Mexico and the UK enjoy good relations – after the United States, Britain is one of the largest investors in Mexico – and recently the two countries have been sharing experiences of civil-service and justice reforms.
However, although Mexico’s human rights record is improving slowly, international human rights organisations remain deeply concerned by the level of police violence that goes unpunished, the poor prison conditions, the violence among indigenous communities, and the treatment of street children. President Vicente Fox has attempted to initiate major constitutional change, but Mexico continues to suffer from pervasive corruption, rising crime, increased amounts of drug trafficking and of the violence associated with it, and the abuse of human rights.
Human rights organisations were initially encouraged by the release on 7 February 2002 of the celebrated prisoner of conscience and former general, José Gallardo. However, after President Fox ordered his release, Gallardo sought to press charges against the military authorities who had jailed him. The public prosecutor turned the case over to the military judiciary, which has appeared unwilling to pursue a serious investigation.
Mexican laws on defamation are excessively restrictive and tend to undermine freedom of expression. Journalists who publish articles alleging acts of state corruption and embezzlement face being sued by public officials and politicians. Journalists have also suffered extreme violence and even death at the hands of drug cartels, and there are strong suspicions that, on occasion, government agents have also been involved.
On 22 June 2004 Ortiz Franco, the deputy editor of the weekly newspaper Zeta, was gunned down in front of his children in the city of Tijuana. He had just left a clinic when he was shot three times by unidentified assailants firing from a pick-up truck. Zeta has a reputation for its outspoken reporting on drug-trafficking gangs in Tijuana. Franco was the author of a column on legal affairs and it appears highly likely that he was murdered because of his work for the newspaper.
Zeta’s co-founder, Héctor Félix Miranda, was shot dead in April 1988. In 1997 the newspaper’s publisher and founding editor, Jesús Blancornelas, survived an attempt on his life in which both his bodyguard and driver were killed. One of the two men convicted of the murder of Félix Miranda was a bodyguard employed by businessman Jorge Hank Rhon, who is currently standing to become mayor of Tijuana and who comes from one of Mexico’s most powerful political families.
Another apparently politically motivated case is that of Enrique Aranda Ochoa, who lectured for several years in political psychology at the Iberoamerican University and was at one time President of the Mexican Association of Psychologists. Aranda Ochoa is also the author of several books on psychology. He was openly critical of the Partido Revolucionario Institutional (PRI), the party that held power in Mexico for over seventy years before the Fox administration. Human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, believe that his arrest and detention are linked to his political activities.
Enrique, forty-four, and his brother Adrián Aranda 0choa,-thirty-five, were charged with the kidnapping of the daughter of an important PR1 politician who had been a senator and presidential spokesman (Enrique once accused him of corruption). They were also charged with robbery, attempted kidnapping, and carrying weapons. According to Amnesty International, the two brothers were stopped in Mexico City on 25 June 1996 by the Policia Preventiva, who alleged that the vehicle they were travelling in had been used in an attempted robbery. They were taken to the Coyoacin branch of the Public Ministry before being handed over to members of the judicial police, who allegedly assaulted them in an attempt to force them to sign some documents. They were then put in separate cells. That night they were taken out on various occasions by the judicial police and beaten in the face and other parts of the body and plastic bags were put over their heads. Enrique was also reportedly interrogated about his political activities.
After twenty-four hours both men signed pre-written statements before being handed over to the Grupo Especial de Reacción, who subjected them to further torture and made them sign a second confession. At no time were they allowed access to a lawyer. The brothers are said to have been told that if they did not ratify their confessions before the judge, their relatives would be made to suffer. In August 1997 they were sentenced to fifty years in prison. The injuries sustained by the two men were recorded in several medical certificates issued by Public Ministry lawyers. In May 1999 a further medical certificate was issued attesting to the psychological damage they had suffered.
The brothers currently languish in the Reclusorio Preventivo Varonil Sur prison in Mexico Citv. In the last five years, Enrique has won various national competitions for his poems and stories and is currently writing a novel. It is clear that their trial was grossly unfair and despite evidence that their confessions were extracted under torture these declarations were used as the basis for securing their conviction.
Readers can send appeals calling for the brothers’ release, pending an immediate and independent review of their cases, to:
Presidente Lic. Vicente Fox Quesada
Palacio National, Edif. 10
Planta baja, Col. Centro
Del. CuauhtBmoc, CP 06067
Fax : 00 52 55 5522 4117