Mexico: torture increased 600% in 10 years

Torture by police and soldiers continues to be a major problem for the Mexican government, according to "Out of Control: Torture and Other Ill-Treatment in Mexico," a 74-page report released by the London-based human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) on Sept. 4. Electric shocks, near-asphyxiation, mock executions, death threats against prisoners and their families, injection of carbonated drinks or chili pepper in prisoners' noses, and rape and other forms of sexual violence remain common practices, according to the report, which cites both official statistics and interviews with victims. The result is often forced confessions, wrongful convictions and a failure to arrest the actual perpetrators. Although the government officially condemns torture, it rarely prosecutes police agents or soldiers for the practice and almost never convicts them. January 2014 data from the government's Federal Judiciary Council (CJF) show that federal courts only took 123 torture cases to trial from 2005 to 2013; seven resulted in convictions. The government's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) received 7,164 torture complaints from 2010 to 2013; not one of them led to a conviction.

Reports of torture jumped dramatically after December 2006, when then-president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (2006-2012) began militarizing the fight against drug trafficking; complaints to the CNDH rose by 600% from 2003 to 2013. Current president Enrique Peña Nieto has deemphasized the "drug war," but the number of torture complaints has only fallen slightly. (Al Jazeera America, Sept. 4; La Jornada, Mexico, Sept. 5; Jurist, Sept. 5)

In other news, a poll released by the Consulta Mitofsky firm in early September showed President Peña Nieto's approval rating falling to 47%, its lowest level since he took office in December 2012 with a 54% approval rate. The week before, the Pew Research Center reported that the president's negative ratings rose by nine points in the past year. Peña has been remarkably successful in pushing his programs through Congress, notably an "energy reform" that increases the participation of private and foreign companies in oil production. His administration has managed to engineer 85 changes to the Constitution. But the "reforms" have failed to produce the economic upturn Peña promised; the government's current growth prediction for this year is just 2.7%. The president is "much more popular outside than in Mexico because we don't trust him," Guadalupe Loaeza, a columnist for the daily Reforma, told the Washington Post. "We don't believe him." (WP, Sept. 3, from correspondents)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, September 7.

See our last post on Mexico's human rights crisis.