Ayotzinapa Central America El Salvador Honduras Human Rights Immigration Mexico

Latin America Human Rights, Security & Gender Update January 28, 2015

Mexico

Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo led a press conference yesterday concluding the investigation of the case of 43 missing Ayotzinapa students. The report presented by the Attorney General of Mexico (PGR) claims the students were mistaken for members of a rival gang and were kidnapped, murdered and incinerated in a trash dump in Cocula by members of the “Guerreros Unidos.” Although no new evidence has been presented, the PGR has concluded what they describe as an “exhaustive, serious” investigation. The PGR created a video detailing their account of the events based on testimony from the 99 suspects that have been detained.

This press conference follows mass demonstrations marking four months since the students were disappeared. The students’ parents have consistently said that the “weaknesses and inconsistencies” in the PGR’s investigation will keep them searching for answers. The parents have accused the government of “trying to close the case without properly exploring the possibility that their children could still be alive.”

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) argues it is much too early to close the investigation:

“WOLA believes it is premature and alarming that federal authorities have announced the end of the investigation into the disappearance of student teachers. While President Peña Nieto clearly wants to put this case behind him, as it has severely injured both his domestic popularity and his international credibility, there are still many unanswered questions about the case. According to Maureen Meyer, Senior Associate for Mexico at WOLA, declaring that the investigation of the Ayotzinapa case is over, when there are still several outstanding issues to resolve, will only reinforce the perception that the government is not committed to the rule of law.

Animal Politico has published six responses from the parents of the Ayotzinapa students which question the legitimacy of the PGR report. Among the counterarguments presented by the parents in opposition to the official PGR report are:

  1. Questionable Confession: The parents argue there can be no “legal certainty” in the case when there have been suspicions raised that the detainee confessions may have been obtained through torture, suspects integral to the PGR’s account have not yet been detained, and 20 of the detainees continue to claim that the students were buried in graves located in the Pueblo Viejo colony and Cerro La Parota, Iguala.
  2. The Fire: Although there is evidence of a fire in the Cocula trash dump, the space showing damage would not have been large enough to fit all 43 students. While the PGR testifies that a fire could have taken place unseen, the dump is visible from several colonies, none of which testified to seeing a fire the night of September 26. The PGR’s account claims that the students’ belongings were burned along with them to eliminate evidence, but the parents say that many of the students’ phones continued to ring for days after their disappearance.
  3. Collection of Evidence & Test Results: The students’ families sayit is more than known that Mexican prosecutors are specialists in manufacturing crimes and, as recognized scientists have expressed doubt on this hypothesis (the killing and burning of bodies), the families will not accept those results until independent experts perform these same forensics tests.” The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team has been selected by the families to complete an independent investigation.
  4. Uninvestigated Crimes: Another argument the parents have used to reject the the Attorney General’s decision to close the case, is that no related inquiry has been made on the bloody murder of Julius Caesar Mondragón, whose young flayed body” was found three blocks from the point where the students were initially attacked by Iguala police.
  5. Inaccurate Charges: The PGR has presented aggravated murder charges, which the committee of families of the missing students noted is a flawed approach because there is still no proof that 42 of the students are dead, only one student has been forensically identified.
  6. Unexplored Implications of Army & Government Involvement: One more reason not to terminate the investigation into the attack on the students, concluded their parents, is that the PGR has not investigated the role played by the 27th Army Infantry Battalion based in Iguala. They also stressed that the investigation can not be concluded without demarcating criminal responsibility for the environment of political corruption that triggered the events of September 26,” by addressing the issue of government officials’ collusion with organized crime.

For more on investigation issues in Mexico, read last week’s blog.

U.S. Immigration

The Guardian interviewed a 7-year-old girl from El Salvador who was detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers after crossing the Mexican border into the U.S. near Hidalgo, Texas. The girl endured a 10 day journey from El Salvador, fleeing violence in her home country and seeking to reunite with her parents in New Jersey, only to be detained in a holding station for 15 days in a concrete room she described as an “ice box.” The Guardian reports that this account is “all-too familiar to immigration lawyers and advocacy groups who have long complained about the brutal conditions in temporary holding cells for undocumented border-crossers of all ages.”

Para mas información sobre las condiciones que migrantes enfrentan en EE.UU., lea este blog.

Dominican Republic & El Salvador

According to Reuters, the Dominican Republic’s move to ease a ban on abortion is a historic step, but challenges remain. Last month, President Danilo Medina recommended an amendment to the penal code to allow abortion in cases of rape, incest, a deformed fetus or when a woman’s life is in danger. Lawmakers accepted part of the recommendation, voting to allow abortion in cases when a woman’s life is in danger. The outright ban on abortion has resulted in more than 90,000 unsafe abortions performed in the Dominican Republic each year, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, a U.S.-based rights group.

There are still five countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that ban abortion in all circumstances: Chile, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Last week, El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly pardoned Carmen “Guadalupe” Vasquez, a woman sentenced to 30 years in prison for murder after suffering a miscarriage at the age of 18. This is a momentous step for El Salvador, one of the most punitive countries in the world with regard to their abortion ban. However, at least 29 Salvadoran women remain jailed for having illegal abortions, serving sentences of 12 to 40 years. About a dozen of these women are still appealing their sentences in court, but 17 have exhausted all judicial options and must appeal for a political pardon like that given to Guadalupe. Amnesty International is among the organizations pushing for the release of these 17 women.

Honduras

On AlterNet, Mike LaSusa explores the issues of privatization of Honduran society and a militarization of public security efforts in the country, “both of which have been fueled by a network of U.S.-supported policies and programs.” Read the article for LaSusa’s analysis of the Policía Militar de Orden Público (PMOP), gang violence, proposed plans for Zonas de Empleo y Desarrollo Económico (special employment and economic development zones, also known as ZEDEs) and how “U.S.-backed policies in Honduras have fed a cycle of crime, violence, exploitation and abuse of vulnerable populations by state and non-state actors alike.”

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Gladys Lanza, long-time human rights defender and head of the Women’s Movement for Peace, Visitation Padilla (Movimiento de Mujeres por la Paz, Visitación Padilla, also known as “Las Chonas”), has been sentenced for defamation to the detriment of Juan Carlos Reyes, the former director of the Foundation for the Development of Social Housing, Urban and Rural (FUNDEVI). 

Four years ago, Visitation Padilla received a complaint from Lesbia Pacheco, head of Human Resources at FUNDEVI, claiming she had been fired after months of sexual harassment by the organization’s director, Juan Carlos Reyes. Las Chonas took the case and proceeded with an advocacy campaign to secure Pacheco’s reinstatement to FUNDEVI. Soon after, Reyes launched a lawsuit against Lanza for which she could be sentenced to one to four years in prison. Lanza and the Women’s Movement for Peace refuse to retract their actions, saying they feel this trial serves as a direct message to organizations defending the rights of women in Honduras.

Reyes says he never wanted to affect Lanza, but that he hopes her sentencing will set a precedent for Lanza’s institution to use better methodology in the cases they take on.

It remains to be seen what kind of effect this case may have on women’s rights groups in Honduras.

Nicaragua

The Tico Times reports, a “Nicaraguan delegation representing nearly 40 civil society organizations and political parties traveled to San José, Costa Rica, this week during the annual meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to generate regional support against the construction of a massive interoceanic canal there.”

Last week, Jonathan Watts published a long-form piece for The Guardian wherein he reported on his travels along the proposed canal route in Nicaragua. Watts interviewed people living along the route and examined the potential economic, political and environmental impacts of this canal plan backed by Nicaraguan officials and funded by Chinese company HKND.

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