Last Updated: Friday, 19 September 2014, 13:55 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Mexico

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1997
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Mexico, 30 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1924.html [accessed 21 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997

 

Mexico is a federal republic with an elected president, a bicameral legislature, and a constitutionally mandated independent judiciary. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has won every presidential election since the party's founding in 1929, many of which involved credible allegations of fraudulent practices. Most national and international observers, however, regarded the August 1994 presidential elections as free and honest. The success of these elections carried over in 1995 into most state elections, with only one state election marred by allegations of serious fraud. In 1996 most state elections were fair and orderly. A few, such as the municipal race in Huejotzingo, Puebla, provoked serious postelectoral conflicts, most of which have been resolved. In November the Congress approved a package of further electoral reforms, including full autonomy for the Federal Electoral Institute and elections for Mexico City's local government. Due to disagreements on a number of issues, especially campaign spending limits and rules governing coalitions, however, the main opposition parties' legislators voted against the law. Despite opposition criticism of the PRI's decision to press for adoption of certain provisions on campaign financing in the reform package, the law includes the basic elements that had been agreed upon by the opposition.

Several southern states, most notably Guerrero, Tabasco, Oaxaca, and Chiapas, continued to suffer politically motivated violence. The Government and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) remain committed to a negotiated settlement and peace talks continued throughout the year. On February 16, the parties signed an agreement on the rights of indigenous people. The army and the EZLN have not clashed since the Government unilaterally declared a cease-fire on January 12, 1994. A new group of uncertain origin and size, the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), made its appearance on June 28. The Government considers the EPR a terrorist organization and has vowed to bring the group to justice.

Police forces maintain internal security. The army is responsible for external security but also has domestic security responsibilities. The security forces, including the federal and state judicial police, federal highway police, and local police, are under the control of elected civilian officials. However, corruption is rife within police ranks. Members of the security forces continued to commit numerous human rights abuses.

Mexico has a market-based, mixed economy, which the Government has been progressively deregulating and opening. An ambitious program of privatization has reduced state-owned companies from more than 1,150 to less than 200. About 29 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) comes from manufacturing, 20 percent from commerce, 6 percent from agriculture, and 45 percent from service industries. There is significant subsistence agriculture, and 25 percent of the populace lives in rural areas. Leading exports include automobiles, manufactured and assembled products (including electronics and consumer goods), and petrochemicals. Although per capita GDP in 1994 was about $4,200, it fell to about $2,800 in 1995 as a consequence of currency devaluation and the recession. In 1996 there was steady improvement in macroeconomic indices such as GDP, external account balance, and foreign currency reserves and some modest recovery in employment. The microeconomic situation, however, did not improve significantly. Consumption, wages, and employment remain far below 1994 levels; this has produced higher levels of crime and social tension. There are severe and growing inequalities in income distribution, with large numbers of people living in extreme poverty in rural areas, shanty towns, and urban slums.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, although serious problems remained in some areas, and some states present special concerns. Major abuses included extrajudicial killings, torture, illegal arrests, arbitrary detentions, poor prison conditions, illegal searches, violence against women, discrimination against women and indigenous persons, some limits on worker rights, and extensive child labor in agriculture and in the informal economy. The Government continued, with limited success, its attempt to end the "culture of impunity" surrounding the security forces through reforms in the Federal Attorney General's office (PGR).

These included the dismissal of over 1,250 corrupt officials, new recruitment and training procedures, and closer supervision of federal police and prosecutors. The Government also continued its support for the government-funded National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) and the implementation of a wide-ranging package of other police and judicial reforms.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killings

Police and vigilantes acting on behalf of local landowners continued to commit extrajudicial killings while dislodging peasant squatters from rural lands in several states. To expand communal land holdings, for decades peasants have invaded private lands and petitioned for government recognition of the seizures.

Some large landowners and local political bosses in Chiapas maintain private militias to defend their property from peasant land invasions and to intimidate local opposition. This problem is especially acute in some northern regions of the state, where the group Peace and Justice ("Paz y Justicia"), headed by autonomous local political bosses loosely affiliated with the PRI, is based. State authorities do not effectively impede the establishment of these militias, which reportedly often employ police and military personnel.

According to statistics compiled by the District Attorney's office for Chiapas state, approximately 500 peasants have been killed in the last 3 years as a result of violence in the northern municipalities of Tila, Sabanilla, Salto de Agua, and Tumbala. The Fray Bartolome de las Casas Center for Human Rights reported that at least 2,000 indigenous families have abandoned their lands for fear of violent attacks by the Peace and Justice group. Human Rights Watch/Americas similarly reported expulsions of peasants from Miguel Aleman, Nuevo Limar, Susuchumil, Tzaquil, and Usipa on account of the fact that they were supporters of the national Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD).

On May 5, in Bachajon, Chiapas, an autonomous local paramilitary group also loosely affiliated with the PRI (the "Chinchulines"), was involved in violence with peasants arising out of longstanding land disputes. Members of the Chinchulines had arbitrarily detained villagers the day before. In retaliation for this and previous actions taken against them, the villagers attacked the house of the Chinchulines' leader and shot and killed him and another member of that group. Following the slayings, the Chinchulines pursued the peasants and in the resulting clash two more Chinchulines were killed, as well as two peasants. The Chinchulines then set fire to a number of houses belonging to the peasants. They also unsuccessfully attempted to burn a Jesuit residence in Bachajon. In total, 6 Chinchulines and peasants were killed, 23 houses and businesses burned to the ground, and 14 vehicles destroyed. State police were sent to the area and arrested 28 people for the violence.

According to the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Center for Human Rights, there were nine killings as a result of drug trafficking in the region of San Lucas Atoyaquillo, Oaxaca. Local political bosses ("caciques") have benefited not only from alleged narcotics ties but also from their ability to seize the lands deserted by peasants fleeing the violence. Drug traffickers also resorted to killings to intimidate the indigenous peoples of the Tarahumara region in the north.

In the Huasteca region of Northern Veracruz, citizens complain of a perceived militarization in the area caused by the presence of army troops. Police continued to evict, detain arbitrarily, and destroy the homes of peasant leaders in the state of Veracruz. Land disputes in the state, especially those involving ranchers and indigenous persons, are the principal cause of such violence. Police often fail to investigate killings of peasants by ranchers.

On April 10, citizens of Tepoztlan, Morelos, were marching on the "Emiliano Zapata Route" to Tlaltizapan in order to present a petition to President Zedillo protesting the planned development of a golf course on communal lands. The police stopped the protesters and fired shots; the protesters responded by fleeing and defending themselves with rocks. In the melee, police shot and killed one protester, Marcos Olmedo. The Governor of Morelos denounced the shooting, saying that police are under standing instructions not to use firearms against demonstrators. The authorities arrested one policeman in connection with the shooting, and he remained in custody at year's end.

There has been an increase in the number of public lynchings occurring throughout the country, primarily in rural communities with limited access to the criminal justice system. According to press reports, 21 people were killed by lynching from September 1995 to August 1996.

At the request of President Zedillo, a panel of three Supreme Court justices conducted an inquiry into the June 28, 1995 slaying of 17 peasants in Aguas Blancas, Guerrero. Guerrero state police killed the peasants while they were en route to protest the Government's failure to deliver promised herbicides. Many were members of the Peasant Organization of the Southern Sierra (OCSS), a small, leftist organization, formerly linked to the PRD. The justices rejected the conclusions of the Guerrero state attorney general's office that heavily armed policemen had acted in self-defense and that the peasants had fired first. The justices agreed with the conclusions of a CNDH investigation which determined that a film of the scene that officials had used to exonerate themselves had been tampered with, that at least one deliberate execution occurred, and that police placed weapons into the hands of the dead peasants in order to give the appearance that the peasants were armed and belligerent.

The justices also concluded that Guerrero Governor Ruben Figueroa shared responsibility for the massacre. Following the broadcast of an unedited, undoctored version of the film, clearly implicating the state police, and the start of the Supreme Court investigation, Governor Figueroa requested indefinite leave from his position. On March 13, the Guerrero state legislature named Angel Aguirre Rivero interim governor to replace Figueroa. In July, however, the Guerrero state legislature voted to exonerate Figueroa for any involvement he had in the Aguas Blancas killings. Nonetheless, he remains out of office. Then-CNDH president Jorge Madrazo called on the Guerrero state government to comply fully with the CNDH's recommendations, including a thorough reorganization of the state police. In accordance with CNDH recommendations, former special prosecutor Miguel Angel Garcia Dominguez (who later left his position to become a state supreme court justice in Guanajuato) brought criminal charges against some state officials and ordered the arrest of 10 policemen involved in the killings.

On December 29, an unknown killer murdered Rene Jaramillo Pineda, factional leader of the National Teachers' Union and chief of technical education in Guerrero, who was also a prominent supporter of former Governor Figueroa.

In January federal judicial police arrested 4 ex-officials and 18 state policemen in conjunction with the Aguas Blancas killings. They included the former state police operations director, Manuel Moreno Gonzalez, first deputy state attorney general Rodolfo Espino, former director general of state security Esteban Mendatt Ramos, and Gustavo Martinez Galeana, former chief of state security for the Costa Grande region of Guerrero. Then-CNDH president Madrazo said that in spite of the arrests of the four state government officials, other, higher ranking officials cited in the CNDH's recommendation as bearing responsibility for the crime remained free.

Raul Salinas de Gortari, brother of ex-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, remains in prison pending trial as an alleged conspirator in the assassination of then-PRI Secretary General Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu in September 1994. In addition to charges for the murder of Ruiz Massieu, Raul Salinas has also been charged with "unexplainable enrichment" (corruption) for allegedly amassing a fortune estimated in excess of $100 million during his brother's presidency.

Mario Ruiz Massieu, former Deputy Attorney General (and brother of Jose Ruiz Massieu), remains in the United States pending ongoing deportation efforts. The Government has charged him with obstruction of justice for concealing Raul Salinas' role in Jose Ruiz Massieu's murder.

Gaston Ayala Beltran, a former state judicial police officer, remains in custody for the May 10, 1995, murder of Jalisco state Attorney General Leobardo Larios Guzman. Three other alleged gunmen of the Tijuana drug cartel were arrested in connection with the murder, and they remain in custody.

On August 7, Othon Cortez Vazquez, the alleged second gunman in the March 1994 assassination of PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio, was released for lack of evidence. The PGR is appealing the decision.

On May 10, an appeals court overturned the conviction of police officer Jose Antonio Verduzco Flores for beating U.S. citizen Mario Amado to death in 1992 in a Baja California jail, allowing Verduzco to go free. No new charges have been brought. The state District Attorney's office was conducting a review of the Amado case.

There were no new developments in the 67 cases of violence (including murders) against PRD activists in which CNDH has issued recommendations since 1992. The authorities have fully complied with 28 recommendations but only partially complied with the remaining 39.

b. Disappearance

There were credible reports by the media and NGO's of disappearances during sweeps by security and military forces in Oaxaca and Guerrero in attempts to round up EPR members. While denying that any individuals had been illegally detained, the Government offered to investigate each alleged disappearance. Many local NGO's report a disappearance when the authorities arbitrarily or illegally detain a person for questioning and release the suspect within days or weeks. In Oaxaca, for example, local human rights organizations indicated that all those reported as missing under such conditions were later accounted for.

According to the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Center for Human Rights, 18 persons in Sinaloa state and 1 person in Chihuahua disappeared in 1996, probably due to the actions of drug traffickers.

Amnesty International's 1996 report stated that two people who disappeared in 1995 still remain missing. On May 24, 1995, OCSS leader Gilberto Romero Vasquez disappeared after his organization had presented a series of demands to state authorities. Such demands later led to the Aguas Blancas massacre. Amnesty International also reported that in October 1995, Cuauhtemoc Ornelas Campos, a journalist and human rights activist, disappeared after receiving anonymous threats for publicly criticizing human rights abuses by local officials.

For the period of May 1995 to May 1996, the CNDH reported that it was able to conclude 38 cases of presumed disappearances. Of those cases, 33 of the people were found living, and the remaining 5 were found dead or with evidence of having died. This brings the total of cases of presumed disappearances investigated by CNDH to 153, of which 93 persons were found to be living and 36 dead or with evidence of having died.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits torture; however, it continues to be a serious human rights problem. Members of the security forces continued to torture and abuse detainees. The most commonly used methods of torture were threats, beatings, asphyxiation, and electric shocks. Soldiers also reportedly used torture against members of the EPR (see Section 1.g.).

There are persistent reports by NGO's of widespread use of torture by police and security forces. Although the CNDH reported in May that torture dropped from the 15th to 17th most common type of complaint, the actual number of complaints of torture increased by 31 percent, with a total of 59 complaints during the year. Of the 59 complaints alleging torture received by the CNDH, it referred 16 to state human rights authorities having jurisdiction over such matters. Of those cases handled by the CNDH, 16 involved actions taken in 1996, 23 in 1995, and the remaining 4 occurred prior to 1995. As of publication of its 1995-96 report, the CNDH had issued recommendations in five of those cases, in all of which the authorities involved were in the process of taking corrective action.

The CNDH, however, does not maintain statistics on torture complaints made to state human rights commissions. Of the 31 states and the Federal District, only the states of Hidalgo and Puebla lack laws prohibiting torture. Poorly trained and equipped to investigate crimes, police officers continued to attempt to solve crimes by rounding up likely suspects and then exacting confessions from them. Many state human rights commissions received reports of torture allegedly committed by police. According to the Human Rights Commission for the Federal District, for the period from October 1995 to September 1996, torture had dropped to 33rd on its list of most common complaints, with 16 cases reported.

The authorities punish few officials for torture, which continues to occur mainly because confessions are the primary evidence in many criminal convictions. Many victims do not report, or do not follow through on, their complaints against the police for fear of reprisals.

On January 3, 1997, a Federal District appeals court freed seven alleged Zapatistas, convicted on August 20 on charges including possession of illegal weapons and explosives and sentenced to prison terms of 6 to 9 years. Police had arrested the seven and detained them since February 8, 1995, after their safe house was discovered in Yanga, Veracruz. Defense attorneys had protested the conviction and said their clients would appeal, stressing that the CNDH found that the defendants had been tortured by security forces.

In some cases police officers dismissed in one state find law enforcement employment in another. The CNDH discovered that even when the authorities censured some officers in one law enforcement job, they moved on to other positions and were subsequently charged again with human rights abuses. In an effort to remedy this situation, the CNDH publishes lists of censured public servants in its annual report and monthly newsletters. In addition, the Government has established a national security register to keep track of censured police officers and address this problem.

Prison conditions are poor. Many prisons are staffed by undertrained and corrupt guards, and some lack adequate facilities for prisoners and are overcrowded, despite an early release program endorsed by the CNDH and legal reforms reducing the number of crimes that carry mandatory prison sentences. Prisoners complain that they must purchase food, medicine, and other necessities from guards or bribe guards to allow the goods to be brought in from outside. Drug and alcohol use is rampant in prisons. Frequently, prisoners exercise authority within a prison, displacing prison officials. Conflicts between rival prison groups, often involved in drug trafficking, continued to spark lethal violence. While the authorities prosecuted a few prison officials for abusing prisoners, it was more common to dismiss them or to charge them with only minor offenses.

The penal system comprises 3 federal penitentiaries, 8 prisons within the Federal District, 274 state prisons, and 150 municipal jails for a total of 435 facilities. According to the Secretary of Government's Program for Prevention and Social Readaptation, 1995-2000, the prison population has increased annually by 25 percent, resulting in the space designed to hold 91,548 prisoners becoming overcrowded. As of December 1995, there was an excess of 2,026 prisoners for the space available.

According to a study conducted by the CNDH, from March 1994 to March 1996, over 50 prison riots occurred. Influence peddling, drug and arms trafficking, coercion, violence, sexual abuse, and protection payoffs are the chief methods of control used by prisoners against fellow prisoners in a form of self-government within the system.

A 5-day riot that began on July 3 at the Cereso One prison in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, resulted in 23 police injured, 12 prisoners injured, and 1 prisoner dead.

Some prisons, contrary to law, do not separate male and female populations. Officials sometimes encourage women to form sexual liaisons with male prisoners and guards. In some cases, officials coerce women into sexual relationships.

The CNDH has a program to inspect prisons (from May 1995 to May 1996, the CNDH made 77 visits to 54 prisons in 25 states) and to investigate prisoner complaints.

There is no specific law or regulation regarding the ability of NGO's to visit prisons. In practice, such prison visits are allowed and are common. For example, members of the Democratic Lawyers National Front represented prisoners alleged to be members of the EZLN and were allowed to visit them in prison. Similarly, representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross were allowed to visit with the alleged EZLN members.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the police continued to arrest and detain citizens arbitrarily. The law provides that the District Attorney may not detain an accused person more than 48 hours before presenting the person before a judge, but it makes an exception for persons apprehended in the act of committing a crime. In November Congress amended the Penal Procedures Federal Code to apply this exception to acts committed up to 72 hours prior to detention. The Mexican Commission for Defense and Promotion of Human Rights strongly criticized this change.

The Constitution provides that the authorities must try an accused person within 4 months if the alleged crime carries a sentence of less than 2 years, or within 1 year if the crime carries a longer sentence. The law requires that prisoners awaiting trial be housed separately from those convicted. In practice, judicial and police authorities frequently ignored these time limits. According to the CNDH and NGO's, the authorities often held criminal defendants with convicted prisoners and for longer than allowed by law before going to trial.

Arbitrary arrest and detention continued to be among the most common human rights abuses. For the period May 1995 to December 1996, the CNDH reported 303 findings of arbitrary detention and 36 cases in which it found that authorities held prisoners incommunicado. The Human Rights Commission for the Federal District reported 272 complaints of arbitrary detention for the period from October 1995 to September 1996. It found the most common complaint to be delay in the administration of justice, with 602 complaints. The Commission was critical of numerous arrest orders in the Federal District being ignored or unresolved.

In April 1995, the police arrested Mauricio Franco Sanchez for physically blocking efforts to build a golf course on an environmentally protected area in Tepoztlan, Morelos. In January 1996, a court sentenced Franco to a term of 10 years and 7 months, but he was released on July 8. The police also arrested several other members of the Tepoztlan United Committee who protested construction of the golf course and held them on charges of participating in a murder. Several human rights groups contend that the police are really holding these individuals because they protested construction of the golf course. In response to local protests, the developers of the proposed golf course and housing and resort complex canceled the project in April.

Detention of opposition political activists is neither widespread nor systematic but does occur frequently for short periods of time. Judges often failed to sentence indigenous detainees within legally mandated periods.

For the period from June 1994 to December 1996, the CNDH reviewed 7,823 files of indigenous persons detained in Mexican jails. The Commission recommended the immediate release of 1,887 persons. By year's end, the authorities had released 1,069 of them; 818 cases were still pending. Of those states with the largest numbers of indigenous prisoners, the CNDH reviewed 2,111 cases in Oaxaca, and recommended 403 releases, of which 272 have been accomplished; 1,106 cases in Veracruz, with 331 recommendations for release and 198 releases; and 639 cases in Puebla, with 154 releases recommended, and 63 releases took place.

Federal prosecutors continued to adhere to the recommendation by the National Indigenous Institute (INI) that they drop charges against first-time offenders accused of drug cultivation, as drug traffickers often forced indigenous defendants, who do not understand the legal significance of their actions, to grow the crops.

Many detainees report that officials ask them to pay bribes for release before formal arraignment; many of those arrested report that they are able to bribe officials to have them drop charges before they go before a judge. Corruption is rampant throughout the system.

In an effort to instill a greater sense of professionalism and root out corruption in the Mexico City police force, and in the aftermath of clashes between police and protesting teachers in May, President Zedillo replaced Police Commissioner David Garay with General Enrique Salgado Cordero. Salgado named about 40 military officers to key positions on the metropolitan police force. Many sectors of society, including human rights groups, expressed concern that this would result in increased militarization of the Mexico City police. Other broad sectors of society supported the move. Salgado announced a 22-point reform program, which includes human rights training for all police, a review of the institutional structure, and greater economic resources for the police.

Robberies committed by policemen are common. In a number of cases in northern border states, judges, police, and persons posing as attorneys extorted large sums of money ($3,000 to $10,000) from tourists to "fix" real or fabricated infractions. State human rights commission authorities in Coahuila widely published a toll-free telephone number for reporting police abuses, but, according to the Coahuila Human Rights Commission, there were few if any such calls.

Most citizens view the police as corrupt and unhelpful: 64 percent of crime victims in Mexico City did not report incidents to law enforcement authorities. According to a reliable 1995 poll, 75 percent of those surveyed felt that the justice system was riddled with corruption. Police academies in some states, such as Coahuila, Durango, and Sonora, sought to improve police conduct by offering special courses aimed at greater professionalization. However, such progress among the various police forces is highly uneven.

On August 16, then-Attorney General Antonio Lozano dismissed 737 federal judicial police officers as part of an effort to professionalize the police, control corruption, and combat organized crime and drug trafficking. These dismissals followed the gradual removal of over 500 PGR personnel since Lozano took office in December 1994. Lozano also announced creation of a technical administrative commission to establish guidelines and internal controls for federal police personnel. This commission will monitor the performance of federal police officers and determine if they should remain on the force.

These reforms are part of a wide-ranging package to reduce corruption and promote professionalism, which includes new training and recruitment procedures for the PGR, closer supervision of PGR officers, and a reorganization of the PGR's structure. In addition, CNDH president Madrazo launched, together with the Human Rights Commissions for the 31 states and the Federal District, a nationwide initiative to increase awareness of victims' rights. On December 2, Lozano resigned as Attorney General and was replaced by CNDH president Madrazo. President Zedillo emphasized that one of the new Attorney General's tasks was to complete the reform and cleanup of the PGR.

The law does not permit exile, and it is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is nominally independent but in the past has been influenced by the executive branch, and corruption and inefficiency were commonplace.

The federal court system is composed of 98 district courts, over which are 32 circuit courts of appeal and a Supreme Court. In 1995 President Zedillo proposed and Congress approved extensive judicial reform legislation. These reforms included: Selecting most lower and appellate federal court judges and law secretaries by competitive examinations; creating an independent judicial council to administer the federal courts (except the Supreme Court, which administers itself); and requiring two-thirds of the Senate to confirm the appointment of a Supreme Court justice. The reforms also provided the Supreme Court with the authority to strike down a law for unconstitutionality (one-third of the Congress, one-third of a state congress, or the Attorney General must ask the Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of a law before it can be declared unconstitutional). Significant efforts to implement these reforms were made in 1996. The first groups of federal judges chosen by examination entered the system.

The judicial trial system is based on the Napoleonic Code and consists of a series of fact-gathering hearings at which the court receives documentary evidence or testimony. In addition, officials may add notarized documents to the official case file without authentication. While the law requires that these hearings must be open to the public, in practice the courts ignore this law. Journalists covering judicial proceedings must rely on statements of attorneys outside the courtroom as to what occurred inside. A judge alone in chambers reviews the case file and makes a final written ruling based thereon. The record of the proceeding is not available to the public; only the parties and, by special motion, the victim may have access to the official file.

While there is a constitutional right to an attorney at all stages of criminal proceedings, in practice, the authorities often do not assure adequate representation for many poor defendants. Attorneys are not always available during the questioning of defendants; in some instances a defense attorney will attempt to represent several clients simultaneously by entering different rooms to certify that he was present although he did not actually attend the full proceedings. In the case of indigenous defendants, many of whom do not speak Spanish, the situation is often worse. The courts do not routinely furnish translators for them at all stages of criminal proceedings, and thus defendants may be unaware of the status of their case.

Some human rights groups claim that activists arrested in connection with land disputes and other civil disobedience activities are in fact political prisoners. The Government asserts that the system fairly prosecutes those charged in sometimes violent land invasions for common crimes, such as homicide and damage to property.

f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution provides for the rights to privacy, family, home, and correspondence. The law requires search warrants, but there are credible claims that unlawful searches without warrants are common.

On November 21, 1995, Congress passed the General Law for the Coordination of the National System of Public Security, and the Government created a National Council for Public Security on March 7. It is composed of the heads of the Government's main offices related to internal security such as the Secretariats of the Interior, Defense, Navy, the PGR, and chief of the Mexico City police. It is also responsible for coordinating joint actions between local and federal police, assisting with international cooperation programs, and preparing legislation on security matters for the Congress.

On November 7, Congress passed the Federal Law against Organized Crime which, among other changes, allows for electronic surveillance with a judicial order. The law prohibits electronic surveillance in cases of electoral, civil, commercial, labor, or administrative matters.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

There were no reported clashes between troops stationed in Chiapas and the EZLN during 1996. The military continues to deny any responsibility for abuses committed during the early stages of the Chiapas rebellion in 1994. The military authorities who have jurisdiction have failed to punish any military personnel or government officials for committing abuses, although the CNDH issued an interim report in May 1994 finding that there was reason to believe that the military had injured or killed civilians in aerial attacks, and that there were summary executions, illegal detentions, and instances of torture.

Amnesty International reported that on February 9, 1995, soldiers kidnaped two indigenous men, Alfredo Jimenez Santis and Mario Alvarez Lopez. The soldiers tortured and beat the men for 5 days at a military installation in the state capital Tuxtla Gutierrez and then released them. The authorities took no disciplinary action against the soldiers.

The Chiapas women's rights organization, "Women of San Cristobal de Las Casas," has documented 50 cases of rape during 1995 in the municipalities of Altamirano, San Andres Larrainzar, Amatenango, San Cristobal, and Ocosingo. They alleged that some were committed by security forces.

On February 9, 1995, the authorities arrested Javier Elorriaga Berdegue, a journalist covering the EZLN conflict, and charged him with terrorism, conspiring against the State, and rebellion. In May after his 1-year judicial proceeding was over, a court sentenced Elorriaga to 13 years' imprisonment. On June 7, however, an appeals court overturned Elorriaga's conviction and released him from prison.

Army troops were also deployed in Guerrero following the June 28 appearance of the EPR on the 1-year anniversary of the Aguas Blancas killings. Sweeps conducted by police and military personnel resulted in a number of arrests. Many NGO's expressed concern that the security forces tortured some of the detainees. There were reports of torture in connection with arrests by security forces searching for members of the EPR in the state of Guerrero. Soldiers detained Jose Nava Andrade, a member of the Organization of Towns and Settlers of Guerrero, on July 2 and allegedly tortured him in an attempt to force him to confess membership in the EPR. Information regarding this and similar cases was presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights when the commission visited Mexico in July. Amnesty International also reported that the authorities arrested Hilario Mesino Acosta of the OCSS on July 3 and allegedly tortured him, accusing him of being an EPR member. At year's end, they were holding Mesino in the state prison in Acapulco, Guerrero.

On the night of August 28, the EPR carried out 18 small-scale actions in 7 states, ranging from attacks on municipal police stations in Guerrero and Oaxaca to handing out propaganda on roads in Chiapas. These attacks left 14 dead and 23 wounded. Police and military personnel deployed to search for the group in the states where there was reported EPR activity and arrested about 45 alleged EPR members. Many human rights groups reported that some of the persons detained were tortured or mistreated by the authorities. Following the emergence of the EPR, human rights groups noted an increase in the presence of army troops in the Huasteca area of Veracruz and in parts of Oaxaca.

The law does not require civil trial of soldiers involved in civil crimes, and the military continues to handle such cases. The Constitution provides for military jurisdiction for crimes or offenses involving any violation of military discipline. In cases in which a member of the military commits a crime and is arrested by civil authorities, the military has the right to immediately request transfer of the case to military jurisdiction. Several NGO's complained about the growing militarization of the country and expressed the fear that military abuses would not be subject to civil jurisdiction.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the Government generally respects these rights in practice. Mass media are not subject to formal censorship from any element of government. Direct criticism of the Government, especially in print media in Mexico City, is severe and commonplace. Journalists and international scholars persuasively argue that editorial independence in many, if not most, of Mexico's news organizations is tilted towards the Government by a complex system that has developed over the years. The key elements of the system are: Coincidence of interest between media owners and the Government; broadcast licensing; official advertising (some of it disguised as news coverage); a state-run newsprint sales company; and a variety of cash and noncash payments to journalists from various levels of government. One important editor reports that he is the subject of government-inspired rumor mongering.

In June an appeals court overturned journalist Javier Elorriaga Berdegue's conviction on charges brought after he was arrested while covering the ELZN (see Section 1.g.).

The greatest concentration of official influence is in television. Television broadcasters give a contribution of air time – in the form of a 12.5 percent tax on advertising revenues – instead of actual cash payments. This system lowers effective tax rates of the broadcasters and gives the Government guaranteed access to this powerful medium. The giant Televisa chain dominates television, and its extremely close relation to the Government is openly acknowledged. The second national network, TV Azteca, has come under a cloud since the imprisoned Raul Salinas, brother of the former President, acknowledged loaning its principal shareholder part of the network's purchase price – although there is no evidence of criminality, and TV Azteca is clearly more distant from the Government than Televisa.

The Government has the power to grant or withdraw broadcast licenses. Media observers continue to allege privately that the Government delays issuance of broadcast licenses as an implicit control over broadcasters, but they have not proven any allegations of broadcast licensing delays by the Government. There have also been printed allegations of favoritism by the Government in granting broadcast licenses, but again, such allegations have never been proven. This possibility may lead to self-censorship by some broadcast media.

The CNDH reviews all reports of attacks on journalists that it receives. The CNDH received 17 allegations of attacks on journalists in the exercise of their profession during the latest reporting year (May 1995 to May 1996). There were 11 such complaints in the previous year. Most reports received by the CNDH were from outside Mexico City, and most alleged violent acts or intimidation. The 1995 murder of a newspaper reporter in Tijuana was still under investigation by state authorities in Baja California.

The Constitution recognizes academic freedom in higher education, and the Government respects this provision in practice.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the right of assembly, and the Government respects this right in practice. The only requirement for holding demonstrations is that groups wishing to meet in public areas inform local police authorities; public demonstrations are held frequently.

The Constitution provides for the right to organize or affiliate with political parties, and the Government respects this right in practice. Opposition and independent associations functioned freely without government interference or restriction. The Federal Electoral Code recognizes national political associations. Such political associations can participate in elections through an agreement with one political party but are not allowed to use their names or symbols during the election campaigns. Private associations do not have legal status until they receive their official designation from the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE). In November the IFE recognized 24 citizen organizations.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for the right to practice the religion of one's choice, and the authorities generally respect this right in practice. However, local authorities sometimes infringed on this right (see Section 5). The law bars clergy from holding public office and from advocating partisan political positions.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for the right of free movement, and the Government does not generally restrict movement of its citizens into, out of, or within the country.

The law provides protection for foreigners who face political persecution.

The Government cooperates with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. With the UNHCR, the Government assisted with the repatriation of Guatemalan refugees desiring to return home who had fled their country during the civil war in the 1980's and granted others wishing to stay in Mexico official immigrant residency status. The Government agrees, in practice, with the principle of first asylum and reviews each claim on a case-by-case basis with the assistance of the UNHCR.

During the first half of 1996, Mexico expelled 57,502 "undocumented" or illegal immigrants, the majority of whom were Guatemalans. After Guatemalans, the largest groups were Salvadorans and Hondurans. Many of those expelled were en route to the northern border with the United States. There were no reports of forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution.

Illegal immigrants rarely file charges in cases of crimes committed against them. The authorities generally immediately deport illegal immigrants who come to their attention; therefore, a pending case brought by an illegal immigrant is subject to dismissal once the immigrant has been deported. In an effort to promote the human rights of migrants and to inform them of their rights, the CNDH and the Secretary of Government published in May a "Guide to Human Rights for Migrants." The Government is translating the guide into several indigenous dialects. Additionally, in August, the Interior Ministry established two additional Grupo-Beta type units (multiagency migrant protection units) along its southern border with Guatemala. In June and July, the Government negotiated agreements with Guatemala and Belize designed to make legal entry and exit more transparent and safer.

Until 1995 children who were in Mexico illegally did not have the right to matriculate in public schools. According to new Education Secretariat guidelines, any child may now be registered for public school with a Mexican or foreign birth certificate. Implementation of the new guidelines varies widely from state to state, however.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides citizens with the right peacefully to change their government through periodic elections. The PRI dominates politics and has controlled the Government since the party was founded in 1929. It has won every presidential election since then and has maintained power, in part, by relying on public patronage, use of government and party organizational resources, and, in the past, electoral fraud. However, the Government no longer restricts the functioning of political opponents.

In 1996 state and municipal elections were held in the states of Baja California Sur, Coahuila, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Mexico, Nayarit, and Quintana Roo. These elections were generally peaceful and orderly.

An electoral reform agreement among the major political parties was approved in August. The ruling PRI and the opposition National Action Party (PAN), the PRD, and Labor Party agreed to a package of constitutional amendments that includes tighter financial regulation of election campaigns; a revised formula for public funding, including access to electronic media; a reduction in the number of congressional representatives allowed for any one party from 315 to 300; putting electoral law violations under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court; full autonomy for the Federal Electoral Institute; and the first-ever direct popular election of a mayor for Mexico City. However, due to disagreements on issues such as campaign spending limits and rules governing coalitions, PAN and PRD legislators opposed the legislation implementing the accords. Since the PRI has a majority in both houses, Congress approved the reform package in a party-line vote in November.

The PAN protested manipulation of the electoral appeal process of the November 1995 municipal elections in Huejotzingo, Puebla, and on that basis had refused to participate in national electoral reform talks. Negotiations between the Government and the PAN resolved the dispute. On May 15, the PRI mayor of Huejotzingo stepped down from office, and pursuant to a vote in the state legislature was replaced by a PAN official. Shortly thereafter, national electoral reform talks resumed and resulted in the agreement described above.

A severe failure in the electoral process has been the lack of any meaningful prosecution of those accused of electoral crimes. Despite numerous accusations of fraud in various state races, the authorities declined to prosecute any electoral crimes. The placing of electoral law violations under the jurisdiction of the recently reformed Supreme Court is a step to address this problem.

Another continuing major obstacle to electoral reform is the deeply entrenched antidemocratic tradition of unchecked power exercised by local bosses over peasants in rural areas. These bosses often exercise some measure of control over virtually every aspect of peasants' lives, including how they vote. One NGO that studied the results of the August 21, 1994, elections in a remote district found that there were 30 percent more votes for the PRI in polling places where no independent observers were present.

Although there is no systematic exclusion of women and indigenous persons, they are underrepresented in politics. Women, however, hold numerous congressional seats and continue to increase their representation in political offices. At the beginning of his administration, President Zedillo appointed three women to his Cabinet: The Comptroller General, the Secretary of Tourism, and the Secretary of the Environment, Natural Resources, and Fisheries. In addition, there are 67 women in the 500-member Chamber of Deputies and 16 in the 128-member Senate.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A wide variety of human rights groups operate largely without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. The number of NGO's dedicated to the defense of human rights has nearly doubled in the last 2 years. As of May, 376 NGO's monitor human rights problems, compared with 191 in November 1993. Government officials are generally cooperative and responsive to NGO views, and the Congress has established a citizen participation committee to act as a liaison with NGO's. In July the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visited Mexico at the invitation of President Zedillo and met with over a hundred human rights groups.

However, many serious problems remain. For example, Amnesty International reported that leaders and members of numerous human rights NGO's received death threats for criticizing the human rights situation in the country. These included David Fernandez Davalos and Jose Lavanderos Yanez, director and lawyer respectively of the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center (PRODH) in Mexico City; Graciela Zavaleta Sanchez, president of the Mahatma Gandhi Regional Human Rights Commission in Oaxaca; Lourdes Saenz, member of the Citizens for Human Rights in Nuevo Leon; Francisco Goitia and Javier Nunez, president and lawyer respectively of the Human Rights Committee of Tabasco; Emelia Gonzalez Sandoval, founding member of the Human Rights Defense and Solidarity Commission of Chihuahua; and Maria Teresa Jardi and Julian Andrade Jardi of the Fund for Assistance, Promotion and Development in Mexico City. Death threats were also received by Pilar Noriega, Digna Ochoa, and Enrique Flota, lawyers for the PRODH representing alleged members of the EZLN.

To address human rights abuses, the Government established the CNDH in 1990. Since that time, the CNDH has received a total of 45,110 complaints of which it has concluded its investigations in 43,784 cases; it is still processing the remainder. Of those cases in which it made recommendations that appropriate action be taken against the offenders, its recommendations have been totally or partially followed 95 percent of the time. The CNDH cited 55 recommendations which authorities had been "negligent" in implementing during the past 6 years.

For the period of May 1995 to May 1996, the CNDH made 116 recommendations to government authorities. Of these, the authorities fully complied with 33, partially complied with 68, and rejected 4, while 18 were in various stages of processing. CNDH efforts resulted in sanctions against 282 public servants, as follows: 161 criminal actions; 10 dismissals; 17 declared incompetent for public service; 46 suspensions; 44 reprimands or warnings; and 4 fines. The CNDH publishes the names of all sanctioned public servants. In some cases, authorities applied multiple sanctions, but CNDH statistics list cases under the most severe sanction applied.

In its review of the various state human rights commissions' decisions, by September the CNDH had issued 78 recommendations for reconsideration or renewal of action. State commissions complied completely with 70 of the recommendations and partially with 8.

Some NGO's note that the CNDH lacks both autonomy and enforcement authority. Additionally, some contend that it has become too large and bureaucratic and that the state commissions are ineffectual.

In March 1995, the Federal District Attorney General's office announced the opening of a new subsection for human rights to address abuses in Mexico City, by far the most populous jurisdicition. The office handled an average of two complaints per day against Federal District police officers, as well as other cases. In December the PGR also opened an office to strengthen communication with NGO's.

Then-Defense Minister General Antonio Riviello imprisoned General Jose Francisco Gallardo Rodriguez in November 1993 on a range of charges, including embezzlement and dishonoring the military. Gallardo claims that the embezzlement charges, which date back 7 years, had previously been abandoned for lack of evidence. He maintains that military authorities are persecuting him because of an academic dissertation calling for the establishment of a military human rights ombudsman's office. The army continues to hold Gallardo but has reduced the previous inordinately high level of security of his incarceration. The IACHR considered the Gallardo case in October, and the commission called for his immediate release and for the Government to indemnify him for damages suffered as a result of his imprisonment.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution states that men and women are equal before the law. It also provides that education should sustain the ideals of "fraternity and equal rights of all mankind, avoiding privileges of race, sects, groups, sexes, or individuals." These provisions are not effectively enforced.

Amnesty International cites Mexico as one of the countries in which homosexual men and women are most likely to be victims of abuse and violence. Liborio Cruz, a 19-year-old male prostitute, was beaten to death by a group of men in Mexico City in June 1995. At least 12 homosexuals and 9 male prostitutes were killed in Tuxtla Gutierrez between 1991 and 1993. An independent prosecutor took over the investigation of the Tuxtla Gutierrez murders in April 1994 but had made no progress in solving them by the end of 1996.

Women

The most pervasive violations of women's rights involve domestic and sexual violence, which is believed to be widespread and vastly underreported. Domestic assault is a crime, but in 10 states the "right to correct" a wife and children is not a crime unless this abuse involves cruelty or excessive frequency. Women are reluctant to report abuse or file charges, and, even when notified, the police are reluctant to intervene in what society considers to be a domestic matter. The municipality of Chimalhuacan, Mexico state, where the average time for police action on rape cases is 2 months, is a typical example of the difficulty rape victims experience. This is attributable to police inexperience in handling these cases, lack of investigative techniques, and unwillingness to get involved in what are often considered domestic affairs.

The Attorney General's office for the Federal District operates rape crisis centers around the city. Few women, however, avail themselves of the centers' services. Out of a municipal female population of more than 10 million, only 627 approached the centers. The majority were girls: 27 percent were between the ages of 13 and 17, and 25 percent were under the age of 13. Some women who availed themselves of the centers' services reported abusive, humiliating, and unprofessional behavior by police and medical examiners who work in the centers.

Although the Constitution provides for equality between the sexes, neither the authorities nor society in general respect this in practice. The legal treatment of women's rights is uneven. Women have the right to own property in their own names and to file for separation and divorce. However, in some states a woman may not bring suit to establish paternity and thereby obtain child support, unless the child was a product of rape or cohabitation; the child resides with the father; or there is written proof of paternity.

The Constitution and labor law provide that women shall have the same rights and obligations as men, and "equal pay shall be given for equal work performed in equal jobs, hours of work and conditions of efficiency." However, women are generally paid less and are concentrated in lower paying occupations. Labor law includes extensive maternity protection, including 6 weeks off before and 6 weeks off after childbirth, time off for breast feeding in adequate and hygienic surroundings provided by the employer, and, during pregnancy, full pay and no dismissals, heavy or dangerous work or exposure to toxic substances. There are reports that, in order to avoid these expensive requirements, some employers deliberately violate these provisions and expose pregnant women to difficult or hazardous conditions to make them quit; this reportedly occurs particularly in the low-wage, low-skill, high-turnover end of the in-bond export processing (maquila) industry. These reports claim that state and (for health and safety) federal labor authorities are unable or unwilling to enforce those provisions. Indeed, the number of maquila plants far outstrips what state and federal inspectors can handle. Discrimination in hiring does not seem to be addressed in labor law. Many lower wage employers discriminate in favor of women in hiring but against pregnant women because their benefits make them more expensive. Many employers require women to certify that they are not pregnant at the time of hiring. Others test applicants for pregnancy.

In 1995 the CNDH found that the largest number of complaints against health care institutions involved negligence or abuse during childbirth by medical personnel and charges of forced sterilization. It said that the number of such complaints had grown, in large part due to women's increased awareness of their rights. The Constitution states that all persons have the right to make free, responsible, and informed decisions on the number of children they choose to have. The 1984 General Health Law provides for criminal action against those who pressure a woman to undergo sterilization procedures or perform such procedures without the woman's consent. In a number of cases, charges have been brought against doctors for sterilizing a woman or inserting an IUD without her consent. The scope of this problem is difficult to quantify, although a number of NGO's and government agencies follow the issue, because women may not realize that these procedures have been performed on them or may be reluctant to come forward and file a complaint. The CNDH has recommended that medical administrators train their staffs to be more aware when dealing with such patients. The Government has instituted a number of mechanisms, including better training and medical review boards, to address the problem.

Children

Children under the age of 18 make up over 40 percent of the population. While the Government is committed to children's health and education, it has failed to allocate sufficient resources to fulfill that commitment. Nine years of education are compulsory. There is no societal pattern of abuse against children, but children's advocates report many such cases. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) classifies Mexico as "lacking adequate strategies" to combat malnutrition among children, and reports that 30,000 children die each year of causes related to malnutrition. According to UNICEF, the Department of the Federal District, and the National System for the Integral Development of the Family, more than 13,000 children live on the streets of Mexico City, many the victims of family violence. The children themselves often become involved with alcohol, drugs, prostitution, and petty thievery. Police in Hermosillo, Sonora, conducted "sweeps" of street children, incarcerating many for short periods, in order to "clean up" the city.

While the Government and NGO's conduct a number of programs for street children, corrupt police exacerbate the problem by pressuring children to commit petty crimes and extorting profits from them. The CNDH has a program for protection of children's rights which includes educating children on their rights and reviewing legislation to ensure compliance with relevant international conventions. In January the Human Rights Commission for the Federal District opened the "Tree House", a space designed for children 8 to 11 years of age to help teach them about human rights and obligations. Over 26,000 children visited it.

People with Disabilities

The law requires access for disabled persons to public facilities in Mexico City but not elsewhere in the country. In practice, however, most public buildings and facilities do not comply with the law. Recognizing that disabled persons often suffer employment discrimination, the Federal District instituted a new tax rebate program for businesses employing disabled persons. For the first time, the Public Education Sub-Secretariat for the Federal District mandated that all public and private schools grant access to physically (although not mentally) disabled children and that schools make the necessary arrangements (e.g., installation of ramps) to facilitate access. The National Public Education Secretariat printed 27,000 textbooks in Braille in 1995.

Indigenous People

The indigenous population has long been victim of discriminatory treatment. The Chiapas uprising focused unprecedented attention on the demands of that state's indigenous persons for increased economic and social rights. Among its basic demands, the EZLN called on the Government to enact measures to protect indigenous cultures, provide more opportunity for employment, and invest in schools, clinics, and infrastructure projects. The Government, through the INI and the CNDH, operates programs to educate indigenous groups (many members of which do not speak Spanish) about their political and human rights, and it generally professes respect for their desire to retain elements of their traditional culture. The CNDH organized training courses on human rights for indigenous communities in Chiapas, Hidalgo, Mexico, Michoacan, Oaxaca, Chiapas and Nayarit. The courses were taught in the communities' indigenous languages.

More than 130 NGO's are dedicated to the promotion and protection of indigenous rights. Indigenous people do not live on independently governed reservations, although some indigenous communities exercise considerable local control over economic and social issues. These communities apply traditional law to resolve a variety of disputes, including allegations of crimes. However, these groups remain largely outside the country's political and economic mainstream, a result of longstanding patterns of economic and social development, and in many cases their ability to participate in decisions affecting their lands, cultural traditions, and allocation of natural resources is negligible.

The 1992 reforms in agrarian law were expected to promote economic development in the countryside, but indigenous groups generally perceived the reforms as intended to break up indigenous communal landholdings and prevent the groups from obtaining title to new lands. A 1991 amendment to the federal law requires that an interpreter be present at every stage of criminal proceedings against indigenous persons and stipulates that "their customs and traditions shall be taken into account." However, the courts continue to sentence indigenous people without the benefit of interpreters. The CNDH had reviewed the cases of 7,823 jailed indigenous persons and sought the release of 1,887. Of those, 1,069 have been released since June 1994, largely through CNDH efforts.

The General Education Act states that "teaching shall be promoted in the national language (i.e., Spanish) without prejudice to the protection and promotion of indigenous languages." However, many indigenous persons speak only their native languages. Non-Spanish speakers are frequently taken advantage of in commercial transactions involving bilingual middlemen, and have great difficulty finding employment in Spanish-speaking areas. Over 50 indigenous languages are currently spoken in Mexico.

Although the law provides some protection for the indigenous, and the Government provides indigenous communities support through social and economic assistance programs, legal guarantees and social welfare programs are not sufficient to meet the needs of all indigenous persons.

Religious Minorities

In the highlands of Chiapas and other indigenous areas, traditional leaders sometimes acquiesced in, or actually ordered, the expulsions of Protestants belonging primarily to evangelical groups. In many cases the expulsions involved the burning of homes and crops, beatings, and, occasionally, killings.

In San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, where local authorities have expelled an estimated 30,000 evangelicals over the past 30 years, the evangelicals and the local authorities reached a truce in December 1995. Since that time, there have been no further expulsions of evangelicals from San Juan Chamula. The local authorities agreed that children of the evangelicals would be allowed to return to public school, from which they had been excluded for 3 years. However, in September, the children of evangelicals were once again excluded, and in retaliation, evangelical groups occupied these schools. By October the situation for the most part had been resolved, and at year's end the evangelicals' childen were attending public school in all but one community, Arvenza II, where the parents chose to keep their children at home.

In July the evangelicals began constructing a temple in the community of Arvenza I. Following protests by the local authorities, and in order to avoid a collapse of the December 1995 truce, the evangelicals agreed to halt temporarily construction of the temple. In September the traditional leadership in San Juan Chamula forced the mayor to step down and replaced him with a new leader opposing construction of the temple. By year's end, however, temple construction was allowed to resume.

Several evangelical members were jailed and fined in San Juan Yahe, Oaxaca. In addition, reliable press reports noted continued expulsions of evangelicals by that community because the evangelicals' faith violated the "customs and traditional practices" of the community.

The Federal Government Office of Religious Affairs actively promotes religious tolerance and held symposiums in July in the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas emphasizing the constitutional right of freedom of religion.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution and the Federal Labor Law (LFT) provide workers with the right to form and join trade unions of their choice. About 30 percent of the total work force is unionized, mostly in the formal sector, where about one-half the labor force is employed. This implies a formal sector unionization rate nearly twice that high.

No prior approval is needed to form unions, but they must register with the Federal Labor Secretariat (STPS) or state labor boards (JLCA) to obtain legal status in order to function. Registration requirements are not onerous. There are credible allegations, however, that the STPS or JLCA occasionally withhold or delay registration of unions hostile to government policies, employers, or established unions or register extortionists or labor racketeers falsely claiming to represent workers. To remedy this latter problem, STPS officials require evidence that unions are genuine and representative before registering them.

Like the Federal Labor Board (JFCA), the JLCA are tripartite. Although trade union presence on the boards is a generally positive feature, it can lead to unfair partiality in representation disputes; the member from an established union may work to dissuade a JLCA from recognizing a rival organization. The matter of trade union registration was the subject of followup activities in 1996, pursuant to a 1995 agreement reached in ministerial consultations under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), the side agreement on labor to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Unions form federations and confederations freely without government approval. Most unions belong to such bodies. They too must register to have legal status. The largest trade union central is the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), traditionally a sector of the ruling PRI, but affiliation is individual, and this is to be emphasized in new reforms, both within the PRI and in legislation under consideration in the Congress. The Federal Employee Union Federation (FSTSE), the Revolutionary Worker and Peasant Confederation, and most of the 35 separate national unions, smaller confederations, and federations in the Labor Congress (CT) are also allied with the PRI. However, several are not, including the large teachers' union, which severed its PRI ties several years ago, freeing its minority factions to cooperate openly with other parties, particularly the PRD. Rivalries within and between PRI-allied centrals are strong. There also are a few small labor federations and independent unions outside the CT which are not allied to the PRI. One is the small, left-of-center Authentic Labor Federation (FAT). Most FAT members sympathize with the PRD, but the FAT is independent and not formally tied to the PRD.

Union officers help select, run as, and campaign for, PRI candidates in federal and state elections and support PRI government policies at crucial moments. This gives unions considerable influence on government policies but limits their freedom of action to defend member interests in other ways, particularly when this might harm the Government or PRI. The CT, especially the CTM, is well represented in the PRI senatorial and congressional delegations.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) Conference Committee of Experts (COE) has found that certain restrictions in federal employee labor law, adopted at FSTSE request, violate ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association, which Mexico has ratified. These provisions allow only one union per jurisdiction, forbid union members to quit the union, and prohibit reelection of union officials. Again in 1996, the COE and the ILO Committee on Application of Standards (CAS) reiterated their criticism and asked the Government to amend these provisions. A Supreme Court decision invalidated similar restrictions in the laws of two states, but the decision applied only in the specific instances challenged.

There were developments regarding union representation in the new Environment Secretariat, an issue raised again in the CAS debate and in a submission under the NAALC. This Secretariat, formed late in 1994, merged the small former Fisheries Secretariat with much larger sections from the Agricultural and Social Development Secretariats. In early 1995, the Fisheries Union applied to the Federal Employee Labor Tribunal (TFCA) to change its name to union of the new secretariat. The TFCA denied the request. The TFCA is bipartite, with FSTSE as well as government members. Following the TFCA decision, the FSTSE, applying its statutes, convoked a convention, with delegates elected by secret ballot, to form a new union and elect its officers. The TFCA recognized the new union and withdrew recognition from the old. The new union thus benefited from the contractual relationship giving union delegates time off with pay for union work. The dissolved union appealed to a court, which upheld the appeal and returned the matter to the TFCA. The TFCA restored the Fisheries Union's registration and revoked that of the new union (again upholding the legal provision allowing registration of only one union per entity, violating ILO Convention 87). The unregistered union continued benefiting from time off and dues. The TFCA held a representation election ("recount" – see Section 6.b.) for employees to choose by secret ballot between the two unions. The Fisheries Union lost by a wide margin and challenged the validity of the election, charging irregularities, but the TFCA confirmed the election results.

In April the Federal District municipal government reached agreement with the jailed leaders of the SUTAUR-100 union of the bankrupt former public municipal bus company Ruta-100. The Government agreed to concede and allow the union to operate two of the new private bus companies to replace Ruta-100. The Government also agreed to appeal to the courts to release the leaders from jail while SUTAUR reached a settlement with the former members who had sued it to recover money from the union pension and other funds. The union leaders were released on bail in July and the first of the two union enterprises began operating at the end of August.

The Constitution and the LFT provide for the right to strike. The law requires 6 to 10 days' advance strike notice, followed by brief government mediation. If federal or state authorities rule a strike "nonexistent" or "illicit," employees must remain at work, return to work within 24 hours, or face dismissal. If they rule the strike legal, the company or unit must shut down totally, management officials may not enter the premises until the strike is over, and the company may not hire striker replacements. Provisions for maintaining essential services are not onerous. The law makes filing a strike notice an effective, commonly used threat, but few strikes actually occur, usually to protect a failing company's assets from creditors and courts until an agreement is reached on severance pay. On the other hand, informal stoppages are a fairly common tactic, but are uncounted in statistics and seldom last long enough to be recognized or ruled out of order.

The law permits public sector strikes, but formal public sector strikes are rare. Informal ones are more frequent. Informal stoppages by dissident factions of the national teacher union shut down many schools in several states and the Federal District in late May and June, and demonstrations disrupted traffic in the capital, until settlements were reached which included pay for strike days and unpaid overtime to make up lost work and complete the school year.

During the first 11 months of 1996, the JFCA reported that 7,690 strike notices were filed and 51 legal strikes occurred in federal jurisdiction, involving 54,394 workers and the loss of 653,020 work days. Although there were fewer legal strikes than during the same period in 1995, they involved more workers and resulted in more lost workdays. There were no reports that federal or state labor authorities stretched legal requirements to rule strikes nonexistent or illicit, or used delays to prevent damaging strikes and force settlements.

The Constitution and the LFT protect labor organizations from government interference in their internal affairs, including strike decisions. This can protect undemocratic or corrupt union leaders. The law permits closed shop and exclusion clauses, allowing union leaders to vet and veto new hires and force dismissal of anyone the union expels. Such clauses are common in collective bargaining agreements.

In 1995 employer organizations abandoned earlier efforts to push for labor law reform to limit union leaders' power and give employers a free hand. In effect, Government, employers, and unions had negotiated reforms through tripartite national agreements and collective bargaining at the enterprise level, and through cooperation in programs to increase, and compensate for, productivity. With government blessing, after nearly a year of negotiation, national labor and employer organizations agreed in August on a joint effort to build a new labor culture of mutual respect and cooperation to boost productivity, wages, and competitiveness.

Unions are free to affiliate with, and are often active in, trade union internationals.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution and the LFT strongly uphold the right to organize and bargain collectively. Interest by a few employees, or a union strike notice, compels an employer to recognize a union and negotiate, or ask the federal or state labor board to hold a union recognition election. LFT prounion provisions led some employers to seek out or create independent "white" or company unions as an alternative to mainstream national or local unions. Representation elections are traditionally open, not secret, although this seems to be changing. Traditionally, management and union officials are present with the presiding labor board official when workers openly declare their votes, one by one. Such open recounts are prevailing practice but are not required by law or regulation. Secret ballots are held when all parties agree.

As the economic crisis deepened in 1995, the Government, at union insistence, agreed to end the system of annual national pacts negotiated by the Government and major trade union, employer, and rural organizations, which had voluntarily limited free collective bargaining for the past decade. Wage restraints no longer exist, except for those caused by the economic recession and difficult situation of most employers. The Government and major employer and union organizations continue to meet occasionally to reaffirm the 1995 "Alliance for Economic Recovery" (in October they signed an "Alliance for Growth") and agree on new tax breaks or minimum wage increases, but the Government has kept its commitment to free collective bargaining without guidelines or government interference. Wages in most union contracts appeared to keep pace with inflation in 1996, after losing ground in 1995.

Mexico's record in internal union democracy and transparency is mixed. Some unions are democratic, but corruption or authoritarian and strong-arm tactics are common in others. The few protests alleging such practices this year included the hospital local of the Mexico City public sector municipal employees' union. The election seemed to have been conducted reasonably fairly, but the losers protested the results, seized union offices until driven out, and demonstrated in the streets, drawing blood from themselves to protest inadequate hospital supplies. Another protest involved factory committee leaders trying to improve conditions at a U.S.-owned maquila factory in Sonora. The committee leaders were fired with the complicity of an allegedly-CTM "leader" who had a protection contract. The telephone union, representing the fired former factory committee leaders, the Union of Goods and Services, and the Communications Workers of America filed a submission for review by the U.S. National Administrative Office, under provisions of the NAALC.

The public sector is almost totally organized. Industrial areas are heavily organized. Even states with little industry have transport and public employee unions, and rural peasant organizations are omnipresent. The law protects workers from antiunion discrimination, but enforcement is uneven in the few states with low unionization.

Unionization and wage levels in the in-bond export sector vary by area. Wages have been lower in this sector than in most of industry, especially in low technology facilities and in the west, but the gap has narrowed and may now be minimal. Some observers allege poor working conditions, inadequate wages, and employer and government efforts to discourage unionization in this sector. There is no evidence that the Federal Government opposes unionization of the plants, which tend to be under state jurisdiction, but some state and local governments in the west are said to help some employers discourage unions.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced labor. There have been no credible reports of forced labor for many years, with the exception of abuses of refugees and illegal immigrants in Chiapas (see Section 2.d.).

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law bans child labor and sets the minimum legal work age at 14 years. The activities of those 14 and 15 years of age are so restricted as to be uneconomic (no night or hazardous work and limited hours). The ILO reported that 18 percent of children 12 to 14 years of age work, often for parents or relatives. Enforcement is reasonably good at large and medium-sized companies, especially in export industries and those under federal jurisdiction. Enforcement is inadequate at the many small companies and in agriculture. It is nearly absent in the informal sector, despite government efforts. Most child labor is in the informal sector (including myriad underage street vendors) or in agriculture and rural areas. The CTM agricultural union's success years earlier in obtaining free transport for migrant seasonal workers from southern states to fields in the north inadvertently led to a significant increase in child labor. The union and employers were unable to convince indigenous farm workers to leave their families at home, and many have settled near worksites in the north. The union has had some limited success in negotiating with employers to finance bilingual education near worksites and in obtaining social security child care centers, but it has had difficulty in persuading member families not to bring their children into the fields. Riots over pay delays in the San Quintin valley in Baja California drew media attention to the child labor and other problems of indigenous worker families there and spurred the state government to pledge action to end child labor and other social ills.

The Federal Government increased the number of obligatory school years from 6 to 9 in 1992 and made parents legally liable for their children's attendance, as part of a reform to upgrade labor force skills and long-term efforts to continue increasing educational opportunities for and participation by youth. It has a cooperative program with UNICEF.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Constitution and the LFT provide for a daily minimum wage. The Tripartite National Minimum Wage Commission (government, labor, and employers) usually sets minimum wage rates each December, effective January 1, for the whole year, but any of the three parties can ask that the board reconvene during the year to consider a changed situation. As part of the Alliance, (see Section 6.b.) labor, employers, and the Government agreed in 1995 to ask their representatives on the Commission to increase the minimum wage 10 percent on December 1, 1995, instead of the usual January 1 increase, and another 10 percent on April 1, 1996. They later agreed to make the April increase 12 percent. In December the Wage Commission adopted a 17 percent increase, based in part on the Government's projection of a 15 percent annual inflation rate for 1997. Organized labor's unhappiness with the 17 percent increase (some labor organizations had demanded an increase of at least 25 percent) produced some suggestions that the official increase be challenged in court because it does not meet the constitutional requirement to be adequate to cover basic costs of living, including recreation. By year's end, however, no legal action of this sort had been filed.

In Mexico City and nearby industrial areas, Acapulco, southeast Veracruz state's refining and petrochemical zone, and most border areas, the minimum daily wage after April 1 was $3.01 (22.60 new pesos). However, employers actually paid minimum wage earners $3.42 (25.76 new pesos) due to a supplemental 14 percent fiscal subsidy (negative income tax or tax credit, which the Government refunds to employers). These income supplements to the minimum wage, agreed in annual tripartite pacts, are for all incomes less than four times the minimum wage, decreasing as wages and benefits rise. In Guadalajara, Monterrey, and other advanced industrialized areas, the minimum daily wage (before the fiscal subsidy) was $2.79 (20.95 new pesos). In other areas, it was $2.54 (19.05 new pesos). There are higher minimums for some occupations, such as building trades.

Few workers (only 14 to 18 percent of the workers covered by social security) earn only the minimum wage. Industrial workers average three to four times the minimum wage, earning more at bigger, more advanced and prosperous enterprises.

The law and contract arrangements provide workers with extensive additional benefits. Legally required benefits include free social security medical treatment and pensions, individual worker housing and retirement accounts, substantial Christmas bonuses, paid vacations, and profit-sharing. Employer costs for these benefits add from about 27 percent of payroll at marginal enterprises to over 100 percent at major firms with good union contracts.

The LFT sets 48 hours as the legal workweek, although with pay for 56 hours. Workers asked to exceed 3 hours of overtime per day or required to work overtime on 3 consecutive days must be paid triple the normal wage. For most industrial workers, especially under union contract, the true workweek is 42 hours, although they are paid for 7 full 8-hour days. This is why unions jealously defend the legal ban on hourly wages.

The law requires employers to observe occupational safety and health regulations issued jointly by STPS and the social security institute (IMSS), and to pay contributions that vary according to their workplace safety and health experience ratings. LFT-mandated joint management and labor committees set standards and are responsible for workplace enforcement in plants and offices. These meet at least monthly to consider workplace needs and file copies of their minutes with federal labor inspectors, who assumed jurisdiction for all such inspections in 1987, supplanting state inspectors and considerably strengthening inspection. The inspectors schedule visits largely in response to these workplace committees.

Individual employees or unions may also complain directly to inspectors or safety and health officials. Workers may remove themselves from hazardous situations without jeopardizing their employment. Plaintiffs may bring complaints before the Federal Labor Board at no cost to themselves.

STPS and IMSS officials report that compliance is reasonably good at most large companies. Federal inspectors are stretched too thin for effective enforcement if companies do not comply voluntarily and fulfill their legal obligation to train workers in occupational health and safety matters, although the number of inspectors was increased in 1995. There are special problems in construction, where unskilled, untrained, poorly educated, transient labor is common, especially at many small sites and companies. Many unions, particularly in construction, are not organized effectively to provide training, to encourage members to work safely and healthily, to participate in the joint committees, or to insist on their rights. The STSP completed work in 1996 on a comprehensive reform of regulations and procedures (resulting from extensive consultations through NAFTA cooperative mechanisms) concerning workplace health and safety.

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