Mexico: “dirty war” report finds “crimes against humanity”

From El Universal, Nov. 20:

The government on Saturday released a long-awaited report that for the first time officially blames “the highest command levels” of three former presidencies for the massacres, tortures and slayings of hundreds of leftists from the 1960s to the early 1980s.

Based partly on declassified military documents, the report posted on the Internet ends a five-year investigation by a special prosecutor named by President Vicente Fox to shed light on past crimes, including a 1968 student massacre and the disappearance of hundreds of leftist activists in the 1970s and early 1980s.

The report states that “the authoritarian regime, at the highest command levels,” broke the law and “committed crimes against humanity” that resulted in “massacres, forced disappearances, systematic torture and genocide to try to destroy a sector of society that it considered ideologically to be its enemy.”

Special prosecutor Ignacio Carrillo, who was appointed in November 2001, handed his report to the Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) late Friday. The report was later posted on the Internet for the public, and Carrillo said it would presented at a ceremony with Fox before he leaves office Dec. 1.

The incidents occurred during the administrations of Presidents Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, Jose Lopez Portillo and Luis Echeverria.

Asked by The Associated Press if the presidents knew of the atrocities but did nothing, Carrillo replied, “Yes.”

Carrillo said the report is only the beginning — that the government must prosecute those responsible if it is to prevent such atrocities from occurring in the future. The state also must compensate victims’ families, he said.

“This was not about the behavior of certain individuals,” Carrillo said. “It was the consequence of an authorized plan to do away with political dissidents.”

Until now, many of the cases consisted of little more than witnesses’ accounts.

Kate Doyle, a Mexico expert at the Washington-based National Security Archive, a private, nonpartisan research group, said the report is a “powerful development” because for the first time the government “officially lays the blame at the feet of three Mexican presidents.”

It “clearly describes in detail how the authoritarian regime” of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, “used violence to silence the opposition,” while painting an image to the world that it was running a democracy, she said.

Fox vowed to prosecute Mexico’s past crimes when he was elected in 2000, ending 71 years of PRI rule.

But the courts have repeatedly blocked Carrillo’s efforts to detain Echeverria, the only implicated president who is still living.

Carrillo denounced “the bad conduct of legislators and judges over the years who have promoted impunity with their false distortions of the law and reforms.”

In July, a federal judge threw out genocide charges against Echeverria, ruling that a 30-year statute of limitations had run out. Echeverria, 84, had been under house arrest for more than a week on charges that he organized a student massacre as interior secretary in 1968. The charges were the first to have been filed against a former president.

The massacre took place in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco Plaza on Oct. 2, just before the capital hosted the 1968 Summer Olympics. Officials said 25 people were killed, though human rights activists say as many as 350 may have died. The attack is considered one of the darkest moments of PRI rule.

Carrillo also has attempted to bring charges against Echeverria, president from 1970 to 1976, for a 1971 student massacre and for the disappearance of leftist activists in the southern state of Guerrero.

Echeverria has denied any wrongdoing.

Carrillo’s report found the most brutal period allegedly occurred under Echeverria’s so-called “Friendship Operation” launched by the military in 1970 in Guerrero.

The report says it has evidence the Army conducted illegal searches, arbitrary detentions, torture and burned down villages.

It describes soldiers dressed in civilian clothes gunning down seven men in the community of Los Piloncillos in front of their families, friends and neighbors. The men’s bodies were later eaten by the village’s dogs, Carrillo said.

The report tones down an earlier version leaked on the Internet in February that stated military bases under Echeverria’s rule served as “concentration camps” for the elimination of leftists and suspected guerrilla fighters.

Carrillo said Saturday that wording was too strong and did a disservice to victims of the Holocaust.

But the report is the first time “the state has judged itself” and found former presidents and the presidential guard were behind the atrocities, Carrillo said.

“The next prosecutor has to continue carrying out this work, so it never happens again” he said.

See our last posts on Mexico, the human rights crisis and the “dirty war.”