Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Crack Down on Mexico's Crackdowns ; President Calderon Must Improve Human Rights by Reining in Abusive Police

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Crack Down on Mexico's Crackdowns ; President Calderon Must Improve Human Rights by Reining in Abusive Police

Article excerpt

Before he was tied up, thrown in the back of a truck, and tortured in prison, Gonzalo heard words he'll never forget. "The poor will always be poor and the rich will always be rich," a police officer taunted. "So why don't you go home and abandon your struggle."

But the violent crackdown didn't work. The teenage Gonzalo (whose last name I won't give) and many Mexicans like him are still waging their fight for economic justice. Such determination poses a problem - and an opportunity - for Mexico's newly elected president, conservative Felipe Calderon. Last summer's hotly contested election, which he won by a razor-thin margin, underscored Mexico's political, economic, and regional divisions. Unifying the country won't be easy. But he could begin by repairing Mexico's appalling human rights reputation. To do so, he'll have to rein in the country's infamously abusive police forces. United Nations and European human rights investigators have condemned the police abuse. The United States should do the same.

For his part in a protest march last fall demanding an end to state corruption and higher wages for state employees, Gonzalo says he was beaten multiple times during his 21 days in prison, not allowed to see an attorney, and never formally charged.

I heard his story and many others during an investigation here in the restive southern state of Oaxaca this past December as part of a nongovernmental human rights delegation. They reinforce the dismal picture given by the latest Human Rights Watch report. It says torture remains "a widespread problem within the Mexican criminal justice system." Some judges continue to accept evidence obtained through torture. And more than 40 percent of Mexico's prisoners have never been convicted.

Tension between demonstrators and police has been growing. In Oaxaca, at least 23 people have died in recent months during demonstrations that turned violent when some protesters fought attacking police with Molotov cocktails and slingshots. Such confrontations last year kept most tourists - and their business - away. This angered many middle-class shop owners and others who cater to tourists, widening the split between the haves and have- nots. …

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