Pope Francis must resist Mexico’s well-oiled PR machine

By Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International @ErikaGuevaraR

Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico was controversial from the start. It is one of the most reverently Catholic countries in the world but with a shocking human rights record. It was reported that high on the Pope’s agenda were the disappearance of the Ayotzinapa students and the plight of thousands of Central American migrants, but this did not seem to sit well with the administration of President Peña Nieto.

Mexico’s current state of play when it comes to human rights is so atrocious it is on a par with some of the worst times in the country’s recent history.

There’s no way to sugar coat it, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The figures speak for themselves: Nearly half of the country’s population lives in poverty, with the numbers rising. The average monthly figures for murders in the context of Mexico’s brutal ”war against organized crime” have also increased in recent years.

More than 27,000 people have gone missing – almost half of them since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in 2012; many of them have been forcibly disappeared.

The number of reported cases of torture and other ill-treatment has increased substantially; between 2013 and 2014, the number of complaints of torture filed at the federal level doubled.

Crimes are rarely properly investigated.

The catalogue of horrors taking place in every corner of this colorful and vibrant land is so long and grim it amounts to a human rights crisis of epidemic proportions.

The catalogue of horrors taking place in every corner of this colorful and vibrant land is so long and grim it amounts to a human rights crisis of epidemic proportions.
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

But the Peña Nieto administration’s strategy to tackle these horrors seems to be simply: “ignore, hide, deny”.

Authorities shamefully deny the shockingly high levels of human rights abuses taking place across the country.

While delivering a speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York last 26 September, President Peña Nieto had the audacity to say Mexico respects human rights.

Remarkably, his words came on the same day of the first anniversary of the enforced disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students. Meanwhile, in Mexico thousands of people were demanding proper investigations into the thousands of disappearances that take place across the country every single year.

These denials are compounded by the Mexican authorities’ appetite for hiding the truth. Despite calls from national and international United Nations bodies, Mexico has chosen, for the second year in a row, not to publish any statistics on the number of people killed or wounded in clashes with the police and military forces in the context of the brutal fight against drug cartels and organized crime.

And if ignoring and hiding facts does not do the trick, they turn to outright denial. And it’s not just disappearances.

Peña Nieto and his administration denies torture is an issue in Mexico despite the fact that, according to official figures, there has been a 600% increase in the number of torture reports since 2003.

When publicly asked about the human rights situation in Mexico, he talks at length of the laws his government is pushing in Congress to combat the horrors of torture and enforced disappearances – conveniently avoiding the fact that, for example, of the thousands of reports of torture registered between 2005 and 2013, federal courts only dealt with 123 cases, with just seven resulting in convictions under federal law. Or he blames all the horrors of the so called “war against organized crime” as the only reason for Mexico’s problems.

But actions speak louder than words.

Peña Nieto blames all of Mexico's horrors on the so called “war against organized crime”. But actions speak louder than words.
Erika Guevara-Rosas

During Pope Francis’ visit, the Mexican government’s well-oiled PR machine is likely to work overtime – fighting to keep mass murders, disappearances on a wide scale, consistent reports of torture and other serious human rights violations off the agenda.

Pope Francis must resist the Mexican government’s simulation and instead stick to his agenda and call the President to task over this appalling human rights debacle. The highest authority of the Catholic Church must hear the demands of the victims of human rights abuses and their families to learn first-hand of the negligent response by the Mexican government to the current crisis.

Pope Francis must resist the Mexican government’s simulation and instead stick to his agenda and call the President to task over this appalling human rights debacle.
Erika Guevara-Rosas

Whether Pope’s Francis potential advocacy on these issues will have any impact on a government that has so far chosen to systematically look away from the horrors increasingly unfolding before their eyes is impossible to predict.

And even though it is not up to the Pope to resolve Mexico’s terrible crisis he can, at the very least, help ensure reality is no longer kept under the carpet.

This story was originally published in The Guardian