The crude reality of México that only the murdered and tortured know

“In Mexico City, about 88% feel unsafe when away from home no matter what time of day it is. In the internationally-renowned Mexican resort city Acapulco, 86 percent feel insecure.” Spanish

Olivier Acuña Barba
4 July 2017
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Screenshot: Héctor Casique Fernández accuses his torturers, March 2017.Mainstream media apparently continues to ignore the true reality of Mexico, a country where massive human rights violations and torture are common everyday practice. A country of violence fuelled by impunity and a land where those in power organise crime and disappear those who dare to challenge their actions.

Mexicans are people who are more scared of security forces than of criminals. An Amnesty International survey found in 2014 that 64% of the population are scared of being tortured if taken into custody and that thousands of innocent people are in jail as torture is commonly used by security forces to obtain “confessions” or as punishment.

Mexico has always been considered lacking in adequate security but the fear of people has increased acutely since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in 2012. But the fear of people has increased acutely since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in 2012.

According to a March 2016 survey by Mexico’s official National Statistics Institute (INEGI), 69.9% of people older than 18 years of age feel insecure at any time of day when away from home.

This percentage — according to the same survey — is much higher in Mexico City, where about 88% feel unsafe when away from home no matter what time of day it is. In the internationally-renowned Mexican resort city Acapulco, 86 percent feel insecure.

Getting away with torture

Torture and ill-treatment continues to be widespread in Mexico, as confirmed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer in his report to the UN Human Rights Council in February this year. Common methods of torture include suffocation, sexual violence, electric shocks, threats of death, beatings, and psychological torture.

Mexico is a desolate country where today the rule of law applies only to those who can afford it. As Melzer noted in his report, 98% of crimes in Mexico remain unpunished.

‘Fortunately,’ however, the recent assassination of my friend and colleague Mexican journalist and writer Javier Valdez Cárdenas made the headlines globally and in September 2014, the Ayotzinapa case of the enforced disappearance of 43 young teacher trainees made its way around the world.

Infamous example - the experience of Héctor Casique Fernández

These cases were met with the harshest of international condemnation. But in Mexico, there was no repercussion whatsoever. These and thousands of other crimes committed by state officials remain unresolved.

The sad truth is that tens of thousands of human rights violations committed by these state officials are never heard about, outside of Mexico.

One hugely infamous example is that of Héctor Casique Fernández, who was tortured not once but on various occasions, including during an episode in 2013, where he was tortured for 30 hours under the custody of the judicial police of Quintana Roo.

Héctor had a public row with the Cancun-based Director of the Judicial Police of Quintana Roo — a southeastern state located on Mexico’s Caribbean region — after he had seemingly refused to reimburse Héctor US$4,100 (£3,255) which he had paid as an official prerequisite to be granted a full-time upper-level police role.

Instead, the local authorities framed him, and accused him of a crime that had taken place on 14 March 2013 in Cancun that he did not commit.

They arrested him on 16 March 2013 and then accused him of leading an attack against local taxi union leaders that were drinking at a bar called La Sirenita (The Little Mermaid) in Cancun. Seven of the taxi unionists died in the gang-style shooting.

Authorities first accused him of being a member of the drug trafficking Zetas cartel and later they said he was a gunman for the violent Gulf drug cartel. The Quintana Roo Attorney General’s office also originally said he was the material author of the La Sirenita shootout and later changed their statement accusing him of being the intellectual author. They never presented proof of either allegation.

What they presented was the confession they had extracted from Héctor under torture, as well as testimonies of two witnesses who were also tortured and forced to sign confessions implicating Héctor in the crime. They all later recanted their testimonies, during the process that led to his acquittal.

Héctor was even tagged by police with an alias, “El Diablo” or “The Devil”, in order to build a gangster-type image that would make their fabrication against this innocent family man more credible in the media. Héctor was even tagged by police with an alias, “El Diablo” or “The Devil”, in order to build a gangster-type image that would make their fabrication against this innocent family man more credible in the media.

In fact, when presented to local newspapers on 17 March 2013 at the Attorney General’s office in Cancún as the author of the killings, he was forced to wear a polo shirt that is typically used by drug traffickers.

What police were unable to hide were the obvious signs of the brutal torture he had endured. His face was disfigured, his eye was hugely swollen and he had prominent bruises on his arms.

Héctor would then be sent to jail, where he suffered further torture and various attempts on his life.

But after years of struggling both inside of jail and in courts and due to the lack of evidence and the public outcry, he was released on 10 March 2014 only to be immediately returned to jail and tortured once again. He would spend a further 3.5 years in prison, until finally he was acquitted of all charges on 23 September 2016.

Héctor never lost hope and in spite of losing vision in one eye and being crippled as a result of the torture, he tried hard to move forward with his life, while he continued to receive medical treatment for the injuries he had sustained during his time in custody.

But, the then Attorney General and the Secretary of Public Security of Quintana Roo continued to carry out acts of intimidation and to threaten him as well as his family, forcing his family to file a formal complaint with the Attorney General of México and to request precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, supported by human rights organisation REDRESS.

As it is customary, these frantic efforts of Héctor’s family to protect his life ultimately could not stop his murder. As his family was about to present a formal complaint before the Inter-American Commission, he and a friend were executed in broad daylight in a bar in Cancún on 8 June 2017 as they were having lunch. Hours earlier he had attended a scheduled hearing at the Attorney General’s Office in Cancún. The UN Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights in Mexico immediately condemned his murder and called on the authorities to promptly investigate his death.

Even when it was reported by local newspapers that Héctor had been murdered by “members of organised crime”, for his family it was clear that the responsibility for Héctor’s murder lies specifically and exclusively with the Mexican authorities.

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals

To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.

By adding my name to this campaign, I authorise openDemocracy and Foxglove to keep me updated about their important work.

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