Pubdate: Fri, 27 May 2016
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2016 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Azam Ahmed, New York Times


MEXICO CITY - In the history of modern war, fighters are much more 
likely to injure their enemies than kill them. But in Mexico, the 
opposite is true.

According to the government's own figures, Mexico's armed forces are 
exceptionally efficient killers - stacking up bodies at extraordinary rates.

Mexican authorities say the nation's soldiers are simply better 
trained and more skilled than the cartels they battle. But experts 
who study the issue say Mexico's kill rate is practically unheard-of, 
arguing that the numbers reveal something more ominous.

"They are summary executions," said Paul Chevigny, a retired New York 
University professor who pioneered the study of lethality among armed forces.

In many forms of combat between armed groups, about four people are 
injured for each person killed, according to an assessment of wars 
since the late 1970s by the International Committee of the Red Cross. 
Sometimes, the number of wounded is even higher.

The three were absolved of charges of homicide, cover-up, and 
alteration of evidence for lack of evidence.

But the body count in Mexico is reversed. The Mexican army kills 
eight enemies for every one it wounds.

For the nation's elite marine forces, the discrepancy is even more 
pronounced: The data they provide says they kill about 30 combatants 
for each one they injure.

The statistics, which the government stopped reporting in early 2014, 
offer a rare, unguarded glimpse into the role the Mexican military 
has assumed in the war against organized crime. In the last decade, 
as the nation's soldiers and marines have been forced onto the front 
lines, human rights abuses surged.

And yet the military remains largely untouched, protected by a 
government loath to crack down on the only force able to take on the 
fight. Little has been done to investigate the thousands of 
accusations of torture, forced disappearances, and extrajudicial 
killings that have mounted since former President Felipe Calderon 
began his nation's drug war a decade ago.

Of the 4,000 complaints of torture that the attorney general's office 
has reviewed since 2006, only 15 have resulted in convictions.

"Not only is torture generalized in Mexico, but it is also surrounded 
by impunity," said Juan E. Mendez, the UN special rapporteur on 
torture. "If the government knows it is frequent and you still don't 
get any prosecutions, and the ones you do prosecute usually wind up 
going nowhere, the blame lies with the state."

The Mexican armed forces did not respond to interview requests. But 
General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, the defense secretary, has 
publicly defended the military, saying it is the only institution 
confronting organized crime - and winning.

"We are in the streets because society is demanding us to be there," 
Cienfuegos told the Mexican newspaper Milenio this month.

About 3,000 people were killed by the military from 2007 to 2012, 
while 158 soldiers died. Some critics call the killings a form of 
pragmatism: In Mexico, where fewer than 2 percent of murder cases are 
successfully prosecuted, the armed forces kill their enemies because 
they cannot rely on the shaky legal system.

Waves of pressure have crashed over the government. In March, the 
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned Mexico's human 
rights record, including extrajudicial executions, building on an 
earlier UN report that described torture as widespread.

The government says it takes human rights seriously, passing 
legislation to counter abuse, protect victims, and allow soldiers to 
be tried in civilian courts. It says it has a new human rights 
program within the military and notes that under the current 
president, complaints against the military have dropped sharply.

"Every report of a human rights violation is worrisome," the 
government said. "But also these isolated cases do not reflect the 
general state of human rights in the country."

But while complaints of torture against the armed forces have fallen 
since 2011 - coinciding with an overall reduction in the number of 
troops deployed across Mexico - the lethality of their encounters did 
not decline, according to the data released through early 2014.

The unique relationship between the military and the government dates 
back more than 70 years, to the period after the country emerged from 
civil war. To maintain stability, historians say, the governing 
Institutional Revolutionary Party reached a pact with the armed 
forces: In exchange for near total autonomy, the military would not 
interfere in politics.

Unlike many nations in Latin America, Mexico has never suffered a 
coup. And though the government long starved its armed forces of 
funding, they were protected from scrutiny.

That protection became vital after 2006, when the military was forced 
onto the streets to battle the cartels and violence soared. As 
complaints of abuses emerged in record numbers, the government did 
little to take the military to task.

Then the military stopped publishing its statistics on killings two 
years ago. Without such data, experts say, it is hard to know how 
violent the war against organized crime has become.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom