Mexico: “dirty war” files reveal “genocide plan”

Ginger Thompson writes for the New York Times, Feb. 27:

MEXICO CITY, Feb. 26 A secret report prepared by a special prosecutor’s office says the Mexican military carried out a “genocide plan” of kidnapping, torturing and killing hundreds of suspected subversives in the southern state of Guerrero during the so-called dirty war, from the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s.

The report, which was not endorsed by the government of President Vicente Fox but was leaked by its authors last week, says that the genocide plan was ordered by President Luis Echeverria in 1970, and devised by Hermenegildo Cuenca Diaz, who was defense minister at the time.

It is based partly on declassified documents from the Mexican military and for the first time provides names of military officers and units involved in destroying entire villages that the government suspected of serving as base camps for the rebel leader Lucio Cabanas.

In those towns, soldiers rounded up all the men and boys, executed some on the spot and detained others, and then used violence, including rape, to drive the rest of the people away, the report says. Most of those detained suffered severe torture, including beatings, electric shock and being forced to drink gasoline, at military installations that were operated like “concentration camps.”

“With this operation, a state policy was established in which all the authorities connected to the army – the president, ministers of state, and the presidential guard, commanders of the military regions in Guerrero, and officers and troops in their command – participated in the violations of human rights with the justification of pursuing a bad fugitive,” the report says. “Such an open counter-guerrilla strategy could not have been possible without the explicit consent and approval of the president.”

President Fox and the special prosecutor, Ignacio Carrillo Prieto, however, did not endorse the report, which was presented to Mr. Fox in December. Mr. Carrillo, who was appointed by Mr. Fox four years ago, said the government refused to make it public without changes. The report is an unedited draft of a document called The White Book, which is to be the government’s historical accounting of the egregious abuses by the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Carrillo said the draft of the report, prepared by a team of 27 researchers, including former student militants and advocates for the victims, was filled with bias and sprinkled with loaded language. He said it put too much of the blame for the abuses of the “dirty war” on the military, without describing the abuses committed by rebel groups. He said an edited version of the report would be presented to Mr. Fox on Monday, and later to the public.

“There are assertions in the draft that the army conducted the operations alone,” Mr. Carrillo said. “But they did not conduct them alone. They conducted them in response to orders from civilians above.”

The dispute over the draft of The White Book tore a deep rift in the special prosecutor’s office. The handful of international human rights investigators who have seen the report said that it offered a glimpse of the chaos that has crippled the special prosecutor’s efforts and that it raised new questions about Mr. Fox’s commitment to bring officials responsible for past abuses to justice.

Mr. Fox, whose rise to power ended seven decades of authoritarian rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, began his presidency with soaring promises to end impunity. So far, he has delivered very little.

An effort to indict Mr. Echeverria, accused of genocide in the killings of students in 1968 and 1971, failed when the Supreme Court found that the statute of limitations for murder had passed and that there was not enough evidence to prove genocide.

At the end of 2003, however, the Supreme Court opened the way for prosecutions for “dirty war” crimes when it found that no statute of limitations applied to political “disappearances,” presumed deaths in which no body has been found, opening the way for former government officials to be prosecuted in these cases.

The government’s National Human Rights Commission reported that up to 74 government officials could be liable for the disappearances of about 275 people. The unedited draft of The White Book lists more than 500 missing people.

But the disputes over the document’s contents, human rights investigators said, make clear that there remain serious obstacles standing in the way of winning justice.

Authors of the unedited draft of The White Book leaked parts of it to several prominent Mexican writers. The authors said that they were disgruntled because the government fired them without paying them for the last eight months and that they were worried the report was going to be sanitized.

A copy of the document was also obtained by a Mexican magazine, Eme-Equis, which published a report about the document on Sunday, and by the National Security Archives, a private nonpartisan research group based in Washington.

Kate Doyle, director of the security archives’ Mexico Project, said the report was posted on the archive’s Web site on Sunday to give victims and relatives access to the information. She provided a copy of the report last week to The New York Times.

“The fact that a version of the Special Prosecutor’s final report is circulating among a handful of prominent people yet is still closed and inaccessible to those most affected by the violence is a state of affairs reminiscent of Mexico’s past,” said a note on the Web site, “when citizens were routinely shut out of civic participation by a government determined to keep them in the dark.”

Mr. Carillo acknowledged that his office had been unable to pay its workers, saying that Attorney General Daniel Cabeza de Vaca was trying to “asphyxiate” his efforts by withholding his budget. But he said that the authors of the report had been hired under contract, and that their contract ended when the report was complete.

“We are attacked from above and below,” Mr. Carillo said. “From the front and from the back.”

He said the editing of the document was aimed at correcting it, not “watering it down.”

“Of course the violations were committed as part of a policy of the state,” Mr. Carrillo said, referring to the principal conclusion of the report, “but it was not one that was orchestrated by the armed forces. It was individuals and groups inside the armed forces that were always accompanied by civilians.”

“For us, it is important to make that distinction.”

His comments echoed the official position of Mexico’s military, which, unlike militaries in Argentina and Chile, has never publicly acknowledged the institution’s leading role in this country’s “dirty war.” Instead, a succession of defense ministers, including the current one, Gen. Gerardo Clemente Vega, have said only that certain officers and units operated out of a sense of duty to stop a violent rebel uprising, and that abuses were committed by soldiers and the guerrillas alike.

“This army did what it was told to do by the state,” General Vega said in a speech in February 2002.

Daniel Wilkinson of Human Rights Watch said the report provided the “clearest picture to date of the state’s repressive machinery at work.” The military documents do not describe tortures and killings, Mr. Wilkinson said, and they use coded language to describe illegal detentions. Still, Mr. Wilkinson said, the military documents fill in blanks left by an already large trove of declassified documents from the police and other government agencies.

Mr. Wilkinson said, “The question now for the Fox administration is: when are we going to see results in the prosecutions of these cases?”

A related story from the Mexican news agency APRO, March 6:

The government of Mexico “recognizes” that state and federal officials have carried out “forced sterilizations” in indigenous communities, which “constitute a particularly serious crime” given the assocaition with “genocide.”

Thus said Jose Francisco Cali, representative to the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, February 20 in a full annual sesion of the said committee in Geneva, European headquarters of the United Nations (UN). A delegation of 12 Mexican officials particiapted in the meeting, led by Maria del Refugio Gonzalez, undersecretary for Multilateral Matters and Human Rights to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs.

In the sesion, Cali spoke to the charges in report CERD/C/473 that Mexico presented May 19, 2005 before the UN committee. The 47-page documentdetails the actions undertaken by the federal government to fight the discrimination in its territory. Its content is based on data provided by various governmental entities, including the National Counsel to Prevent the Discrimination (Conapred) and the National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH).

Both stories archived at Chiapas95.

See also WW4 REPORT #s 96 & 68

See our last posts on Mexico and Guerrero.