Several years ago, Cynthia was heading to the beach in Matamoros, located in the state of Tamaulipas in northern Mexico, with her two sons, her brothers, and her husband. Along the way, they encountered a military checkpoint. They were not told to stop, so they passed by.
However, a few meters later, the uniformed men fired towards the rear end of the vehicle in which the family was traveling. Cynthia’s two sons died. The 10-year-old was shot in the back; the 5-year-old was left dead in her arms.
Cynthia has publicized her story as part of the citizen campaign Seguridad Sin Guerra (Security Without War), which seeks to stop a proposed law that would give more power to the army in Mexico. Her tragedy is, unfortunately, only one example of the numerous human rights violations that Mexico's military stands accused of committing during the country's 10-year-long “war on drugs.”
Watch the Spanish-language campaign video below:
Against the militarization of the country
Citizens, civil society organizations, academics, journalists, activists, relatives of the disappeared, and victims of military intervention have joined forces to push forward the campaign to stop the government’s plan to normalize military presence in public security.
The campaign's website, SinMilitarizacion.mx (which translates to Without Militarization), alleges that if the so-called Internal Security Law is approved, the army would be allowed to intervene in peaceful demonstrations, investigate, take statements, receive complaints, and arrest suspects— tasks that normally fall to police and public ministries. The campaign proposes that instead of passing the law, police should be better prepared and trained.
It also lists reasons why many Mexicans protest against the idea of normalizing the presence of the army. Among them, which the secretary of defense himself said:
El ejército y la policía no se pueden intercambiar. A las fuerzas militares las entrenan para usar la fuerza contra un enemigo armado y vencerlo. La policía está pensada para enfrentar las amenazas a la seguridad con la menor cantidad de fuerza posible y combatir delitos con la cooperación de la población. Eso es lo que dice también la Constitución.
The army and the police are not interchangeable. The military forces are trained to use force against an armed enemy and defeat it. The police are designed to confront security threats with as little force as possible and to combat crime with the cooperation of the population. That is what the Constitution also says.
Independent Mexican news organization Animal Polítco also warns that the law would give the military and any federal security force the possibility to carry on surveillance “using any method to collect information”.
Amnesty International agrees that the law poses a danger:
(…) Esta legitimación debilitará aún más el sistema de protección de los derechos humanos en el país, sin contribuir en modo alguno a la seguridad de la población.
Las autoridades mexicanas deberían reconocer que tras 10 años de seguridad militarizada se han incrementado las violaciones a los derechos humanos, tales como, la tortura, la desaparición forzada y las ejecuciones extrajudiciales y la impunidad de los responsables.
This legitimizing [of the military] will weaken the human rights protection system in the country, without adding anything to the population's security.
Mexican authorities should recognize that after 10 years of militarized security, human rights violations such as torture, forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and impunity for the perpetrators have increased.
In an article published in the Mexican Times, philosopher and former Congressman Fernando Belaunzarán theorized why the government would want the armed forces as guarantors of the security in the country:
[…] El ejército goza de una confianza del 42%, cuatro veces más que la del gobierno federal que está en 10%. Eso explica que el gobierno haya caído en la tentación de presentarse como ariete en patrioteras respuestas al supuesto honor mancillado de las Fuerzas Armadas por parte de quienes cuestionamos las iniciativas de Ley de Seguridad Interior que están a discusión en el Congreso.
[…] The army enjoys the confidence of 42% [of the public], four times more than that of the federal government, which is at 10%. This explains that the government has given into the temptation of presenting itself as a battering ram in patriotic response to the honor of the armed forces being supposedly tainted by those who question the initiatives of the Internal Security Law that are under discussion in Congress.
Recently, President Enrique Peña Nieto linked support of the military to patriotism, arguing that those who criticize the military also disparage Mexico as a whole. Belaunzarán responded to this with a warning against blindly continuing the drug war:
Lo grave no es que el gobierno se equivoque al pensar que los militares le transmitirán prestigio social por convertir al gabinete y al mismo titular del Ejecutivo en sus apologetas sino que, por una parte, elude el tema de fondo que tiene que ver con la insistencia en mantener una desastrosa estrategia de combate al narcotráfico que ha escalado la violencia sin visos de resolver ningún problema, y por la otra desnaturaliza su función al meterlos a la arena electoral, haciéndolos más vulnerables al desgaste público.
What's serious about this is not that the government is wrong in thinking that the military will transmit them social prestige by converting the cabinet and the very same Head of the Executive into their apologists, but, on one hand, that it is avoiding the fundamental issue, insisting on maintaining a disastrous strategy to combat drug trafficking that has escalated violence and hasn't resolved any problem in the slightest, and on the other hand, that it is altering [the military's] function by putting them in the electoral arena, making them more vulnerable to public wear and tear.
“Drugs aren’t killing us, bullets are”
During the administration of President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), the army took to the streets under the pretext of fighting a war against drug trafficking and drugs. Since then, violence in the country has become widespread and a human rights crisis has arisen. According to the campaign, more than 30,000 disappeared, 166,000 deaths, and an increase in the number of criminal groups (from eight to 200) has been reported. It has also been noted that the army has an unusually high level of fatalities: it kills eight people for each person it wounds. For these reasons, civil organizations consider this law as a “threat to democracy.”
Pedro Reyes, a plastic artist who has worked on issues of violence in the country, is part of the campaign and says that what kills Mexicans today is not drugs, but the “war” against them:
En México, por una persona que muere por uso de drogas, 12 personas mueren por la guerra contra las drogas. No nos están matando las drogas, nos están matando las balas.
In Mexico, for a person who dies from drug use, 12 people die from the war on drugs. Drugs aren’t killing us, bullets are.
As part of the campaign, the public is invited to join and sign a letter that will be sent to members of Congress, responsible for rejecting or approving the bill on April 30.
On Twitter, people have expressed their feelings about the bill, which some have called “coup law”:
— Alejandro Madrazo (@BuenMadrazo) 27 de marzo de 2017
Tweet: A great illustration on why we do not want #CoupLaw and instead ask for #SecurityWithoutWar
-Before April 30, Congress wants to approve the Internal Security Law.
-The main proposals are by César Camacho y Gil Zuarth
-Person: With which the president could use the army at his discretion and unilaterally against people.
-Person: This appears to be a military regime.
-It's giving a blank check to the army.
-In 2006 the army was sent out into the streets and the homicide rate tripled.
-And the army is not made for tasks of public security.
-Army officer: We don't study to chase criminals.
-The law is also ambiguous: “And all other actions that are considered necessary” (Article 3 of Camarcho's proposal).
-Furthermore, the initiative by Gil Zuarth allows lethal action against peaceful protests (Article 22 + Article 24).
-Book: A correct regulatory framework is necessary.
-Let's stop the militarization, let's train the police.
— CMDPDH (@CMDPDH) 22 de marzo de 2017
Tweet: Activists, academics, journalists, and CSO’s demand #SecurityWithoutWar, join and stop the militarization
Image: Let's stop the militarization, let's train the police. Visit sinmilitarizacion.mx today and share. Use #SeguridadSinGuerra. Thanks!
— 0969 (@096955) 23 de marzo de 2017
Image: We don't want the Intenal Security Law nor the Army in the streets