Last Updated: Thursday, 31 July 2014, 17:47 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Mexico

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Mexico, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa798.html [accessed 31 July 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.
MEXICO

 

The United Mexican States is a federal republic with an elected President, a bicameral Congress, and a constitutionally mandated independent judicial branch. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has won every presidential election in the last 66 years, many of which involved credible allegations of fraudulent practices. Most national and international observers, however, regarded the August 1994 presidential elections as free and fair. The success of those elections carried over into many subsequent state elections, with only one state election marred by allegations of serious fraud. Several southern states, most notably Guerrero, Tabasco, and Chiapas, continued to suffer politically motivated violence, often caused by local political rivalries. Although the Government's dialogue with the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) has not yet produced a definitive resolution to the conflict in Chiapas, both parties remained committed to a negotiated settlement, and peace talks continued through the end of the year. The army and the EZLN have not clashed since the Government unilaterally declared a cease-fire on January 12, 1994. The army conducted a limited offensive in February to reassert control over some portions of Chiapas, but did not encounter any EZLN resistance.

Police forces maintain internal security. The army is responsible for external security, but also has some 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, 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 during the past 12 years. An ambitious program of privatization has reduced state-owned companies from more than 1,150 to less than 200. About 22 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) comes from manufacturing, 25 percent from commerce, 8 percent from agriculture, and 27 percent from service industries. There is significant subsistence agriculture, and 27 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. There are severe inequities 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 the violence and killings in Guerrero, as well as other extrajudicial killings, torture, illegal arrests, and arbitrary detention. To address human rights abuses, the Government established the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) in 1990. The CNDH is autonomous, although it receives its funding from the Government and the President appoints the president of the Commission. CNDH recommendations have resulted in the firing or censuring of more than 2,000 public servants (most of them members of public security forces), but critics claim that its effectiveness is limited by its lack of authority to bring criminal or civil charges against those accused of human rights abuses, as well as its cumbersome size and bureaucracy. The CNDH concluded that from May 1994 to May 1995 280 governmental organizations were "presumably responsible" for human rights abuses. The CNDH cited the federal Attorney General's Office (PGR), which has authority over federal police, in 392 complaints. Corruption is rife within police ranks. Other abuses included glaring prison deficiencies, discrimination and violence against homosexuals, women, and indigenous persons, and extensive illegal child labor 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 PGR, continuing support to the CNDH, and implementing a wide-ranging package of judicial reforms.

Respect for Human Rights

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killings

A number of murders were committed for ostensibly political reasons. Guerrero state police killed 17 peasants on June 28, while they were en route to protest the Government's failure to deliver promised herbicides. Many were members of the Organization of the Southern Sierra, a small, leftist, peasant organization, formerly linked to the national Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). An investigation by the Guerrero state attorney general's office concluded that heavily armed policemen had acted in self-defense, and that the peasants had fired first. A CNDH investigation, however, determined that the film of the scene which officials 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. Additionally, the CNDH charged that state investigators had been negligent in their conduct of the investigation and had falsified forensic test results.

Although he originally accepted the conclusions of the state attorney general's office, Governor Ruben Figueroa ultimately complied with the CNDH's recommendation that a number of state officials be suspended until the completion of a special prosecutor's investigation. There are credible allegations, however, that a number of the suspended state officials, including the former state attorney general, continued to exercise considerable influence in the operations of the state government.

Alejandro Oscar Varela Vidales, formerly of the Mexico City Attorney General's office, was named special prosecutor in the case by the Guerrero state congress after the position had been vacant for a month. In accordance with CNDH recommendations, former special prosecutor Miguel Angel Garcia Dominguez (who left his position to become a state supreme court justice in Guanajuato) brought criminal charges against some state officials and ordered the arrest of ten policemen. The officers were held on charges of manslaughter, rather than on charges of homicide, and by year's end had not been brought to trial. The bodies of the peasants were to have been exhumed on December 13. However, next of kin opted to postpone the exhumation for up to 3 months because the state government made no provision for following the CNDH's recommendation that independent forensic experts be present. On instructions from Varela, in January 1996 federal judicial police (PJF) arrested 4 ex-officials and 18 state policemen in conjunction with the 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 Mendoza Ramos, and Gustavo Martinez Galeana, former chief of state security for the Costa Grande region of Guerrero. CNDH President Jorge 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.

Unknown assailants killed 12 peasants on July 5 in Ajuchitlan del Progreso, Guerrero. The sole survivor, a 14-year-old boy, said that the attackers appeared to be police. Also in Guerrero, more than 20 unidentified gunmen killed 5 policemen in an ambush on July 7, and on July 15, gunmen allegedly in the employ of the state government killed 2 peasant leaders. In addition, five PRD activists were killed in random acts of violence in the state between March 25 and June 27; and peasants killed a policeman in the town of La Cebada on June 2. Family feuds continued to generate more killings.

Investigations continued into the 1994 assassinations of PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio and PRI secretary general, Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu. One gunman, Mario Aburto, has been convicted of Colosio's murder. A second alleged gunman, Othon Cortes Vazquez, is in custody.

In an unprecedented action, police arrested Raul Salinas de Gortari, brother of ex-President Carlos Salinas, as the intellectual coauthor of the Ruiz Massieu murder. Gunman Daniel Aguilar Trevino was sentenced in March to 50 years. Manuel Munoz Rocha, a PRI legislator and another suspected intellectual coauthor of the killing, remained missing and presumed dead. Former Deputy Attorney General Mario Ruiz Massieu, who until November 1994 was responsible for investigating his brother's death, was in the United States at year's end awaiting the outcome of deportation hearings. The Mexican Government has charged him with obstruction of justice for concealing Raul Salinas' role in Jose Francisco Ruiz's murder. While carrying out the investigation under the direction of Mario Ruiz, police allegedly tortured suspects and raped one.

In August the Attorney General's Office released its finding that Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo was slain in a case of mistaken identity May 24, 1993 at the Guadalajara airport. Edgar Nicolas Mariscal, who remains in police custody, declared that he mistook the Cardinal's automobile for that of rival narcotics trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera.

Five men attempted to murder Bishop Arturo Lona Reyes on June 29 in the state of Oaxaca. The Bishop opined that the assassination attempt may have been motivated by local peasant bosses ("caciques") who may have been perturbed by the Bishop's campaign to educate peasants about their rights.

Unknown assailants murdered Government Prosecutor Jesus Humberto Priego Chavez and Judge Abraham Polo Uscanga on June 19 and June 20, following the government declaration of bankruptcy of a company which formed part of Mexico City's public bus systemÚÚRuta 100ÚÚand violent reaction by its leftist union, SUTAUR. The Government has not established culpability in either case. Police made no arrests for the murder of former SUTAUR secretary general Ignacio Chicuellar Vela and ruled as suicide the death of former municipal transit director, Luis Miguel Moreno, although many questioned the ruling (see Section 6.a.).

On May 10, police found former Jalisco state Attorney General Leobardo Larios Guzman murdered outside his home in Guadalajara. The authorities arrested Gaston Ayala Beltran, a former state judicial police officer as Larios' alleged killer, as well as three other alleged gunmen of the Tijuana drug cartel in connection with the murder.

Unknown assailants killed one PRD activist and wounded 42 on July 10 in Villa Benito Juarez, Tabasco during post-electoral conflict with police. A local newspaper in Chiapas reported on September 30 that 19 PRD members had been killed and 50 wounded in the towns of Tila, Tumbala, and Angel Albino Corzo, since March. Local PRD leader Martha Morales died from bullet wounds received October 14 in Tecpan de Galeana, Guerrero. The PRD claims that her death brings to 71 the number of its members killed in Guerrero. In an August 1994 incident, which some believe to have been an assassination attempt, the PRD's candidate for the governorship of Chiapas suffered severe injury (two other PRD officials died in the incident, and two more were also seriously injured) when a trailer truck collided with his minivan.

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.

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. With recent constitutional agrarian reforms, the Government ceased distributing new lands; the invasions continue nonetheless.

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, but police have also alleged EZLN involvement. During a major sweep of the village of Benito Juarez, Veracruz, on May 29 and 30 to remove squatters from ranches, police arbitrarily detained 34 peasants. Eight of the peasants were sentenced to prison on charges of having damaged property. The police also beat or robbed many others. Fearing further police violence at the behest of local ranchers, over 100 peasant families took refuge in surrounding mountains. A mob of more than 100 town residents attacked police in Soledad Atzompa, Veracruz, after the police beat and attempted to arrest a local peasant for buying a stolen car. Police often fail to investigate killings of peasants by ranchers.

The CNDH said that the Veracruz state attorney general's office had been negligent in implementing its recommendations regarding the September 8, 1994, killing of two local leaders in Plan de Encinal, a community in Ixhuatlan de Madero, Veracruz. State officials had previously blocked attempts by Amnesty International forensic experts to conduct autopsies on the victims. The authorities made no progress in the case.

Some large landowners in Chiapas maintain private militias to defend their property from peasant land invasions. Local authorities do not impede the establishment of these militias, which often employ police and military personnel. Other land disputes between ranchers and peasant squatters continued in Oaxaca and Tabasco and occasionally turned violent.

Police officer Jose Antonio Verduzco Flores remains in detention, but the authorities have not yet tried him for beating U.S. citizen Mario Amado to death in 1992 in a Baja California jail. A new judge has been assigned to the case.

b. Disappearances

Amnesty International reported one case of politically motivated disappearance, that of peasant leader Gilberto Romero Vasquez of the Peasant Organization of the Southern Sierra, in Atoyac de Alvarez, Guerrero on May 24. Members of that organization were among the 17 killed by state police on June 28. There were political and economic elements in some cases of disappearances due to religious differences (see Section 5).

The CNDH's 1995 annual report states that, of 13 cases of disappearance which it reviewed from May 1994 to April 1995, 6 resulted in determinations that the subject was deceased or likely to be deceased. The authorities resolved most of the more than 400 cases of disappearance reported during the early stages of the Chiapas conflict in 1994.

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

Torture continues to be a serious human rights problem, although the CNDH reported a 68 percent decline in torture complaints over the previous year (from 148 complaints to 45) and said that torture was its 19th most common type of complaint during the year. Incidence of torture reported to the Federal District's human rights commission also fell. However, the CNDH does not maintain statistics on torture complaints to state human rights commissions. Of the 31 states and the Federal District, 8 of these jurisdictions do not have specific laws to prevent or punish 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.

The authorities punish few officials for torture, which continues to occur mainly because confessions are the primary evidence in many criminal convictions. The CNDH reported that only 13 policemen were jailed on torture convictions during the year. By law the defendant must prove that a confession was forced. Many victims do not report, or do not follow through on, their complaints against the police for fear of reprisals.

PJF officers abducted, tortured, and ultimately released U.S. citizen Roberto Carlos Castillo Zuniga on August 3 in Matamoros for allegedly stealing marijuana belonging to a local PJF commander. Despite repeated inquiries by consular authorities, no investigation has been undertaken.

The Mexico City press reported that police beat and forcibly removed all finger and toe nails during an 18-hour interrogation of Daniel Aguilar Trevino, who was allegedly involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu. Press reports also state that police forced carbonated water into Marco Antonio Rodriguez Gonzalez's nose while he was seminaked, bound, and blindfolded, and raped and tortured Maria Eugenia Ramirez Arauz, both of whom were subsequently convicted of assisting in the assassination plot. The investigation continued at year's end, but the authorities had not indicted any police officials in connection with these allegations.

Police in the state of Veracruz, attempting to force suspected EZLN leader Alejandro Garcia Santiago to turn himself in, allegedly tortured his parents and brother. The CNDH confirmed that police in the Norte Prison in Mexico City tortured at least four of seven persons whom they had arrested in Yanga, Veracruz on suspicion of links to the EZLN.

According to press accounts, on May 28 Mexico City police beat, raped, and tortured Gloria Gaulito, a member of the politically activist Mexico City Neighborhoods Assembly, while they held her incommunicado.

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. Announcing plans for the creation of a national register of law enforcement officials in July, Pablo Monzalvo, Director General of Protective Services in the Ministry of Government, said that 30 percent of all "highway robbers" are or had been policemen. Attorney General Antonio Lozano Gracia estimated in October that 80 percent of all federal judicial policemen had engaged in criminal activity.

Standards at prisons vary by state. Many 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 Federal Government began building 10 new prisons to house an additional 13,000 prisoners, in order to alleviate overcrowding.

On May 3 and 4, at the Puente Grande prison in Jalisco state, Federal Judicial Police killed seven prisoners whom they fired on without authorization during a riot. Eight more prisoners were killed and at least 20 wounded during further rioting at the prison on July 6 and 7. May 9 rioting at a Cancun prison left one prisoner dead and at least seven wounded. Contention over prisoner self-government and control of narcotics and weapons touched off a riot in January at the Torreon prison in Coahuila, which left at least 28 dead. A riot in Leon, Guanajuato left one dead and seven injured on November 6.

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 (it visited 53 jails from May 1994 to April 1995) and to investigate prisoner complaints.

The law prohibits incarceration for failure to pay private debts. However, such incarcerations increased dramatically during 1995, probably reflecting the economic crisis.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution provides that the authorities must present anyone detained before a judge within 72 hours, and must try the 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 prisoners awaiting trial to be housed separately from those convicted. In practice, judicial and police authorities frequently ignored these time limits. According to the CNDH and nongovernmental organizations (NGO's), the authorities often held criminal defendants with convicted prisoners and for longer than allowed by law before going to trial.

For the period from May 1994 to April 1995, CNDH reported 169 findings of arbitrary detention, and 30 cases in which it found that authorities held prisoners incommunicado. Arbitrary arrest and detention continued to be among the most common human rights abuses. Detention of opposition political activists is neither widespread nor systematic, but does occur frequently for short periods of time.

In previous years, judges often failed to sentence indigenous detainees within legally mandated periods. In a substantial improvement over 1994, authorities sentenced 69 percent of all imprisoned indigenous persons within legally mandated periods. In 1994, 70 percent had not been sentenced, and the authorities had held half of them in pretrial detention for longer than allowed by law. At the behest of the National Indigenous Institute (INI) and the CNDH, authorities released 480 indigenous detainees from jails from May 1994 to April 1995. Federal prosecutors continued to adhere to INI's recommendation 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. Some wealthy drug traffickers have avoided arrests or jail sentences by paying off police officers and judges. Payments by drug kingpin Hector "El Guero" Palma Salazar to the Guadalajara city police force totaled $40 million per month, according to press accounts. Attorney General Lozano said that the army participated in Palmas' arrest because the Government had to assume that entire police forces had been compromised. In an attempt to curb police bribe-taking, the Federal District raised judicial police salaries by 80 percent in July.

Robberies committed by policemen are common; four federal judicial police were arrested as they attempted to rob President Zedillo's son in March. 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.

Most Mexicans view the police as corrupt and unhelpful: 64 percent of crime victims in Mexico City did not report incidents to law enforcement authorities, and according to a reliable 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.

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. President Zedillo proposed and CongressÚÚafter considerable debate and the incorporation of amendments proposed by the opposition National Action Party (PAN)ÚÚ approved several extensive judicial reform packages. These reforms include: 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 provide 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).

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, the authorities often do not assure adequate representation for many poor defendants in practice. 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 for common crimes, such as homicide and damage to property, those charged in sometimes violent land invasions.

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. There were no known claims of forced political membership. SUTAUR, a transit workers union, made a formal complaint to the CNDH in August that microphones had been illegally placed in the prison cells of some of its members. The CNDH is investigating the complaint.

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

The military's February 9 deployment into rebel-held territory in Chiapas was accomplished without any large-scale armed confrontations. Most of the violence in Chiapas appeared to be caused by political rivalries, land disputes, and common crime. There were credible allegations that many military personnel gratuitously invaded homes, damaged the contents, and killed livestock when peasants fled in fear from the army offensive.

Amnesty International reports that soldiers kidnaped two indigenous men, Alfredo Jimenez Santis and Mario Alvarez Lopez, on February 9. The soldiers tortured and beat the men for 5 days at a military installation in the state capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez, and then released them. Amnesty International also reports that soldiers tortured two other indigenous persons on February 13 in order to extract confessions of support for the EZLN; the two were released on the following day.

The military continues to deny any responsibility for abuses committed during the early stages of the Chiapas rebellion in 1994. The authorities have failed to sanction 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.

The law does not require civil trial of soldiers involved in civil crimes, and the military continues to handle such cases. The military alleges that five suspected EZLN guerrillas who were all shot in the head at the Ocosingo market with their hands bound behind their backs in January 1994 were "caught in the crossfire" and the Federal Attorney General's Office exonerated the army in April 1994.

The army claims, however, that an officer, Lt. Arturo Jimenez Morales, murdered eight civilians at an Ocosingo, Chiapas medical clinic on January 3, 1994. Army sources claim that after questioning him about his role in the murder at defense headquarters on April 15, he committed suicide.

The army continues to stand by its assertion that it was not responsible for the deaths of three men in the farm cooperative community of Morelia, Chiapas on January 7, 1994. The army does, however, admit that its troops were in the town on January 6. Residents said that they saw a military ambulance take away the bodies of three men, and later discovered their remains. The Government did not file charges and closed the case.

Nearby municipal police took no action to prevent an attack against supporters of Bishop Samuel Ruiz outside his offices in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, on February 19. The CNDH condemned police inaction, and recommended that the municipal government improve security at the bishop's offices, which it subsequently did.

The Chiapas women's rights organization, "Women of San Cristobal de Las Casas," has documented 50 cases of rape during the year in the municipalities of Altamirano, San Andres Larrainzar, Amatenango, San Cristobal, and Ocosingo. They allege some were committed by security forces. A U.S. human rights worker who worked on behalf of the EZLN in the United States accused four armed men of raping her in Chiapas on October 25 while she was hiking in a national park. The CNDH has begun to investigate.

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. Newspapers, books, and magazines represent a very wide range of opinion across the political spectrum. Broadcast media are similarly free, although some suggest that the Government's power to grant or withdraw broadcast licenses has a chilling effect on free expression. While there have been charges of delays in renewing licenses, there are no known instances in which the Government has forced a radio or television station off the air. The Government does not censor or inhibit foreign publications or broadcasts.

While Mexicans generally enjoy access to a vast range of information, human rights groups and other students of media point to three problem areas: corruption, physical violence against reporters, and monopolization of television by one, progovernment company. The New York Times and various Mexican newspapers reported that press access was severely restricted during the 5-day army reoccupation of Chiapas in early February.

Bribing publishers, editors, and reporters has a long history, although it seems to be waning. In 1994 the Federal Government began to require all its press offices to report all their expenses to the Office of the Comptroller General. This appears to have reduced cash payments, although noncash favors of more than nominal value remain common. Likewise, state and local governments are reforming. In 1995 the PAN Mayor of Guadalajara announced that his predecessor had paid roughly $250,000 to news organizations and journalists the previous year and that he was ending the practice. The governor of Baja California did the same in 1987. Editors at four Mexico City dailies have adopted codes of conduct for their employeesÚÚ three raised reporters' salaries at the same time and have tried to diminish dependence on government advertising revenues. Even so, the bribing of journalists is still common.

The CNDH screens cases involving violations of press and speech rights and refers the ones it considers to have merit to appropriate officials for investigation and possible prosecution. Of 11 complaints received from May 1994 to May 1995, 5 are still under investigation. The CNDH requested judicial investigation in two cases, in two cases the complainants withdrew the charges, and one complainant did not pursue his case. From May to December 1995, CNDH reported eight new cases, including three alleged assaults, four reports of threats and one complaint about censorship. CNDH has acted on seven cases. In one case, it recommended that judicial authorities start a formal investigation. Two cases were concluded with the removal of a police officer from his position and the initiation of judicial process. CNDH advised two other complainants to follow up on their cases independently. An additional two cases are still under review, and one case was dismissed as being outside the mandate of the CNDH.

The nongovernmental magazine Revista Mexicana de Comunicacion receives complaints but does not investigate them. The magazine reported on 90 complaints of human rights violations involving journalists in 1994 and 28 cases in 1995. Of the 28 cases, 4 concerned censorship. There were 13 cases of physical assault (most of them by local or federal police authorities), 7 complaints of threats, and 3 assassinations, including that of a journalist from Tijuana who was investigating drug trafficking. The journalist's father and brother (also journalists) were shot after promising to reveal the names of the killers in a press conference. At year's end the case remained unresolved. According to the magazine, the human rights commission of the state of Baja California has recommended that further action be taken by the state attorney general's office and local authorities. The magazine also reported the disappearance in October of a Coahuila magazine publisher following allegations in the magazine of links between federal authorities and drug traffickers. The magazine states that the regional human rights commission of La Laguna (northern Mexico) is investigating this case.

Some complain that the private Televisa network's share of approximately 80 percent of the television market would not be permitted were Televisa not so clearly progovernment in its broadcasts. However, Televisa's influence faces growing competition from all kinds of media.

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.

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, see Section 5 concerning religious discrimination.) The law bars clergy from holding public office and from advocating partisan political positions.

Immigration authorities detained and on June 22 deported three foreign priests who had been working in Chiapas, claiming they had engaged in political activities from which foreigners are prohibited by law. After an appeal from Father Loren Riebe, a U.S. priest who claims that he took part in no political activities, the Government said that it would review his case and his application for a visa to return to Mexico. By year's end, the Government had not made a final decision in the Riebe case. In September immigration authorities refused permission to two priests, Canadian Albert Mahoney and American Paul Nadolny, to reenter Mexico and return to their parishes in Chiapas. Immigration authorities based their refusal on legal technicalities; the priests claim that the decision was politically motivated. President Zedillo met with leaders of the Catholic Church on October 13 to discuss expulsions of foreign clergy from Chiapas. Church leaders said that they were pleased with the results of the meeting, and church and government officials remained in contact on the issue.

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

The Government does not generally restrict movement into, out of, or within the country.

The law provides protection for foreigners who face political persecution. The CNDH reported that the number of refugees had fallen in 1995 to approximately 17,000, from the previous year's 23,000. It stated that the principal reasons for the diminution were greater numbers of repatriations to neighboring Guatemala as that country's civil war abated, and death of refugees due to unhealthy living conditions. A July 1994 CNDH survey of 132 refugees in Chiapas found that 67 percent had been mistreated, struck, or threatened by authorities; 20 percent had been robbed; and that police had extorted money from 44 percent. Ten complained of having been tortured, and two of the women claimed that they had been raped. (Similar information is not available for 1995.) Scattered reports of use of illegal immigrants and refugees as slave labor on Chiapas farms persisted.

During 1995 Mexico expelled 83,148 "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. 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, pending cases brought by an illegal immigrant are subject to dismissal once the immigrant has been deported. 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.

Mexico held gubernatorial elections in the states of Jalisco, Guanajuato, Yucatan, Baja California, and Michoacan, as well as state and local contests in 11 other states. At year's end, the opposition PAN had won three of five governorships. The ruling PRI retained the governorships in Yucatan and Michoacan. The PAN unsuccessfully contested the Yucatan gubernatorial election's outcome, claiming that the PRI committed fraud.

Elections were generally peaceful and orderly. The Government spent hundreds of millions of dollars funding the operations of the quasi-independent Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), whose governing council is under the control of nonpartisan, civilian directors. Many states undertook electoral reform, modeling state electoral institutes after the federal institute. The IFE oversees the national voter registration list, and provides technical support to state electoral registers.

Some domestic observer groups, media outlets, and major political parties conducted "quick count" operations which confirmed official election results during state and local elections. In cases where electoral courts determined fraud, they voided the results of the voting stations in question and determined the outcome according to returns from other stations in the district.

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 the various state races, authorities declined to prosecute any electoral crimes. On the other hand, an electoral tribunal reversed the results of the 1994 Monterrey mayor's race, changing a PRI victory to one for PAN.

One of the continuing major obstacles to election 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 which 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. For the first time in its history, the PRI had a female president, Maria de Los Angeles Moreno, who resigned August 19.

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. About 800 NGO's attended a July conference in Mexico City, demonstrating the rapid growth of this sector. 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. However, problems remain. For example, Father David Fernandez, S.J., and other human rights leaders reported anonymous death threats.

To address human rights abuses, the Government established the CNDH in 1990. Since that time, the CNDH has made nearly 1,000 recommendations which have resulted in the firing or censuring of over 2,000 public servants, most of them members of public security forces. From May 1994 to May 1995, CNDH efforts resulted in sanctions against 221 public servants, as follows: 96 criminal actions; 24 dismissals; 24 declared incompetent for public service; 29 suspensions; 44 reprimands or warnings; 1 arrest; and 3 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, the CNDH issued 74 recommendations for reconsideration or renewal of action between May 1994 and December 1995. At year's end, state commissions complied completely with 57 of the recommendations, and partially with 15. Two were in various stages of administrative processing. 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 the Federal District Attorney General's office announced the opening of a new sub section for human rights to address abuses in Mexico City, where one-quarter of Mexico's population lives. By July the new office was handling an average of two complaints per day against federal district police officers, as well as other cases.

The CNDH had made 1,015 recommendations to government authorities by the end of the year. Of these, the authorities fully complied with 599, partially complied with 392, and rejected 21 while 52 were in various stages of administrative processing. The CNDH cited 60 recommendations which authorities had been "negligent" in implementing during the past 4 years.

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 6 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.

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. Discrimination against homosexuals in hiring and promotion is also widespread. 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 1995. Liborio Cruz, a 19-year-old male prostitute, was beaten to death by a group of men in Mexico City in June.

Women

Although the Constitution provides for equality between the sexes, neither the authorities nor society in general respect this in practice. 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" 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 Federal District Attorney General's Office 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 13 and 17, and 25 percent were under age 13. Some women who availed themselves of the centers' services reported abusive, humiliating, and unprofessional behavior by police and medical examiners who work as staff in the centers.

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 Labor Code provides that women shall have the same rights and the same obligations as men, and that "equal pay shall be given for equal work performed in equal posts, hours of work and conditions of efficiency." However, employers, including the Mexico City police department, frequently require women to certify that they are not pregnant at the time of hiring.

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, and that the number of such complaints rose in 1995, in large part due to women's increased awareness of their rights. The study noted that most sterilizations occurred in public hospitals and were performed on poor and illiterate patients who were not informed of the consequences of the medical procedure. The Constitution and a law protect women from abuses of this kind; 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 very few cases, charges have been brought against doctors for sterilizing a woman without her consent. The CNDH recommended that medical administrators train their staffs to be more aware when dealing with such patients.

Children

Children under 18 make up over 40 percent of the population. There is no societal pattern of abuse against children, but children's advocates report many such cases. The U.N. Children's Fund 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. More than 12,000 children live on the streets of Mexico City, many having left or been driven from their homes by alcoholic parents. 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 exacerbated 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. Noting that reports of abuse of children in Mexico City had increased 40 percent during the year, Andres Linares, director of the Public Ministry of Family Affairs, announced in November the creation of two new Federal District agencies to deal specifically with the abuse and kidnapping of children. While the Government is committed to children's health and education, it has failed to allocate sufficient resources for acting on that commitment.

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 (though 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 interest on the demands of indigenous persons in that state 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. Of the 94 complaints regarding indigenous affairs received by the CNDH in 1994 and up to the end of May 1995, 72 had been resolved.

More than 130 NGO's in Mexico 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 try and sentence indigenous people without the benefit of interpreters. In May 1994, at least 5,874 indigenous persons were in jail. During the period from May 1994 through May 1995, 480 were released, 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. The most significant example of religious inspired expulsions occurred in San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, where local authorities have expelled an estimated 30,000 Evangelicals over the past 30 years. In 1995 violence in San Juan Chamula was directed against an evangelical group whose members were previously expelled for their religious beliefs, who returned in August 1994 under an agreement arranged by state and CNDH officials. The latest round of violence resulted in several dead and wounded, and several cases of disappearances.

This violence is due in part to political and economic rivalries, as well as religious differences. During state government-sponsored talks in the state capital of Chiapas, Tuxtla Gutierrez, the two sides reached agreement on September 4 that followers of local political bosses should end their harassment of Evangelicals. However, the agreement was shattered when local bosses kidnaped Evangelical Agustin Lopez Perez. Both parties tried to reach a solution but Evangelicals eventually retaliated by kidnaping two party bosses from the town of Arvenza in November which set off street fights resulting in six dead and six wounded.

Police detained 100 indigenous Chiapans, members of an evangelical group, after a confrontation near the town of Bochil, Chiapas. The peasants attacked the police with rocks; police responded with tear gas. According to press reports, the Evangelicals were attempting to take back by force two impounded community transport vehicles and kidnap the local official in charge of public transportation.

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, which implies an effective rate nearly twice that high, as only about one-half the labor force works in the formal sector and is accessible to union organization.

No prior approval is needed to form unions, but they must register with federal or state labor authorities to obtain legal status in order to function effectively. Registration requirements are not onerous. There are credible allegations, however, that federal or state labor authorities 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, Federal Labor Secretariat (STPS) officials require evidence that unions are genuine and representative before registering them. The matter of trade union registration was the subject of ministerial consultations in 1995 under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (the side agreement on labor to the North American Free Trade Agreement).

Unions form federations and confederations freely without government approval. Most unions belong to such bodies, which also must register to have legal status. The largest trade union central is the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), organizationally part of the ruling PRI. 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 and freed its factions to cooperate openly with other parties. 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.

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

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 threaten the Government or the PRI. After the 1991 federal elections, the proportion of CT senators and deputies fell to less than 10 percent, but in 1994 the CT, and especially the CTM, regained some lost congressional nominations, and nearly all labor candidates won easily.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee of Experts (COE) has found that certain restrictions in federal employee labor law, a separate section of the Constitution and LFT, violate freedom of association. At FSTSE request, the Congress incorporated certain provisions of FSTSE statutes into the LFT. These provisions allow only one union per jurisdiction, forbid union members from quitting the union, and prohibit reelection of union officials. The COE and the ILO Conference Committee on Application of Standards (CAS) strongly reiterated their criticism and request that the Government amend these provisions. The Government promised to study this as part of reforms currently under consideration and report the resultant action to the ILO before next year's conference.

Two major alleged violations of freedom of association in the public sector occurred in the spring and were cited in the CAS debate. In the first case, a new Environment Ministry was created, merging the former Fisheries Ministry and much larger sections from the Agricultural and Social Development Ministries. The officers of the Fisheries Ministry union, rather than negotiate the transition within FSTSE, appealed to the Federal Employee Labor Tribunal to become the union of the new ministry. The tribunal ruled that the FSTSE should apply its statutes and hold a convention to form a new union, dissolving the former Fisheries Ministry union. The FSTSE convoked secret ballot elections in the sections of the new ministry for delegates to a convention which formed the new union and elected its officers. The dissolved union alleged that this was all just a pretext to get rid of the only FSTSE union led by militants of the left, rather than the PRI. While this was a result, it was not the reason for creating the new ministry, and FSTSE procedures were scrupulously democratic and in accord with its statutes. In November considering a freedom of association complaint on this case, the ILO governing body reiterated that Mexican public service labor law should allow free formation of multiple unions and the most representative union for exclusive bargaining rights should be chosen objectively. The press reported in November that the two unions were negotiating a compromise solution. In January 1996, a court reversed the tribunal decision and restored the dissolved union's registration. A recognition election (see Section 6.b.) will be held to choose between the two unions.

The other complaint involved Mexico City municipal transit workers. In March the Government of the Federal District obtained a court order declaring the grossly corrupt Ruta 100 bus company bankrupt. A court also ordered the arrest of 12 leaders of Ruta 100's SUTAUR union in connection with internal union corruption. Investigations are still underway into the subsequent mysterious suicide of a city transit director who was reorganizing the company, and the murders of a prosecutor who was working on the case, and a judge who had left the case (see Section 1 a.). Some SUTAUR members protested the government reorganization of the Tribunal for dissolution of the union. Although SUTAUR proponents contend that the Government's hasty and heavy-handed manner in dealing with Ruta 100 was as bad as any corruption in the company or the union, their claim that the Government's actions constitute a violation of freedom of association is not credible.

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. The law permits public sector strikes, but they are rare. Provisions for maintaining essential services are not onerous.

During the first 11 months of 1995, the Labor Secretariat estimated that 5,810 strike notices were filed and 96 legal strikes occurred involving 12,249 workers and the loss of 777,990 work days. These figures were less than during the same period of 1994. At year's end, 47 strikes were resolved and 49 were unresolved. During the period December 1994 to November 1995, 794 representation disputes between unions were filed, plus 18 economic disputesÚÚthese are generally company requests to lay off workers due to economic difficulties. 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, which can also 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.

Employer organizations have pushed for labor law reform which would limit union leaders' powers, but unions have successfully resisted. However, the Government, employers and unions have negotiated de facto reform through tripartite national pacts (see below) and collective bargaining at the enterprise level.

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 independent, "white" or company unions as an alternative to mainstream national or local unions. Representation elections are traditionally open, not secret. Management and union officials are present with the presiding labor board official when workers openly declare their votes. Such open "recounts" are prevailing practice, but not required by law or regulation. Secret ballots are held when all parties agree.

As the economic crisis deepened, 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 voluntarily limited free collective bargaining for the past decade. The pact follow up committee continues to meet to monitor prices, limit inflation, and support the Government's free market economic reforms, but wage restraints no longer exist, except for the de facto restraint caused by the economic recession and difficult situation of most employers. In the fall, the Government and major employer and union organizations concluded a new "Alliance for Economic Recovery," agreeing on tax breaks to industry to spur employment and increases in the minimum wage but reiterating the commitment to free collective bargaining with no guidelines or government interference. Real wages in union contracts were estimated to have fallen an average of 20 to 25 percent, losing most of the ground regained over the previous 5 years.

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. There were few protests alleging such practices, though the CTM petroleum union dissident movement continued to accuse leaders of undemocratic and strong-arm tactics. The CTM helped protesting workers switch to a different section (local) of its transport union when the section leader signed a contract that favored an intercity bus company, supported their strike for a better contract in July and August, and took action against other bus companies to which the company tried to divert buses and routes to evade the strike. At a U.S.-owned auto parts firm in Mexico state near Mexico City, some workers dissatisfied with an arrangement favorable to the company reached by a CTM union leader began trying to shift to the union of the small, left of center, independent Authentic Labor Federation (FAT), and were threatened with dismissal under closed shop-exclusion clause provisions. Once the local American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations representative advised the CTM of this situation, it withdrew, renounced the contract, and called off the dismissal actions. The company sought out the CT-member Mexico state Worker and Peasant Confederation which took over the favorable contract and resumed the dismissal action. The FAT sought a representation election, but lost overwhelmingly.

The public sector is almost totally organized. Industrial areas are heavily organized, but states with little industry often have few unions. The law protects workers from antiunion discrimination, but enforcement is uneven, especially in states with low unionization.

Unionization and wage levels in the in-bond export sector vary by area, especially between high and low technology facilities. Wages have been lower in this sector than in most of industry, especially in low technology facilities in the west, but the gap has narrowed. 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 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. The activities of those age 14 and 15 are so restricted as to be uneconomic (no night or hazardous work, and limited hours). The ILO reported that 18 percent of children age 12 to

14 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), agriculture, and in rural areas. The CTM agricultural union's success years back 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 have been unable to convince most indigenous farm workers to leave their families at home even though bilingual education is not available near worksites.

The 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.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Constitution and the LFT provide for a daily minimum wage. The Tripartite National Minimum Wage Commission (government, labor, employers), sets minimum wage rates each December, effective January 1. The minimum daily wage is for the whole year, but any of the three parties can ask that the board reconvene during the year to consider a changed situation. It did so in April, boosting the minimum wage another 12 percent to compensate for rapid inflation. In the Alliance, (see Section 6.b.) labor, employers, and the Government agreed to ask their representatives on the Commission to increase the minimum wage 10 percent on December 1 and another 10 percent on April 1, instead of the usual January 1 increase.

In Mexico City and nearby industrial areas, Acapulco, southeast Veracruz state's refining and petrochemical zone and most border areas, the minimum daily wage on December 4 was $2.70 (20.15 new pesos). Minimum wage earners were actually paid $3.06 (22.97 new pesos) by their employers due to a supplemental 14 percent fiscal subsidy (negative income tax or tax credit for employers). These income supplements to the minimum wage, agreed in annual tripartite pacts, are for all income less than four times the minimum wage, decreasing as wages and benefits rise. In Guadalajara, Monterrey, and other advanced industrialized areas, the 1995 minimum daily wage (before the fiscal subsidy) was $2.50 (18.70 new pesos). In other areas, it was $2.27 (17.00 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 run 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, with pay for 56 hours. Workers asked to exceed 3 hours of overtime per day or 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 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 pay contributions which 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 strengthening inspection considerably. 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 and to encourage members to work safely and healthily, to participate in the joint committees, and to insist on their rights.

 

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