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Mexico gives muddled response to criticism of human rights violations amid drug war

A new report says Mexico fails to limit security forces' torture, disappearances, and extrajudicial killings in the drug war.  But Calderon's response 'skirts the issue,' says blogger Patrick Corcoran.

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The most obvious flaw with Calderon’s logic is that he is comparing apples to oranges – the criminal gangs are more abusive precisely because they are criminal gangs. If the best the government can do to address the issues raised by the HRW report is to say that the criminals are worse, it’s hard to imagine a more damning indictment.

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Furthermore, while the government is understandably embarrassed by the content of the report, the automatic assumption that the ultimate interests of HRW and the Mexican government are in conflict is short-sighted. One point that does not get made often enough is that the abuses outlined in the report are not the case of a juggernaut government stepping on a few toes while otherwise doing a good job; they are symptomatic of a broadly ineffective force unable to keep up with the demands of the task at hand. If the Mexican military and police agencies were less prone to extra-legal activities, than they would almost certainly be more effective in their pursuit of criminals.

The authors of the HRW report point to the rising violence in Mexico as a sign that the government’s policies are failing. Here the evidence is a bit less clear. The government’s claim is essentially that their aggressive stance against criminals, resulting in many clashes and deaths, is necessary because of years of official collusion or indifference regarding organized crime. The argument is that things have to get worse before they can get better. In other words, insofar as it is related to the government’s strategy and not the dynamics within the drug trade, the violence today is the necessary byproduct of investment in a safer future for Mexico.

That is not implausible, and if it proves true, it will be an effective rejoinder to those who say all the suffering has been in vain. However, it is an impossible claim to prove today. Consequently, Calderon is asking Mexico to endure an enormous amount of bloodshed in exchange for an improvement at an undetermined point in the future. A further problem with with Calderon’s argument, and an inherent flaw with any strategy that entails a huge upsurge in violence for uncertain future gains, is that if he’s wrong, it won’t be Calderon who has to pick up the pieces, as he leaves office in December 2012. Unfortunately, the Mexicans bearing the burden of the criminal battles have nowhere to go.

--- Patrick Corcoran is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of his research here.

IN PICTURES: Mexico's drug war

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