In Mexico, torture, enforced disappearances, and murder are common occurrences. The torture can include beatings, waterboarding, electric shocks, and sexual abuse. Citizens go missing never to be heard from or seen again. The large number of killings has investigators overwhelmed and many bodies go unidentified. This sounds like the work of the drug cartels, but is actually the reported actions of Mexican police departments. President Felipe Calderon started the war on drugs in Mexico and the program has continued into the Presidency of Enrique Nieto. Not only did the program fail to stop the cartels, it increased the number of human rights violations in Mexico. Many members of the populace fear the brutality of a force meant to defend and protect their rights.
Mexico has a longstanding history of corruption in politics, including the police departments that serve as the force of law. Mexico’s police have a reputation for liberally using force when seeking a confession, punishing civil unrest, or acting on a bribe. Opponents of the Mexican government, such as critical journalists or protesters are often the victims of kidnappings and unusual disappearances. More than 27,000 people have gone missing since 2006, and the police have virtually given up. They tell families desperate for the truth to perform their own investigations. Murder victims include civilians, suspected criminals, other police officers, and politicians. There is evidence of the police manipulating crime scenes in order to demonstrate the necessary use of force. It is commonplace for drug cartels to bribe corrupt officers to eliminate problematic cops and virtuous politicians.
The widespread corruption makes it harder for respectable law enforcement officers to actually do their jobs. Many people in Mexico feel the police have become another part of the drug cartels control over the nation. Over half the population does not trust the municipal police, and a little under half trust the federal department.
In an effort to reduce the drug crimes, recently the police in Mexico have been split between municipal and federal departments. The majority of the corruption and abuse of power takes place at the local police level. Drug money is a major influence in the reason for a greater infringement on rights. There have been reports of federal police officers being tortured and killed by their local counterparts.8 In some areas, the federal police fear the local cops more so than the drug cartels. In order to decrease the number of injustices against civilian rights, accountability needs to be established. Regulations have been instituted in efforts to decrease the brutality. However, without the proper backing and enforcement, the regulations have been largely ignored.
One way to help the Mexican government regain control of the police force is greater collaboration with the United States. So far, the United States has contributed over 2 billion dollars in support towards the war against the cartels. Part of that money goes to collecting intelligence and creating a more stable economy. However, there have be concerns with Donald Trump elected President that the collaboration efforts will be cutback. Trump’s proposed border wall, along with his stance on immigrants, has many worried the human rights violations happening in Mexico will be ignored by the United States. If this happens, it is very likely that the existing police brutality in Mexico will increase to compensate the end of support from the U.S., thus causing a greater amount of cases involving human rights violations and civilian suffering.
Globally, the responses from human rights organizations have been critical of the government’s inaction. The United Nations made recommendations that civilian disappearances be investigated and officers suspected of criminal conduct be kept uninformed in reference to active cases.
There are other theories as to ways in which the corruption and police brutality can be reduced for the foreseeable future. One idea is greater professionalism within the force. This can be achieved by requiring ethical training that stresses morality and teaches the significant consequences of violating human rights. Another suggestion is increasing the salaries of police officers so accepting bribes from the cartel will be less appealing. Although, this suggestion is a weaker restraint against corruption since Mexico has already spent a fortune fighting the war on drugs and the cartels possess such large amounts of cash they can easily outbid the Mexican government. One remaining certainty in Mexico is the lives of civilians continue to be threatened by corrupt police officers working against the very people they have sworn to protect.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Reiff Center For Human Rights and Conflict Resolution or Christopher Newport University.