During his election campaign and now, with over six months of presidential selfies behind him, President Mauricio Macri has talked a good game on human rights. A good game, not an inspiring one. As dry as his speeches irrefutably can be, Macri has made the right noises and towed the decent and politically necessary line in championing human rights as a central part of his agenda for government.
He promised that the dictatorship-era trials — perhaps the greatest legacy of his immediate predecessors — would continue. He promised dialogue with desperate, crisis-hit indigenous communities who were turned away by successive presidents, including both Kirchners, who came before him. Earlier this week, he met with Human Rights Watch Director José Vivanco. All smiles.
This all begs the question: Why, then, are so many human rights organizations and NGOs concerned about the government’s progress since the election? It has something to do with the fact that actions speak louder than words.
On the surface the Macri presidency presents a glossy, inoffensive sheen where all current humanitarian norms are adhered to; a liberal paradise for human rights in action.
Dig a few inches below the vetted topsoil, though, and we find out that trials of former repressors are slowing down or stalling (as the Attorney General’s Unit warned this week), and associated research has been hit by deliberate government cutbacks. We notice cronies of those same repressors’ presence at Independence Day parades defended by Macri himself in the name of the “new tolerance.” We listen to the same indigenous communities welcomed to Macri’s inaugural address in Congress say how they have been used as pawns by the President, to be cast aside once the election was done. And we hear too this week the most universally respected leader of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo vent her frustration on the creeping reversal of hard won gains since Macri was elected.
True, some of the many concerns cited by the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee on Argentina earlier this month outdate Macri’s presidency. And it could, of course, be worse. It could be Mexico.
Days of the Dead
President Enrique Peña Nieto visits Argentina today with the country he governs in a critical situation regarding civil liberties and the widespread abuse of basic rights.
Human Rights Watch makes the following observation:
During the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexican security forces have been implicated in repeated, serious human rights violations—including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture—in the course of efforts to combat organized crime. The government has made little progress in prosecuting those responsible for recent abuses, let alone the large number of abuses committed by soldiers and police since former President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) initiated Mexico’s ‘war on drugs.’
The latest estimates suggest 28,161 people have been “disappeared” in Mexico in the last 10 years, many as a direct result of the promotion of the US-inspired and funded War on Drugs (which launched in Mexico in 2006).
Among the most sinister stories behind numbers lies the infamous “Iguala” case, where 43 student activists were disappeared and almost certainly tortured and killed with the complicity of Mexican security forces:
More recent was the killing of at least eight citizens during teachers’ protests against the government’s education reform plans in Oaxaca state after police opened fire on a demonstration in Nochixtlan.
As The Intercept‘s Ryan Devereaux observed, state-sponsored massacres are increasingly common along with those committed by the armed cartels.
The Great Game
All this begs the question as to why Macri has remained utterly silent on the situation since he was elected.
One can’t help but point out the inconsistencies. Why was Macri so keen to denounce the human rights situation in Venezuela (before he was even sworn in) last December but has yet to address rampant abuses at the hands of security forces in Mexico (or for that matter express anything other than support for the “soft coup” and de-facto abolition of a democratic election that happened in neighbouring Brazil)?
Being willing to speak up against oppression only when doing so is politically useful is not justifiable: not for any politician, at least, who keeps claiming to take human rights seriously.
We understand that dominating Macri and Peña Nieto’s agenda will be the fleshing out of an automotive industry deal between Mexico and Argentina and more talk of Argentina’s slide towards joining the free-trade Pacific Alliance bloc.
Nevertheless, the open letter published and signed by many renowned human rights organizations calling on Macri to speak up on Mexico, and the University Federation of Buenos Aires (FUBA)-sponsored protests they support — due to greet Macri and Peña Nieto outside the Casa Rosada from 10 AM this morning — hint at growing pressure for the president to answer his critics on human rights. To show some integrity ahead of realpolitik and, at the very least, broach the subject during the meeting in the face of such overwhelming evidence implicating the Mexican state apparatus.
This is not about moral superiority. It’s about being consistent with one’s own rhetoric and highfalutin liberal promises.
Under Mexican law, Peña Nieto’s government — which released a widely criticised report on the Iguala case — is obliged to publish its methodology of any investigations where human rights abuses occur.
With the Argentine forensics team that was sent to investigate the Iguala case at the behest of the families of the missing students, and themselves criticized the Mexican government’s version of events, Macri has an opening. He has leverage to raise this one case among the tide of abuses with Peña Nieto during their audience at the Casa Rosada today and challenge his Mexican counterpart to address international concerns surrounding the Iguala saga and, by implication, many other human rights abuses in Mexico.