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News > Latin America

UN: Mexico's Violent Death Rate Resembles 'Country at War'

  • UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet holds a news conference in Mexico City, April 9, 2019.

    UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet holds a news conference in Mexico City, April 9, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 11 April 2019

Since the 'War on Drugs' began in Mexico in 2006, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed or disappeared.

High Commissioner of the United Nations Organization for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said Mexico has violent death rates typical of a country at war -- 252,538 people have been killed since the start of the ‘War on Drugs’ in 2006.

Mexico Witnesses Largest Number of Homicides in Last 20 Years

Bachelet, also the U.N. Human Rights chief, said Tuesday the death toll of Mexico’s rampant gang and drug cartel violence was reminiscent of her childhood during a military dictatorship in Chile when thousands died or disappeared.

Bachelet, a two-time former Chilean president, and the first Director of the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, known as UN Women, concluded a five-day visit to Mexico where she met with victims of violence and government officials while pushing for a full account of past abuses.

She told reporters that the stories of anguish she heard from families of victims reminded her of the darkest days of the police state that Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet oversaw during the 1970s and 1980s.

“It was like returning to a part of my own history,” she said.

During the military dictatorship in Chile from 1973 to 1990, about 3,000 people were killed or disappeared and 28,000 others were victims of torture, including a young Bachelet in her early 20s, her mother, and her father who was an air force general loyal to fallen President Salvador Allende, who refused to take part in the 1973 coup that ousted Allende.

 A soldier walks among poppy plants during a military operation in Coyuca de Catalan, Mexico.| Source: Reuters

"They put a hood over my head, threatened me and hit me. But I was spared the grill," Bachelet said. The "grill" was a frame used for electric shocks.

The torture of her father by his own colleagues, Alberto Bachelet, lead to his death in March, 1974 from a heart attack after months of interrogations. In January 1975, Michelle Bachelet and her mother were taken to the Villa Grimaldi torture center.

“It was moving for me to meet with the families,” she said of those she spoke with in Mexico. “They have the same cries, the same calls for truth and justice.”

In Mexico, homicides rose by one-third in 2018 according to government data, breaking a record for the second consecutive year as more than 33,000 murder cases have been opened.

In her prepared remarks, Bachelet cited other “terrifying figures,” including 26,000 bodies that Mexican officials have not been able to identify and 850 mass graves that have been dug up.

Since late 2006, vicious internecine strife among drug cartels and their clashes with state forces have been blamed for more than 200,000 deaths in the country. The government has succeeded in taking down cartel bosses, but that has often led to fragmentation of gangs and even more killings.

People fleeing poverty and violence-stricken areas of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala -- where murder and impunity rates are some of the highest in the world -- have faced the threat of kidnapping and murder in their pursuit to survive a grave journey towards the U.S./Mexico border.

Just last week Mexican authorities rescued 338 Central American migrants aboard five buses in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas in the southern region of the country, according to the Attorney General's Office (FGR). In March, 22 men believed to be Central American migrants were kidnapped at gunpoint while traveling on a bus in northern Mexico. A month earlier, 25 people were taken in similar circumstances.

Bachelet said the violence in Mexico had unique characteristics and that based on her analysis, the country suffered from weak rule of law.

“The truth is you have laws for everything,” she said, her voice rising. “There isn’t a lack of laws, but rather a need to implement them.”

Mexico has undergone a largely unsuccessful ‘War on Drugs’ since 2006 when former President Calderon implemented it. Nearly 750 members of the Mexican military have reportedly died in service since.

Drug cartels like the Sinaloa, one of the most powerful drug trafficking operations in the country, and the Zetas, have sown insecurity and peril for ordinary people in various regions where they carry out illegal and illicit operations including human organ harvesting and sadistic torture and murder.

Mexico’s current president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), inherited the crisis when he was inaugurated in December 2018. He has begun forming the country’s first national guard -- one of his campaign promises -- with the help of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Critics are skeptical of this approach and it’s effectiveness because it will involve former military and police personnel, whose implementation of the former President Calderon’s tactic of fighting fire with fire proved to be anything but successful.

Asked about Venezuela, Bachelet said her office continued to monitor the situation in the South American country. She said a visit to Venezuela was possible “relatively soon,” but emphasized she wanted to guard her office’s neutrality.

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