Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World survey was released yesterday, and found that 18 countries were on a downward trend compared to last year in terms of upholding political and civil liberties.
Mexico is a constitutional democracy and held a clean presidential election in 2012, won by Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate Enrique Pena Nieto. But the US’s southern neighbour has been listed as “partly free” since 2011, thanks largely to the impact of the country’s drug war, which Nieto promised to scale back during his campaign.
Drug-trafficking organisations have frequently murdered journalists along with other critics and rivals in the areas they control. Meanwhile, the Mexican government has taken an at-times heavy-handed approach to fighting drug traffickers, while the country’s corrupt justice system and security services have proven incapable of handling high-profile suspects and targets.
But Freedom House decided that Mexico was on a downward trajectory for a very specific reason: The government’s complicity in the September 2014 abduction and murder of 43 teaching students from Iguala, in Mexico’s Guerrero state.
The students had participated in a protest against the local government’s hiring and funding practices in a town about halfway between Mexico City and Acapulco. News that the local mayor had colluded with drug traffickers to have the students murdered sparked wide-scale protests throughout the country, as the mass killing exposed the appalling degree to which organised crime continued to be intertwined with the state nearly a decade into the country’s “drug war.”
For Freedom House, the Iguala abduction epitomized Mexico’s long-simmering problems. It’s presented as the primary reason for the country’s downgrade: Mexico “received a downward trend arrow due to the forced disappearance of 43 students who were engaging in political activities that reportedly angered local authorities,” the report states. Freedom House described the killings as “an atrocity that highlighted the extent of corruption among local authorities and the environment of impunity in the country.”
The Iguala killings aren’t the only recent sign that that there are deep problems within the Mexican state nearly a decade after president Filipe Calderon kicked the drug war into high gear. Earlier this week, it was announced that the Mexican government had no immediate plans to extradite the notorious drug trafficker Chapo Guzman to the United States. Guzman had been Mexico’s most-wanted criminal for over a decade before his capture in the coastal resort of Mazatlan in early 2014.
The US authorities don’t trust Mexico to prosecute and imprison him — after all, Guzman escaped from prison in 2001 with likely inside assistance. The US has requested his extradition to face a range of charges stateside.
The Freedom House report raises concerns as to whether the government can handle the case on its own — or if the state is too corrupt to bring Guzman or other major traffickers to justice.
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