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Human Rights Abuse in Mexico: Widespread Torture in Mexico Confirmed by UN Special Rapporteur (Verónica Calderón, EL PAÍS)

This article was first published in El Pais on 2 May 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Human Rights Abuse in Mexico: Widespread Torture in Mexico Confirmed by UN Special Rapporteur
by Verónica Calderón (EL PAÍS)

– The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment spent 12 days in Mexico, and confirms that almost “every Mexican police force” abuses detainees

Torture in Mexico is a widespread practice throughout almost all of the country’s police forces. Cases exist where a Mexican man or woman has been arrested by a plainclothes officer. Without a warrant. Officers have entered homes without a judge’s order, and relatives have been threatened. Then, they have been carried away. They have been blindfolded and insulted. They have been beaten. With fists, with feet. Kicked. They have bee prodded with a cowpoke, an instrument used to administer electric shocks on the genitals. It’s also possible they have suffered some type of sexual violence. In some cases they have been paraded before the media as criminals, even without judicial proceedings. And sometimes they have not even been allowed to speak with their defense attorney. That’s the substance of complaints gathered by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, preliminary conclusions delivered in Mexico City this Friday as he finishes an almost two-week visit to the country.

“I have the obligation to tell the Mexican Government, and also Mexican society, that there is an endemic type of torture here that must be corrected,” the Special Rapporteur announced. This devastating diagnosis is the product of a 12-day visit that he called “intense, but productive.” He interviewed officials, civil society, and victims. He visited prisons, a psychiatric institution, a juvenile detention facility and a migrant detention center. He visited the Federal District and the State of Mexico, in the center of the country; Nayarit, on the Pacific Coast; Nuevo León, in the northeast; Chiapas, on the border with Central America and Baja California Norte, his last stop, in the far northwest, on the border with the United States.

He acknowledged the Government’s cooperation as he set about his work, but he lamented that, in a single incident, he was denied access to the Nuevo León’s State Prosecutor’s Office, “especially since I received several complaints of torture committed right there.” The accusations he received during his visit, he clarified, are against almost “all the forces that make arrests in this country.” This comment includes municipal, state, and federal police forces, the Army, and the Navy.

Mexico is one of the few countries in the world where a detainee is guilty until he can prove otherwise. Responding to a reporter’s question, the Special Rapporteur emphasized that he had criticized the Mexican security forces’ practice of parading detainees, presumed guilty, in front of the media without any type of criminal proceedings against them or granting them access to their defense attorney. Méndez called the practice “a humiliation.” The World Justice Project, an NGO dedicated to studying respect for the rule of law, ranks Mexico 79th out of 99 countries. Above Mexico, for example, are China, Kazakhstan, Albania, Burkina Faso and Ecuador.

Even though the Special Rapporteur insisted on the “complexity” of determining whether torture affected a social group in particular, he did clarify that the worst affected were the country’s most vulnerable: the poor, indigenous people, women, and adolescents. He insisted about the seriousness of the problem: “In Mexico there still exists a widespread use of torture and mistreatment.”

The UN Special Rapporteur said that he felt “alarmed” by the “ongoing militarization” of some regions of the country and he lamented that his visit did not include other states where he had received complaints of torture, like Guerrero, Tamaulipas, Oaxaca, and Michoacán.

The UN official also announced that the majority of cases of torture remain “completely unpunished”, and many of these crimes or complaints are stranded in judicial proceedings. “There are dozens, scores of delayed processes.” He also said he was preoccupied by the creation of a new crime such as “abuse by authorities,” a crime punished in Mexico of up to eight years in prison; he confirmed that in reality this crime hides those who are responsible for torture and who actually warrant more severe punishment.

His final report will be delivered to the federal government in three or four weeks and will come accompanied with a series of private recommendations to the executive branch headed by President Enrique Peña Nieto (Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI).

The Special Rapporteur thanked the Mexican Government for its invitation, and for the “excellent support” that it had provided him throughout his work. “I would have liked to say that torture is isolated in Mexico […] that it’s an aberration that can be corrected quickly… but it is in the process of being corrected,” he concluded.

JournalistVerónica Calderón reports from Mexico for El País. Follow Calderón on Twitter @veronicacalderon. This story first appeared with the title, ““Naciones Unidas afirma que la tortura en México es ‘generalizada’” available at: http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/05/03/actualidad/1399075278_040694.html.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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144 Fuego Street: The House where García Márquez Drew His Last Breath (Juan Diego Quesada, EL PAÍS)

This article first appeared in El País on 18 April 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

144 Fuego Street: The House where García Márquez Drew His Last Breath
by Juan Diego Quesada (EL PAÍS)

–        The writer died in his Mexico City home. The private cremation will be followed a memorial on Monday in Bellas Artes.

–        A legion of fans traveled to the Colombian’s house for a final farewell.

At 144 Fuego Street, in the south of Mexico City, at 1530 a black-sweatered girl in jeans left a bunch of daisies. Mónica Hernández had reluctantly read Cien años de soledad on her schoolteacher’s instruction. Years later a reprint by the Real Academia de la Lengua Española fell into her hands and she read it with a convert’s fanaticism. By being the first reader to arrive at the house where 87-year old Colombian Gabriel García Márquez had just died, she was seeking forgiveness for childish petulance and honoring one of the greatest writers of the Spanish language.

Three days ago, reporters began to keep guard outside García Márquez’s house as word began to spread that he had started to receive palliative care in his home, a quaint colonial residence framed by bougainvillea. Occasionally, a reader would ask about their idol’s health, returning with a gesture denying bad news. At 1456 on a sunny afternoon, the Thursday before Easter, with half the city gone on vacation, Mexican journalist Fernanda Familiar, a close friend of the writer and his wife, Mercedes Barcha, appeared at the door. She was crying. Without saying a word she went back inside. She had given the world the first indication that the Nobel prize-winning author had died.

Five minutes later, Colombian writer Guillermo Angulo arrived in a taxi. He carried a suitcase, a white bag, and a hunting hat. He entered the home without saying a word. García Márquez’s personal assistant, Genovevo Quiroz, came out to give instructions to the first police officers that began their watch over the street. A neighbor, María del Carmen Estrada, poked her head out of her door, remembering the day she gave him a hug when they crossed paths. “I hadn’t read any of his books, but the people loved him, and I treated him warmly. He was a model neighbor.”

The writer will be cremated privately – according to the director of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, María García Cepeda, who spoke on the family’s behalf from their threshold. Joining her to make the announcement was Jaime Abello Banfi, García Márquez’s friend, someone with the right to call him Gabo, and director of the Fundación Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano (New Foundation for Iberoamerican Journalism).

Earlier, around 1635, as clouds descended on Mexico’s capital city, a grey hearse arrived to take García Márquez’s remains to the funeral home. On the hearse, the undertakers had attempted to cover up their company’s name but the see through paper revealed the logo, García López. But the company does not perform funerals. As with other great Mexicans, like comedian Mario Moreno Cantinflas [or — translator’s note — writer Carlos Fuentes], García Márquez will be honored on Monday afternoon in the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the country’s greatest honor for one of its dead.

Little by little the crowd in the street began to grow. A youth with an open red shirt, showing some chest hair, white trousers and pointed shoes. He seemed to have just left one of those vallenatos the novelist liked so much. Colombians Juan Pablo Castro and Rosana Vergara, a married couple with a child, were visiting Mexico City when they heard the news so they knew at once that the coincidence meant they had to pay homage at the home. They left a bocadillo on the doorstep, a typically Colombian candy made from the fruit of the guayaba. A friend, Valeria Hurtada, had plucked a veranera flower from a neighbor’s house and threw it over the hearse as it carried the writer’s body away. The flower stuck on the vehicle until it accelerated, falling off at the first curve as it picked up speed down the cobbled street.

Police Commander Cantellano presided over the deployment of a contingent of officers in Fuego Street. Cantellano placed barriers to cut off the flow of traffic and in warlike tones outside the writer’s stoop he ordered his agents to line up. He put up a security perimeter around the main door and the garage. “We’re here on an important mission,” the official said under his breath. His men, trying to support him, stood to attention for hours at 144 Fuego Street. Sometimes they took a breather, allowing Gabo fans to leave flowers, books, and candles at the entrance. Police Officer García did not know who the writer was (“he doesn’t ring a bell to me”) but given the deployment, and the severity of Cantellano’s orders he begun to understand the moment’s significance. “I didn’t know the gent, but now I am going to read him.”

Bruno Uribe turned up with a candle and a long lighter, one of those used to light the stoves of industrial kitchens. Officer García, whose name shone out from a badge on the right pocket of his uniform, let him pass to light the candle. Uribe left it a meter from the door, beside a copy of Memorias de mis putas tristes. “It’s a little homage from me and my family,” was all he would say, and left. A rosary hung from his neck.

Mónica Hernández, after leaving the small bunch of daisies near the wooden door, walked around a little, confused by the neighborhood. She approached a crying neighbor and they seemed to find consolation in a mutual embrace. Five o’clock in the afternoon was fast approaching. It had begun to drizzle. And the rain was just about to fall.

Journalist Juan Diego Quesada reports for El País. His original story in Spanish was published as “En el 144 de la calle Fuego, el último suspiro de García Márquez,” available at http://cultura.elpais.com/cultura/2014/04/18/actualidad/1397772800_405073.html. Follow JDQ on Twitter @jdquesada.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist, and founding editor of the Mexican Journalism Translation Project. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

 

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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).

Criminalisation

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 mexicanjournalismtranslationproject.wordpress.com. You can follow Timmons on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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