[Editors’ Note: The Chiapas Support Committee is participating in a national Drug War Working Group through the Latin American Solidarity Coalition (LASC). We are also organizing a local group in the Bay Area. The letter below was sent to heads of State at the time of President Barack Obama’s visit to Mexico and Central America (May 2-4, 2013).]
145 ORGANIZATIONS ASK PRESIDENTS TO RE-EVALUATE REGIONAL SECURITY POLICIES
President Barack Obama
President Enrique Peña Nieto
President Laura Chinchilla
President Otto Pérez Molina
President Porfirio Lobo
President Mauricio Funes
President Daniel Ortega
President Ricardo Martinelli
Attorney General & Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington
April 30, 2013
We, the undersigned civil society organizations from throughout the region, are writing to you on the eve of your meetings in Mexico and at the Summit of the Central American Integration System (SICA) in Costa Rica.. W We welcome the opportunity for our nations to discuss cooperation on critical cross-border issues and urge our States to address our concerns about the dire human rights crisis in Mesoamerica.
Our organizations have documented an alarming increase in violence and human rights violations. While we recognize that transnational crime and drug trafficking play a role in this violence, we call on our governments to acknowledge that failed security policies that have militarized citizen security have only exacerbated the problem, and are directly contributing to increased human suffering in the region.
It is time to refocus regional dialogue and resource investment to address the root causes of violence, understanding that for many citizens and communities, drug trafficking is not the principal cause of insecurity. Harmful “development” policies have similarly caused increased conflict and abuses, while forced migration and criminalization of migrants and human rights activists continues to divide families. Most importantly, the region’s challenges must be addressed without violating fundamental rights and human dignity.
We offer further analysis and recommendations of the key issues that require urgent attention:
1. Militarization of the drug war has caused increased violence and has failed to provide citizen security. Human rights abuses against our families and communities are, in many cases, directly attributable to failed and counterproductive security policies that have militarized our societies in the name of the “war on drugs.” The deployment of our countries’ armed forces to combat organized crime and drug trafficking, and the increasing militarization of police units, endanger already weak civilian institutions and leads to increased human rights violations.
- In Mexico, drug-related violence and the militarized response has killed an estimated 80,000 men, women, and children in the past six years. More than 26,000 have been disappeared, and countless numbers have been wounded and traumatized. With little civilian control over security forces, massive deployments across the country have contributed to increases in forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and attacks on human rights defenders. Meanwhile, prohibited narcotics continue to flow into the U.S. market virtually unabated.
- In Guatemala, rates of violence have again reached wartime levels, and rampant impunity for these crimes continues. As the nation only begins to address past atrocities committed by the armed forces against the civilian population, controversial “security” policies have placed the military back onto the streets. This has placed the peace process in jeopardy, and with it, the fragile democracy built on the 1996 Peace Accords. The Guatemalan army´s massacre of six indigenous protesters in October 2012 is tragic evidence of these misguided policies.
- Perhaps the starkest example of a breakdown of democratic institutions today is Honduras. Since the coup d’état that forced the elected president into exile in 2009, the rule of law has disintegrated while violence and impunity have soared. We are witnessing a resurgence of death squad tactics with targeted killings of land rights advocates, journalists, LGBT activists, lawyers, women’s rights advocates and political activists. Both military and police are allegedly involved in abuses and killings but are almost never brought to justice.
- Even the host country, Costa Rica, which has no army and a constitutional mandate for peace, finds itself drawn into a mounting military effort to confront drug trafficking that compromises its independence and tranquility.
- The U.S. government’s domestic and regional policies that promote militarization to address organized crime directly affect the human rights situation in Mesoamerica, resulting in a dramatic surge in violent crime, often reportedly perpetrated by security forces themselves. The narrow focus of these policies have proven ineffective in addressing other, often related human security issues, such as sex and labor trafficking and femicides, which have increased at an alarming rate throughout the region. Meanwhile, the lack of effective gun control in the U.S. has led to the massive and nearly unrestricted transfer of arms to criminal networks throughout the region.
2. The imposition of large-scale extractive projects on marginalized communities does not constitute “development.” The violence we face today has its roots in the poverty, injustice and inequality of our societies. National and bilateral investment policies enshrined in Free Trade Agreements exacerbate these problems. Large-scale “development” projects are imposed on the region’s most vulnerable populations with little or no regard for their lives or livelihoods. This results inforced displacement, especially of indigenous, peasant, and Afro-descendant communities; bloody conflicts over resources; environmental destruction and impoverishment. Governments and businesses routinely violate communities’right to consultation. Communities across the region that oppose large-scale transnational projects have suffered repressionat the hands of government security forces, and we have documented systemic patterns of threats, criminalization, and attacks against land rights activists.
3. Violations of migrant rights continue while policies disregard the root causes of migration. The harmful consequences of U.S. regional security policies such as the “war on drugs” and the imposition of mega-development projects have displaced hundreds of thousands of people from their land and communities and limited local economic opportunity. Many are left with few options other than to migrate to the United States in search of safety and economic opportunity. Meanwhile, the United States has criminalized and detained immigrants in ever-greater numbers within its own borders. Any humane and sensible immigration reform must consider the impact of policies that force persons to migrate.
To meet these regional challenges, we must first and foremost make the protection of fundamental human rights – economic and social, civil and political –a focal point of this SICA gathering and future regional dialogues. We ask our governments to:
- a. Take executive action in the United States to stop the flow of assault weapons and other firearms across the U.S.-Mexico border.
- b. Recognize and protect human rights defenders, with specific attention to the contributions of women, indigenous and Afro descendant defenders, and acknowledgement of the risks they face.
- c. Propose a new model for security cooperation that provides alternatives to the ongoing war on drugs, such as regulation rather than prohibition, strong regional anti-money laundering efforts, and withdrawal of the armed forces from domestic law enforcement. We call on the U.S. government to end military aid and instead channel scarce public resources into strengthening the institutionalization of the rule of law in our countries.
- d. Promote development through democratic dialogue, not repression, with respect for human and environmental rights, and with prior consultation of affected communities as mandated in ILO Convention 169.
- e. Address the root causes of migration and stop the criminalization and deportation of migrants; investigate and prosecute crimes against migrants as they travel through Mexico, as well as human rights violations at the border and within the United States.
We hope to see these concerns reflected in final statement of the SICA conference and in ongoing bilateral conversations about security, investment, development and immigration reform.
To see all the organizations that signed on: