U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Mexico
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Mexico, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1a4.html [accessed 10 July 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
MEXICOMexico is a federal republic with an elected President, a bicameral legislature, and a constitutionally mandated independent judiciary. On July 6, elections were held for the entire lower house of Congress, one-quarter of the Senate, 6 state governors, and over 1,000 state and local office holders in 7 states. For the first time, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) lost its absolute majority in the lower house of Congress, and the opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) and National Action Party (PAN) made strong gains. This was a marked departure from past elections, as the PRI has won every presidential election since the party's founding in 1929, many of which involved credible allegations of fraudulent practices. For the first time since the 1920's, the people of Mexico City elected a mayor, PRD candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas. Although there were post-electoral disputes in a few states, including Colima and Campeche, and small-scale violence in Chiapas, a wide range of Mexican and international observers characterized the elections as largely free and fair and as a significant advance in the democratization process. The judiciary is nominally independent however, on occasion it has been influenced by the executive branch. Corruption and inefficiency are problems and are more widespread in some states than others. Several southern states, most notably Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Chiapas, continued to suffer politically motivated violence. Peace talks between the Government and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) stalled in September 1996 following disagreement regarding the implementation of agreements signed in February 1996 on indigenous rights. However, intense informal contacts continued through January 1997. The army and the EZLN have not clashed since the Government unilaterally declared a cease-fire on January 12, 1994. As part of continuing unrest in Chiapas, on December 22 an armed group allegedly organized by the PRI mayor massacred 45 indigenous persons in the village of Acteal, which increased already high tensions in the state. President Zedillo immediately ordered his Attorney General to conduct a thorough investigation. This investigation resulted in the arrest of persons allegedly connected to the massacre and continued at year's end. A new group of uncertain origin and size, the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), made its appearance in June 1996. 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 military withdrew from Federal District police responsibilities effective December 22. 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. During the third quarter, about 29 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) came from the industrial sector, 5 percent from agriculture, and 66 percent from the service sector. 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 petroleum. Per capita GDP was about $4,100, but consumption and wages remained below 1994 levels, producing high 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. In February the Government initiated an antipoverty program (renamed Progresa in August) intended to help 500,000 of the poorest families by year's end. 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, disappearances, torture, illegal arrests, arbitrary detentions, poor prison conditions, lengthy pretrial detention, lack of due process, corruption and inefficiency in the judiciary, 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. Vigilante killings, attacks against journalists, and attacks and threats to human rights monitors were also problems. 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). The PGR continued to restructure to combat internal corruption. Major steps included the reorganization of its subordinate bodies, the dismissal of hundreds of employees, training programs targeting both new and long time agents, and the creation of new units, all of whose members must undergo an in-depth vetting process including polygraphs, financial and background investigations, and drug testing. The Government also continued its support for the government-funded National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) and for implementation of a wide-ranging package of other police and judicial reforms.