis a quantity much greater than the amount Carlos had been carrying at the time of his arrest. The officers told Carlos’s parents that his criminal background included violent robberies. She answered that wasn’t true, only that Carlos and her other son had filed a complaint against an assault they’d experienced months before. Fearful that Carlos would spend a night in the cells, the couple agreed to the officer’s suggestion that they pay 4,000 pesos so that they could take the cannabis out of the bag to bring it under the legal limit of five grams.

The police officers looked the other way and let Carlos’s parents take some of the marijuana out of the bag, giving them a scrunch of paper to hide it. Carlos’s mother threw the paper and its contents in a bin when she left the police station. However, the next day she learned that Carlos would be detained for possessing 9.2 grams of cannabis.

Carlos’s mother asked for help from a friend in the local government offices, who put her in charge with officials at the police station. Her attempt to arrange things had been counterproductive. The officials demanded she post bond of about 11,000 pesos. One of the officials asked her to bring 2,000 pesos that very day, otherwise they would send Carlos straight to prison.

Eventually Carlos left jail on Thursday night after posting bond. Now free, the officers called Carlos’s mother on her cellphone to make a new offer. They would “kill the case” for 30,000 pesos, a sum she has never had. In despair, Carlos’s mother sought legal advice and filed a complaint with Mexico City’s Human Rights Commission (CDHDF).


Carlos is one of the 4.7 million cannabis users in Mexico (according to 2011’s National Survey of Addictions) who have to turn to the black market. Underground dealers are linked to drug traffickers who are always pushing to sell addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin. Police officers lie in wait for easily preyed upon users.

Last year, Mexico City’s human rights ombudsman, Luis González Placencia suggested that marijuana users are still criminalised and stigmatised in Mexico.

“It’s true that consumption isn’t penalised, but the way consumption has been treated has always involved the violation of consumers’ human rights. One reason is that authorities maintain there is a thin, blurred line between consumption and sale thinking that users are also dealers.” Placencia, who left the Ombudsman’s office in late 2013, stressed “the other reason is that possession of more than 5 grams is penalised, sending a mixed signal.”

According to the 2012 Mexico City Survey of Illegal Drug Users conducted by CuPIHD — the Colectivo Unido por Una Política Integral Hacia las Drogas – a non-profit drug policy organisation that promotes regulation with a focus on preventing risk and harm – two of every three illicit drug users have been arrested or extorted by the police or other authorities.

CuPIHD’s president, Jorge Hernández Tinajero, observes that the 5 grams limit for possession doesn’t reflect the realities of the market. A frequent user would have to buy every week. The purchase of a greater amount would expose them to prosecution as a dealer.

Between January 2009 and May 2012, according to CuPIHD’s investigations, the Ministry of Public Health for the Federal District referred 26,233 cases and sent 28,463 people to the district attorney for prosecution for violating the health code. The number of people prosecuted per case averaged 1.1, suggesting to CuPIHD that police arrest users for an obvious violation rather than as a result of a crime that by definition would involve at least two people: the buyer and the seller.

The majority of people in Mexico’s federal prison system (60.2 percent) were sentenced for crimes contravening the health code. Of that number 58.7 percent were sentenced for a marijuana-related offences, according to the results of a 2012 study – the First Survey of Federal Penitentiary Centers – conducted by Catalina Pérez Correa and Elena Azaola, two researchers at CIDE, a social sciences university in Mexico City.

The study shows that 79.2 percent of those sentenced for crimes against the health code were prosecuted for transporting or carrying drugs. Only 29.2 percent were convicted for trafficking and dealing.

Regulation Under Debate

The six years of Calderón’s presidency witnessed an explosion in violence and an increased consumption of illicit substances among youth. In a number of national meetings over the past few months, there’s been a discussion of the possibility of regulating the use, production, marketing, and sale of marijuana for medical use and recreational purposes. At the urging of the Federal District’s government and its Legislative Assembly, the last of these meetings took place from 2 – 4 September 2013. At the end of September 2013 this discussion will move to the Federal Congress – shepherded by the Organising Committee of the Drug Policy Forum – and led by the Revolutionary Democratic Party’s (PRD) Fernando Belaunzarán.

Such meetings have occurred within the global framework of finding alternatives to the prohibitionist and repressive public policies in place since the signing of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs (CND). Along with the 1971 and 1988 drugs and psychotropic substances conventions, the CND is considered one of the three pillars of the international system’s controlled substances’ regime.

Since 2011 the Global Commission on Drug Policy has supported the new approach. The Global Commissions is made up of four past Latin American presidents (Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, César Gaviria of Colombia, Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, and Ricardo Lagos of Chile), and three former high-level U.S. officials.

Colorado and Washington’s recent approval for regulating marijuana for recreational use, the Uruguayan government’s decision to regulate the production, marketing, and sale of marijuana for recreational purposes, as well as an Organisation of American States (OAS) study of May 2013 has made the region more receptive to a paradigm shift.

Meanwhile in Mexico the Federal Government has not participated in the debate. Until now, only ex-president Vicente Fox and a group of intellectuals and academics have promoted a new politics of drug policy based on their own perspectives and interests – notably their ranks include former foreign minister Jorge G. Castañeda, the writer Hector Aguilar Camín, and more recently they have been joined by the Mayor of Mexico City, Miguel Ángel Mancera, and the Governor of Morelos, Graco Ramírez.

A handful of PRD lawmakers – Belaunzarán in the lower house, Mario Delgado in the Senate, and the Mexico City assembly members Manuel Granados, Esthela Damián, Efraín Morales, Vidal Llerenas, and Daniel Ordóñez – have argued that regulation must orient itself towards protecting users’ rights. They want to increase the current weight limits for possession, reduce the violence unleashed by the drug war, free up jail space, and offer therapeutic treatments for the sick.

Cultivation for one’s own needs, medical dispensaries, Coffee shops or cannabis clubs under control of the authorities are all up for public debate thanks to this group of lawmakers. At the same time the elected representatives also want a significant change in the politics of risk and harm prevention so as to keep minors and young people away from the consumption of marijuana.

Assembly member Esthela Damián confirmed that the current legislation is “imperfect” because it continues to criminalize consumers and does not guarantee users’ access to marijuana.

In response, Belaunzarán has been promoting an initiative to regulate the production, processing, distribution, sale, and consumption of marijuana. He presented it last November, emphasizing that the measure would take an important market out of the hands of criminals, helping to repair the social harms done by this illegal activity through taxes applied to its legal regulation.

Although other politicians in favor of regulation don’t speak for their parties, some prominent legislators also support regulation, such as the Panista Roberto Gil and the former head of the lower house in the Federal Congress, the Priista Francisco Arroyo.

This approach has been put in question both by international organizations in Mexico – including the UN and the World Health Organisation – and state and federal health officials. The National Commission Against Addictions (CONADIC), the Centers of Youth Integration (CIJ) and the Institute for the Attention and Prevention of Addictions in the Federal District (IAPA) have all warned of marijuana’s noxious health effects. Among other negative symptoms, these institutions stress problems of memory loss, increased risk of psychosis if use begins at an early age, and damage to the respiratory system.

The Official Position

In an interview, the General Director of Mexico’s juvenile rehabilitation centers (CIJ), Carmen Fernández Cáceres warned of the possible rise in youth consumption because she considers that regulation will bring greater supplies of the drug.

“Consumption rises, that’s what we have seen. From 2009 until the present, the consumption among school-age children in junior high and high schools has gone from eight to twelve percentage points. There’s evidence from every Latin American country where they have discussed this issue: where youth perceive a lowered risk, consumption rises.” She added, “We have seen this before with alcohol and tobacco.”

In 2009, Fernández Cáceres opposed decriminalising small quantities for personal use. She remembers that the National Survey of Addictions reported that more than half of the people who admitted smoking marijuana did so before they had reached eighteen years of age.

She holds a similar position to that of the head of the National Commission Against Addictions (CONADIC), Fernando Cano Valle. At a presentation in Morelos on 5 August 2013 Cano Valle expressly rejected regulation as the basis of a new drug policy declaring it catastrophic: “If you legalize today, in eight or ten days you will already have a group of people with brain damage. Not in ten years but in ten days, eh!”

While the debate rages, Carlos’s life has changed. He no longer smokes. He appears nervous and worried. He admits that he won’t leave the house unless somebody comes with him. He fears that if he does something “that people don’t like” he’ll end up in prison.

Carole Simonnet, a Mexico-based journalist works at magazine RevistaR, distributed with Mexican daily newspaper Reforma. The original text of this story appeared on Monday 9 September 2013 in Enfoque, published by Reforma. It has been translated without the permission of Reforma or that of the author.

Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist based in the Americas. He is the founding editor of the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a pro bono translation service to translate Spanish-language journalism about Mexico into English so that they reach the widest possible audience. MxJTP may be found at You can follow Timmons on Twitter @patricktimmons.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,