Calderon’s Drug War Rhetoric Out of Touch with Reality

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In Mexico, President Calderon’s drug war rhetoric is starting to sound like sheer lunacy as a mounting pile of evidence shows that the country’s military are killing civilians. A Human Rights Watch report released in November listed more than 200 investigated cases of soldiers killing, torturing and kidnapping civilians. The report, which took two years to complete, was extensive and damning to Calderon’s repeated stance that the biggest threat to citizens “is from criminals, not the government,” and that “criminals constitute more than 90 percent of the drug war’s death toll.”

After five years of fighting the drug cartels with the military, a troubling pattern has emerged of Mexican military forces committing crimes as terrible as those of the criminals they are supposed to be defeating. Yet, Calderon’s government has failed to punish military officials or soldiers charged with committing atrocities against innocent civilians. In the same Human Rights Watch report, the authors note that military prosecutors have only convicted 15 soldiers, out of 3,671 investigations from 2007 to June 2011.

Now we have yet another report of military atrocities out of Ojinaga – a small Mexican border community across from Presidio in the Big Bend region. This time, however, General Manuel de Jesus Moreno Avina and 29 soldiers under his command are being tried for several crimes including torture, homicide, and drug trafficking.

The Mexican newspaper Reforma first reported the case after gaining access to some of the soldiers’ court testimonies. According to the newspaper, at least 10 civilians were killed by soldiers or hit men under Moreno’s orders in 2008 and 2009.

Reforma and the Associated Press report that among General Moreno’s alleged victims was Patricia Gardea Gonzalez, a secretary at the federal prosecutors’ office in Ojinaga; a state police officer; a local police officer who stopped Moreno for speeding and driving while drunk; and a businessman who filed a complaint with federal prosecutors and human rights officials after soldiers ransacked his home and stole money.

The good news is that unlike many generals who have never been held accountable for their abuses, General Moreno and his soldiers will be tried for their alleged crimes. This is a step in the right direction. The bad news, however, is that the trial will be in military court, which has shown to be ineffective in the past. Legal experts and human rights advocates have long argued that soldiers who commit human rights violations should be tried in civilian courts. Last year, Mexico’s Supreme Court agreed by issuing a historic ruling that soldiers be tried in civilian courts. Yet, it still hasn’t been implemented. Until the military is held accountable for its abuses Mexico will continue to be plagued by historic levels of violence. Criminals aren’t the only ones who need to be brought to justice. So do government officials who betrayed the honest citizens of Mexico.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.