Tag Archives: war on drugs

Why They Kill You In Veracruz (IGNACIO CARVAJAL, Journalist, Veracruz, Mexico)

Why they Kill you in Veracruz

By Ignacio Carvajal (Journalist based in Veracruz, First Published 13 August 2015)

The issue in Veracruz is not whether they kill journalists, lawyers, politicians, teachers, students…
There’s just one issue: they kill you.
You can be murdered in Veracruz for two reasons: insecurity and impunity.
That’s why they kill a child in the north and bury her like an animal.
That’s why there have been more than 65 murders of women in 2015.
That’s why they kill journalists and former journalists.
That’s why they threaten human rights defenders.
That’s why they plunder the rivers for whatever they want.
That’s why there are kidnappings, even though punishment has increased and there are special anti-kidnapping units.
That’s why mayors can send hit men out to kill, then turn and run from law enforcement.
That’s why there are so many dead, floating in the Río Blanco.
That’s why there’s a solemn silence surrounding the violence in Veracruz and Boca del Río.
That’s why the University of Veracruz students are brutally beaten to an inch of their lives.
That’s why there are so many desperate mothers searching for the missing.
That’s why there are graves, the ones that have been found and the ones that haven’t been found.
For all these reasons, and more besides, that’s why Veracruz is drenched in tears and blood.

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Torture in Mexico: Human Rights Organization Takes On Another Four Torture Cases from Ciudad Juárez (Martín Orquiz, El Diario de Ciudad Juárez)

This article was first published in El Diario de Ciudad Juárez on 10 June 2014. It has been published without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Translator´s Note: The MxJTP is committed to translating articles about torture in Mexico. Along with the four new cases the subject of this article, the El Diario de Juárez also makes reference to the torture of the five people once accused of the 2010 car bomb in Ciudad Juárez. After more than three years in prison, those five torture victims were released in March 2014 – after they were released they interviewed about their experience by journalist Daniela Rea for newspaper El Universal. On a recent visit to Mexico, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – who did not visit Ciudad Juárez – confirmed that torture is “widespread” in the country. And, for over the past decade, AnimalPolítico confirmed that not a single public official has been punished for this serious crime. PT

 

Torture in Mexico: Human Rights Organization Takes On Another Four Torture Cases from Ciudad Juárez
By Martín Orquiz (El Diario de Ciudad Juárez)

Defense attorneys from the Center for Human Rights Paso del Norte (Centro de Derechos Humanos Paso del Norte, CDHPN) have four other cases similar to those accused of extortion and freed after a court agreed Monday that their confessions were obtained under torture.

And, according to the organization’s spokesperon, Carlos Murillo González, another eight case files are under evaluation to determine if they share characteristics required to take on their defense.

Until now, three cases exist where it has been proved that police officers tortured people to “confess” their participation in various criminal acts. Among these are the cases of five border residents who were accused of detonating a car bomb in 2012 but who were later accused of carrying arms, drug possession and of links to organized crime.

The fourth case was not publicised to the same extent, according to the spokesperson, but it did share the same characteristics as the others: those accused were young men living in neighborhoods on the outskirts of Ciudad Juárez, tortured to admit their participation in criminal activities.

Murillo González added that these cases all share various features: the alleged perpetrators were taken from their homes by police officers from different forces but their reports state the arrest took place elsewhere and under different conditions.

In the cases currently under discussion, Carlos Murillo expects them to be successful because each undergoes a rigorous selection process before the CDHPN takes on their defense.

The CDHPN spokesperson referred to brothers Juan Antonio and Jesús Iván Figueroa Gómez who, along with Misael Sánchez Frausto, have been imprisoned on charges of extortion for two years and five months. However, a court has annulled the evidence presented by the Public Prosecutor, determining that it was obtained through torture.

Another person accusd in the same case, the underage brother of the Figueroa Gómez was declared innocent for lack of proof in August 2013. All of these accused were arrested on 18 January 2012.

As recently as last March, the Federal Attorney General (PGR) withdrew the charges against the five men arrested and accused of involvement in detonating the 2010 car bomb.

Noé Fuentes Chavira, Rogelio Amaya Martínez, Víctor Manuel Martínez Rentería, Gustavo Martínez Rentería and Ricardo Fernández Lomelí were freed after more than three and a half years in prison.

These five men tested positive for torture under the Istanbul Protocol, a diagnostic tool used to assess if a person was subjected to torture or degrading treatment.

Newspaper sources establish that on their arrest they were accused of organized criminal membership, crimes against the health code for possession of marijuana, and having firearms reserved exclusively for the Armed Forces.

Murillo González mentioned that these cases have a documented modus operandi by police: officers arrive at homes and detain men whom they consider belong to gangs.

“Those arrested are young and poor, that’s the way the police works,” he added.

In regards accusations of torture used for self-incrimination, Murillo González said that another four cases are still pending and another eight are in a CDHPN review process: each case is submitted to a selection process that can take several months to see if the human rights organization can take on their defense or not.

Among the people that the CDHPN is currently defending are those accused of extortion, robbery and belonging to organized crime.

Yet there are still many others who come to the CDHPN to request information, looking for help, Murillo González says. These people often decide not to continue with their cases because they are subject to police violence, receive threats, and refuse to go further. The CDHPN only acts when those affected want to file a formal complaint.

“They come for help but they don’t want to follow any further steps. But we’ve been able to put together a systematic view of the way the police work, they way they attack certain social groups, mostly against youth from poor neighborhoods,” he said.

The police officers, he added, arrest somebody and force them through illegal means to say who their accomplices were, then forcing them to identify them.

“At any hour of the day or night they invade their homes and remove the youth who are implicated. Then they use torture to make them confess, and this practice is something we frequently see,” he specified.

Murillo González, who is a sociologist, mentioned that on average each week about two or three people seek out psychological assistance because they have been experiencing threats or torture by the police. They tend to ask for help but then they don’t go any further.

There is no set protocol for the cases that the CDHPN accepts, but they do share the following features: the affected come from a vulnerable group and, if torture occurred, the CDHPN reviews the testimony to see if they coincide with the facts and they even investigate the person’s trustworthiness.

“We are accused of defending criminals, but we defend human dignity,” Murillo González emphasized during the interview. “It falls to the authorities to prove what the accused did; to us they are innocent.”

Journalist Martín Orquiz reports for El Diario de Ciudad Juárez. This article was first published with the title, “Defiende organización otros 4 casos de tortura,” and is available at: http://diario.mx/Local/2014-06-10_b9a41638/defiende-organizacion-otros-4-casos-de-tortura/.

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. The MxJTP has a FaceBook page: like it, here.

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The Business Meeting (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RÍODOCE)

This Malayerba column was first published in RíoDoce on 18 May 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Business Meeting
By Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RÍODOCE)

They were invited to a meeting. But they went with reluctance. Okay, see you there. They were in Bogotá: they did not want to work but poke around, walk about, watch the girls, get drunk, make an occasional pass. They had gone to walk through downtown and then they went to the miradero. Afternoons in the Colombian capital are rainy and fresh but they were wearing light clothes – they had just fled the forty-five degree heat of Culiacán, Sinaloa.

They arrived on time because they wanted to leave early. It was a large house, a mansion: white, two floors, tiled roof, and a park-sized patio filled with amusements, a swimming pool, a fountain, some pavillions where people could meet to talk and party. Five luxury vehicles in the garage. A fireplace. An army of employees.

Come in. Anything else. Those were the two words they were accustomed to hear when people from Bogotá said hello. The other most repeated word was calm: a strange word in a region punished by violence between the cartels and the government, and provoked by the guerrilla. Stay calm, keep calm. Pacifying words in periods of war without decibels. That’s how things were solved or calmed down.

They stepped in and an army of waiters descended. They wanted to take their jackets and umbrellas, pointing them to a small, open salon where the meeting would take place. They said good afternoon, offered them a tray with glasses of rum or champagne, directed them to a chair, gave them an aperitif. Just a little bit of rum. Not too much because I don’t want to miss tequila.

They had on sandals and wore tee shirts. Sweating, one of them in a baseball cap, and the other with ruffled hair. Both in shorts, showing off hairy legs and clipped nails, reached by the faint cries from the city, and the morning mist that lingered through the day. They sat almost lay down on the chair. Before them the host, formally attired. He was happy to have them there and told them so. He asked his staff to bring them tequila, for his Mexican friends.

One by one the others arrived. A couple of gringos from Washington: tall, cold, overbearing. Three from Cali and from elsewhere. All besuited or in smoking jackets. All with dark clothing. All with shined shoes, sparkling. All with kempt, short hair, and straight-backed, like columns in a monastery. Serious, at first very serious. They exchanged niceties then they wanted to talk business.

Before we start I want to introduce you all. The host spoke about the gringos, then those from Cali and roundabouts, and finally he presented the Mexicans. They had traveled from Culiacán, Sinaloa. When he said that, the others piped up. They shouted: From Culiacán. My respects. Partners, friends. How amazing, what a great job you do. Then they felt trusted. So they began to do business.

Journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas is the founding editor of RíoDoce, an online news outlet based in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He is the author of various books, including Con la Granada en la Boca (Aguilar, 2014). This column was first published under the title, “La Reunión,” and isavailable at: http://riodoce.mx/noticias/columnas/malayerba/la-reunion.

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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“I didn’t know that a human could take so much pain” (Daniela Rea, EL UNIVERSAL)

This article was published in El Universal on 15 March 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

“I didn’t know that a human could take so much pain”
by Daniela Rea (EL UNIVERSAL)

The first thing that springs to mind for Gustavo Martínez Rentería about the torture he and his friends suffered at the hands of the Federal Police, whose officers forced them to admit to being criminals, is the moment when the uniformed agents opened the door to the room where they had been hitting them for several days. At that moment, the officers asked if they wanted to say anything, as it was going to get worse.

The door opened. They were in a giant warehouse, bound hand and foot, in front of TV cameras that were pointing at them. To one side was Luis Cárdenas Palomino, then spokesperson for the Federal Police, saying that they were narcos, responsible for planting the car bomb in Ciudad Juárez on 15 July 2010.

“When I saw myself in front of the cameras, the world stopped turning and the only thing I thought was: ‘Holy shit, we are done for’” says Gustavo, now free, after spending three years and seven months in prison accused of a crime he confessed to under torture, along with four childhood friends: Rogelio Amaya Martínez, Noé Fuentes Chavira, and brothers Víctor Manuel and Ricardo Fernández Lomelí.

“I didn’t understand what was going on, they had beaten us so much… you don’t know what’s truth and what’s a lie. They even make you doubt yourself,” he says during a conversation with EL UNIVERSAL.

Gustavo was 24 years old when he was arrested. He was working in a bar in Ciudad Juárez. Like his friends, he looks like he just came from another world. He walks gingerly, like he’s trying to recognize the ground.

“The only thing I can ask for is patience from my people,” he says.

To prove the youths’ innocence, their defense – headed by the Paso del Norte Human Rights Centre (Centro de Derechos Humanos Paso del Norte) and the Collective Against Torture and Impunity – implemented the Istanbul Protocol, an international test that comprises assessing bodily and emotional damage done to victims of torture. The test demonstrated that they suffered beatings to both body and face, electric shocks, simulated murder and suffocation with plastic bags and water, threats of being raped, or their families being raped, and that they were made to watch their friends being abused or hearing their torture. Subsequently, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) confirmed these results in recommendation 75/2011.

— Gustavo is asked, “How do you see yourself now that you are out of prison?” He closes his eyes, and tries to imagine.

— I see a skinny guy, hobbled, spent, who walks slowly, nervously… on the ground are the bits that they broke off: dignity, self-esteem, strength, patience, confidence, a whole life.

Rogelio Amaya, one of the arrested youths, looks at himself and is surprised to have discovered personal strength. “I didn’t know that I could bear so much, so much pain. How is it possible that a living being can tolerate so much pain? I see somebody who thinks he’s now stronger than he was [before the torture].

We Come Back Damaged

On 13 August 2010 the Federal Police brought the five youths accused of the Ciudad Juárez car bombing in which four people died before the media. The defense alleged that they were tortured to admit their guilt, and even the Federal Attorney General withdrew its criminal complaint, and freed them on Friday 7 March.

“During Felipe Calderón’s presidency, we witnessed the fabrication of criminals through torture. The government needed to find the guilty and so it fingered these young men. The Federal Police tortured them in Ciudad Juárez, then when they were transferred by plane and in the hangar, and later at their Iztapalapa base. They had them for five days so that they could do unthinkable things to them,” says Javier Enríquez of the Collective Against Torture and Impunity at a press conference on 11 March in Mexico City as he announced these youth’s release. The young men were present at the press conference.

The defense has begun a judicial process against the police officers who arrested the youths. They hope for sanctions against federal agents Manuel Calleja Marín, Víctor Aquileo Lozano Vera, Manuel Granero Rugerio, Federico López Pérez, Adán Serafín Cárdenas Cruz and Luis Alberto González Gutiérrez and for reparations agains the damaged caused to the youths and their families.

The first night that Mayra and Rogelio spent together, after his freedom, they talked without stopping, trying to bring each other up to date. “We didn’t come back from a holiday, Mayra, we returned damaged, bitter,” Rogelio said to her at one point, when the certainties of the “return to life” began bit by bit to fall into place.

Days later, in Mexico City, he would remember and reflect upon that scene: “We went three years and seven months inside and suddenly realized… Starting over again is going to be difficult, and I spoke to her a lot so that she can be patient with me.”

Mayra sits by his side. The wife who has been with him over the past eight years has to get used to the idea that her husband is now different from who he used to be.

“I see that he has changed. He has a different look. A lot of courage and insecurity, of sadness. In his eyes he is always on alert. Before, he used to look normal. I don’t know how to explain it… it’s also in the way he walk, as if he’s being watched, always turning back, surprised that a guard isn’t following him.”

The results from the Istanbul Protocol reflect how the torture has marked them: insomnia, nightmares, frightened of going out, of being alone, of closing their eyes, unexpectedly reliving the torture, of wanting to be dead, lack of appetite, migraines.

Mayra knows what the psychologists have told him: these are normal feelings coming from an abnormal situation. “We need to talk a lot. He was a prisoner there, but out here a lot of things have happened. I want to understand, to know how to get close to him again,” Mayra says.

“What do you want to know? How they tortured me? What it’s like to be lock…” he replies.

Rogelio worked in a Soriana warehouse before his arrest. He leaves sentences unfinished. That’s how he came out: he doesn’t speak very much, or he interrupts himself. For the press conference the youths agreed that he would speak for his friends. Once again, TV cameras were pointed at him, but now they want to hear the truth. He couldn’t talk.

One aim of torture is to extract words. The youths had words taken from them when they were fored to confess to crimes they didn’t commit. And they had words taken from them again when, in front of the cameras, they couldn’t talk about the torture. Now free, words seem to be beyond them. Words stuck in their stomachs, in their throats, in their mouths. It’s like the words want to come out but they drown in teary eyes that, it seems, don’t belong to them.

Back to Life

It was 1430 on the afternoon of Friday 7 March when Rogelio and Noé left prison in Tepic, Nayarit State. Meanwhile, in the south of the country, Gustavo, Víctor and Ricardo left the prison in Perote, Veracruz. Hours later, for the first time since their arrest, the five would reunite in Mexico City. They were never allowed to communicate.

“We didn’t recognize each other. Noé and Gustavo were really skinny,” Víctor jokes, the youngest. When they put him in prison he was 19 years old and he was about to become a father. His son was born two weeks after he went to prison and he only met him last year when his lawyers managed to obtain permission to visit the maximum-security prison. That time they saw him through glass. They couldn’t touch.

“The first time that he said “daddy”…” he says, and his face lights up.

Rogelio also became a father again when he was a prisoner. Prior to that he had a four year-old son and his wife Mayra was about to give birth to a girl. When he regained his freedom on Friday, the first thing that he did was to run to embrace her. The girl was unsettled and began to cry. She didn’t know who he was. As the days went by, she has been getting used to his arms, to his smiles.

“What’s it like to be free again? It’s like being born. There’s no way to describe it,” and a smile appears on Rogelio’s face.

To be re-born, that’s what freedom is for them. Rogelio, Gustavo, Víctor, Noé and Ricardo know they have been broken, but the torture made them discover something about themselves they did not know.

“I always thought I was a strong person but this has told me that ‘I’m great’.” It’s let me know that I can pick myself up,” Gustavo exclaims.

“I have matured a lot. I realize that I am a person who can behave like a father, like a man,” Víctor adds.

Family is their bulwark, what sustains them. They want to regain lost time, to find a job, to build a business, to show themselves and others that they can keep on going.

“The greatest payback for what they did to me is to take the life they stole from me and show them that I can go on. I want to move on and leave everything behind,” says Rogelio, summing up how he and his friends feel.

They are hungry to get back each of the 1,305 days they spent in prison. Their families know that’s a tall order, to carry all that on their shoulders. To pick up the pieces and to get back to full strength is going to be a slow, painful process.

Mayra, Rogelio’s wife, can feel it already.

“I tell him that the most important thing is that he believes it, and that he is back with us and that we are going to move forward.”

Journalist Daniela Rea reports for newspaper El Universal. Follow her on Twitter @danielarea. This article first appeared in Spanish with the title, “No sabía que un ser humano podía aguantar tanto dolor,” available at: http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion-mexico/2014/impreso/-8220no-saba-que-un-ser-humano-poda-aguantar-tanto-dolor-8221-213959.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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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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