Imprisoned General's Case a Litmus Test for Vicente Fox

Article excerpt

Gallardo hoped to reform Mexico's armed forces

Francisco Gallardo went to Washington to fulfill a personal, and political, mission. Gallardo's father, a brigadier general in the Mexican army, has spent nearly eight years in a jail on the outskirts of Mexico City. A military court in 1993 found Brig. Gen. Jose Gallardo guilty of theft and destroying military property and sentenced him to 28 years in prison.

Amnesty International and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights argue that the charges brought against Gallardo are bogus. They say the general languishes in prison because of his call for reforms to end corruption and human fights abuses by Mexico's armed forces.

With help from Amnesty, Francisco Gallardo spent a week in Washington earlier this spring, meeting with Pentagon officials and members of Congress to urge them to use their leverage to help win his father's release.

His efforts apparently have yielded results. Last month, 36 members of Congress, led by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), signed an open letter to Mexican President Vicente Fox, asking him to look into the general's case. That letter, says Amnesty's Amy Simpson, was followed only days later Mexican court issuing an unprecedented resolution ordering a district judge in State of Mexico to accept an appeal that Gen. Gallardo had filed in February.

Brig, Gen. Gallardo was one of the rising stars of the Mexican army at the time of his arrest. But he had an idealistic streak that he nurtured by taking political science courses at the left-leaning National Autonomous University of Mexico. Gallardo's studies -- which he pursued clandestinely since they were prohibited by the military -- led him to the conclusion that Mexico's armed forces needed an independent ombudsman's office to investigate charges of corruption and human rights abuses involving military personnel.

The armed forces that Gallardo had hoped to reform had a deplorable human fights record. They had participated in the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre in Mexico City, in which more than 300 unarmed students were gunned down. They had been accused of "disappearing" hundreds of people in Guerrero state in the context of a counterinsurgency campaign in the 1970s. And they were known for siding with large landowners and Institutional Ruling Party officials in local political and land disputes.

In the late 1980s, Gallardo decided to start speaking out publicly in favor of military reform. The army responded by filing a series of charges against the general--none of which stood up, even though the cases were tried in military court. But in December 1993, one month after publishing an article calling for the creation of an ombudsman's office, a military court convicted Gallardo of stealing horse feed and destroying documents to cover up his crime. …