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Drug War, Militarization, Violence and Human Rights Violations under the Peña Nieto Government


Then-President Felipe Calderon (2006-2012) aggressively escalated the “war on drugs” in Mexico in December of 2006, with the encouragement of the U.S. government. He deployed more than 45,000 soldiers, and more than 96,000 at peak deployment throughout the country. During his administration, spending on security rose 600% including increased funding to police, army and navy – to the detriment of spending on basic needs and infrastructure.[1]

President Enrique Peña Nieto has continued the militarization of Mexican society that his predecessor began, increasing support to the armed forces for law enforcement to double 2007.[2] Human rights violations including arbitrary detention, kidnapping, torture, and extra-judicial killings by security forces have continued. Even the U.S. Department of State’s 2013 Human Rights Report concludes: “Despite some arrests for corruption, widespread impunity for human rights abuses by officials remained a problem in both civilian and military jurisdictions.”[3]

Homicides, Clandestine Graves and Massacres:

In the first 20 months in office (between December 2012 to June 2014) 57,899 people have died in acts of violence related to the war on drugs (homicides and manslaughter). This estimate far exceeds Peña Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderon’s first 20 months in office (43,694).[4]

The San Fernando Migrant Massacre and police involvement: In August of 2010, 72 migrants were found murdered in San Fernando, Tamaulipas. Recently, declassified documents obtained by the National Security Archive under Mexico’s Freedom of Information Act reveal the active participation of local police in the abduction of the migrants, along with the Zetas.[5] Internal cables indicate that both the U.S. and Mexican federal governments were aware of the collusion between police and the Zetas, one of Mexico’s most ruthless drug cartels. FOIA requests have been necessary due to the Mexican government’s refusal to provide basic information to the public.

 Mass graves: In the search for the students around Iguala, more than 30 unidentified bodies were found in mass graves. This is considered the tip of the iceberg.[6]

The discovery of mass graves in San Fernando in 2011 (196 bodies) and in Cadereyta, Nuevo Leon in 2012 (49), to mention only the larger cases, proves that the San Fernando massacre and the Iguala attacks are not isolated incidents.[7]


The Federal Attorney general’s office reported that there are 22,322 persons “missing”; 12,532 under the Calderon administration and 9,790 during the Peña Nieto administration up to July 31, 2014.[8] Even the government’s figures do not match however, and human rights organizations say the numbers could be far higher. In August 2014 the office of the UN high Commissioner on human rights in Mexico warned of a “critical situation” in terms of forced disappearances in Mexico, with recent cases on top of the impunity of cases dating back to the seventies dirty war.

  • Mexico ratified the International Convention on enforced Disappearances on March 18, 2008. However, a 2014 report denounces three common types of disappearances: by state agents, by state agents acting with members of organized crime and by organized crime with the authorization, support or acquiescence of state agents. Of 291 cases brought to trial, only six resulted in sentences since 2006.[9]
  • According to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2014, “Members of all security force branches continue to carry out disappearances during the Peña Nieto administration, in some cases collaborating directly with criminal groups. In June 2013, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) said it was investigating 2,443 disappearances in which it had found evidence of the involvement of state agents.”[10]

Extrajudicial Executions:

Tlatlaya, Mexican Army accused of extrajudicial executions in death of 22 youth.

On June 30, the 102 Battalion of the Mexican Army confronted an alleged delinquent gang in San Pedro Limon, municipality of Tlatlaya, Mexico State, leaving 22 young people dead and no casualties on the side of the army. An investigation by AP and human rights groups and confirmed suspicions that the youth were shot at close range. Later, local witnesses came forth who stated that the army executed the majority of the youth after they gave themselves up. Witnesses say 21 were executed, while the National Commission on Human Rights recognizes 15 victims with clear signs of execution.[11] Witnesses and physical evidence shows that Army personnel altered the crime scene to reinforce the pretext of an armed confrontation. The unit was under the command of Lt. Ezequiel Rodríguez Martínez. General José Luis Sánchez León, commander of the 22nd Military Zone responsible for Tlatlaya, was subsequently removed from his post without explanation or trial. One officer and seven soldiers are under arrest and currently being investigated. A Mexican Congressional Committee has been formed to investigate. The State Department confirms that 5 members of the 102nd Battalion were trained by U.S. agencies. A witness who was sent to high-security prison and later release for lack of evidence reported that she was tortured and beaten to confess and corroborate the Army’s account.[12]

The Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of Guerrero includes the Ayotzinapa case (see Fact Sheet 3) among extrajudicial executions by state forces, stating in an urgent alert Sept. 29, “These events demonstrate an excessive use of force and an intention to deliberately extra-judicially execute students by the Municipal Police and an omission on the part of state and federal authorities for failing to implement appropriate security measures that would have prevented a second aggression and the disappearance of 55 local students.” (12 were subsequently located alive).

“These [Iguala and Tlatlaya] are the worst atrocities we’ve seen in Mexico in years, but they are hardly isolated incidents. Instead, these killings and forced disappearances reflect a much broader pattern of abuse and are largely the consequence of the longstanding failure of Mexican authorities to address the problem.”

- José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director, Human Rights Watch

Military Abuses:

According to Human Rights Watch, “From December 2006 to mid-September 2013, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) received 8,150 complaints of abuse by the army, and issued reports on 116 cases in which it found that army personnel had committed serious human rights violations.”[13]

Police Corruption and the Failure of Police Reform:

A March 2009 cable from the Monterrey, Nuevo Leon Consul reported “no real improvement” as a result of U.S.-funded police vetting and other police reform aid and reported estimates that 50-60% of both local and state police were infiltrated by drug cartels.[14] In Guerrero, a quarter of the police force failed to pass vetting and in other states the figure is above 40%, and many remain on active duty.[15] Despite this information and its own human rights reports on Mexico, the State Department has irresponsibly refused to critically analyze the abysmal results of Plan Mexico spending.

Impunity and Lack of justice:

In 2013, 93.8% of crimes went unpunished or uninvestigated. Many crimes are not being reported to the authorities for lack of confidence in results, fear of re-victimization and discrimination in the case of women and indigenous peoples, or concern that the authorities operate in collusion with the criminals.[16] Only 1% of disappearances reported to authorities in Mexico are even investigated.[17] According to the 2014 Americas Barometer regional poll, Mexico ranks among the highest in the region in both public perceptions of impunity and public distrust of law enforcement.[18]

Criminalizing Protest and Activism:

During Peña Nieto’s administration, 669 human rights defenders have been arbitrarily detained.[19]

State Use of Torture:

 The use of torture by members of the police and armed forces rose 600% over the past ten years of the war on drugs, according to an Amnesty International report released in September 2014. The report notes a “serious rise of torture and other ill-treatment and a prevailing culture of tolerance and impunity” and documents that “Only seven torturers have ever been convicted in federal courts and even fewer have been prosecuted at state level.”[20]

According to Human Rights Watch, “Between January and September 2013, the National Human Rights Commission received more than 860 complaints of torture or cruel or inhuman treatment by federal officials.” According to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2014 profile of human rights situation in Mexico: [21]

Investigative reports have found evidence of torture in the Tlatlaya and Ayotzinapa cases.[22] In both cases, torture was used to extract false confessions and testimony to support the government version of events. The government has not responded to these accusations.

Manifest Failure to Guarantee the Physical Safety and Basic Human Rights of its Citizens:

  • More than 100,000 murdered in drug war-related violence
  • More than 25,000 disappeared, tens of thousands forced to flee their homes, thousands of orphans and incalculable psychological trauma
  • Mass graves in Guerrero, Tamaulipas, Chihuahua and other states with unidentified bodies
  • Rise in violations of the rights and physical safety of transmigrants in the country
  • Increase in torture and extrajudicial executions

Gender Violence – Unchecked and Unpunished:

The National Observatory on Femicides reports nearly 4,000 femicides in the first two years of the Peña Nieto administration.[23] The state of Mexico where he served as governor is among the most dangerous in the nation for women. Rise in violations of the rights of women and sexual crimes, including femicides.

State Violence, Repression and Torture While Enrique Peña Nieto was Governor of Mexico State:

 The repression of social protest under President Enrique Peña Nieto should come as no surprise, since he has shown himself willing to viciously crackdown on communities in resistance when he was a governor. Atenco, an indigenous community in the State of Mexico, was brutally repressed in 2006 by state police under command of then-governor Enrique Peña Nieto. During the attack, police inflicted cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment on hundreds of innocent people, arbitrarily arrested nearly 150 people, raped or otherwise sexually assaulted dozens of women (and men), and killed at least two individuals (including one minor).[24]


Something has gone terribly wrong in Mexico. US policy has supported and encouraged this path to humanitarian disaster. Since 2007, the Merida Initiative has propped up presidents who sought to repress social protest, cover up corruption and benefit from criminal activity, rather than fight crime or increase public safety. Our tax dollars have gone to fuel high levels of violence and provide specialized combat and intelligence training to corrupt police and military forces.

These cases are the most recent and among the most egregious cases of crimes by Mexican security forces, but they are by no means the only ones. U.S. aid to these forces, far from improving the situation is increasing abuses. It should be halted immediately.


[1] http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=388031

[2] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion/202491.html 

[3] See, “Mexico 2013 Human Rights Report,” U.S. Department of State, February 27, 2014, http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2013/wha/220457.htm

[4]See, “Los muertos de EPN: 36 mil 718,” Zeta, August 28, 2014, http://zetatijuana.com/noticias/reportajez/9373/los-muertos-de-epn-36-mil-718.

[5] Mexico: Los Zetas Drug Cartel Linked San Fernando Police to Migrant Massacres


[6] http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/12/16/371126188/search-for-missing-students-in-mexico-turns-up-graves-of-others

[7] San Fernando Migrant Massacre: How US, Mexican and Latin American Governments Share Responsibility,

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/26658-san-fernando-migrant-massacre-how-us-mexican-and-latin-american-governments-share-responsibilityv, Camilo Perez Bustillo and Azadeh Shahshahani.

[8] See “Personas no localizadas”, mensaje de la Subprocuradora Jurídica y de Asuntos Internacionales Mariana Benítez, http://www.secretariadoejecutivo.gob.mx/work/models/SecretariadoEjecutivo/Resource/1/1/MensajeaMediosPersonasNoLocalizadas21082014.pdf; and Sandra Ley, “Desapariciones y protesta,” Letras Libres, Noviembre 20, 2014, http://www.letraslibres.com/blogs/polifonia/desapariciones-y-protesta?page=full.

[9] http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CED/Shared%20Documents/MEX/INT_CED_ICO_MEX_17774_S.pdf

[10] Human Rights Watch, http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014/country-chapters/mexico

[11] Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, SOBRE LOS HECHOS OCURRIDOS EL 30 DE JUNIO DE 2014 EN CUADRILLA NUEVA, COMUNIDAD SAN PEDRO LIMÓN, MUNICIPIO DE TLATLAYA, ESTADO DE MÉXICO Oct. 21, 2014, http://www.cndh.org.mx/sites/all/fuentes/documentos/Recomendaciones/2014/REC_2014_051.pdf.

[12] http://hosted2.ap.org/APDEFAULT/3d281c11a96b4ad082fe88aa0db04305/Article_2014-12-31-LT-Mexico-Army%20Slayings-Cover-Up/id-8567ab310e234c7eb25f583e9d72f035.

[13] Human Rights Watch, http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014/country-chapters/mexico

[14] http://www.wikileaks.ch/cable/2009/03/09MONTERREY102.html.

[15] Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública (SNSP).

[16] See, “When Crime is Unchecked,” The Economist, October 18, 2014, http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21625789-modernise-country-needs-law-and-order-much-economic-reform-when-crime-unchecked.

[17] Sandra Ley, “Desapariciones y protesta,” Letras Libres, Noviembre 20, 2014, http://www.letraslibres.com/blogs/polifonia/desapariciones-y-protesta?page=full.

[18] “El crimen amenaza a las democracias de América Latina,” El Pais, November 24, 2014, http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/11/24/actualidad/1416859897_476125.html.  

[19] See, “Activistas tras las rejas: los 10 rostros de los presos políticos del año,” Sinembargo.mex, December 27, 2014, http://www.sinembargo.mx/27-12-2014/1199103. San Fernando Migrant Massacre: How US, Mexican and Latin American Governments Share Responsibility http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/26658-san-fernando-migrant-massacre-how-us-mexican-and-latin-american-governments-share-responsibility   Camilo Perez Bustillo and Azadeh Shahshahani

[20] http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/mexico-shocking-rise-reports-torture-and-ill-treatment-authorities-turn-blind-eye-2014-09-04; Out of Control: Torture and other Ill-Treatment in Mexico, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR41/020/2014/en

[21] Human Rights Watch, http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014/country-chapters/mexico

[22] See discussion of these cases above, and in #USTired2’s Fact Sheet, “The Massacre and Disappearance of the Students of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teaching College”)

[23] http://observatoriofeminicidio.blogspot.mx/

[24] Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos México, “Sobre el caso de los hechos de violencia suscitados los días 3 Y 4 de mayo de 2006 en los Municipios de Texcoco y San Salvador Atenco, Estado De México,” (2006), http://www.cndh.org.mx/sites/all/fuentes/documentos/Recomendaciones/2006/REC_2006_038.pdf