Activists are attempting to spotlight human rights issues during President Obama‘s visit this week to Mexico, urging him to publicly condemn what they describe as Mexico’s abysmal record of torture, killings and forced disappearances by security forces.
It is highly unlikely Obama would make that kind of public statement during his stay here Thursday and Friday. His meetings with Mexico’s new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, are expected to focus on topics the two governments prefer, such as the economy and trade, with a nod to security and the drug war.
Any discussion of human rights issues would probably occur behind closed doors.
Rights organizations say Obama is missing an opportunity to criticize Mexico’s record at a time when Peña Nieto can avoid being blamed for it. He assumed the presidency just five months ago, at the end of President Felipe Calderon’s six-year term.
Under Calderon, the government fought powerful drug cartels and arrested key criminal figures. But killings, kidnappings and other severe human rights abuses by the police and military soared, according to human rights groups, as well as testimony collected by The Times. During that period, the Obama administration repeatedly voiced its support for Calderon’s efforts.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas program at the New York-based Human Rights Watch group, wrote to Obama this week to chastise the administration for its “uncritical” support of Calderon’s policies and failure to condemn abuses.
“This visit provides an ideal opportunity to break that silence by demonstrating the U.S. government’s concern for Mexico’s human rights problems and [the new government’s] commitment to supporting a new approach,” Vivanco wrote.
He noted that Peña Nieto’s administration has said that it would “adjust” the drug-war strategy.
Current and former officials from Mexico and the United States told The Times last week that one of those adjustments will be to reduce the role U.S. advisors play in Mexico’s security affairs.