February 23, 2001

Transferred from the Military -- Human Rights Groups Scrutinize Mexico's New Attorney General

By Kent Paterson

MEXICO CITY — Campaigning for the Mexican presidency, Vicente Fox declared he would take the army out of police work. But as president, Fox named an army general as the nation's civilian attorney general.

General Rafael Macedo de la Concha has worked as a liaison with the U.S. State Department on drug issues and is expected to cooperate closely with U.S. law enforcement authorities, especially as Mexico's Supreme Court recently held that drug kingpins can be extradited to the United States.

Like George W. Bush's nomination of John Ashcroft, this appointment has stirred polemics about the direction of a nation's justice system.

Hilda Navarette, speaking for the human rights group "Voice of the Voiceless," says the appointment strengthens Mex-ico's drift toward military-style law enforcement.

While acknowledging Ma-cedo de la Concha's personal integrity, Navarette and other members of the nationwide All Rights for All Network, slam Fox's appointment for violating the spirit of a 1998 recommendation by the Organization of American States (OAS) Interamerican Human Rights Commission that the Mexican military be withdrawn from its growing role in narcotics and other law enforcement.

In particular, Navarette raises questions about Macedo de la Concha's record as chief military prosecutor during the late 1990s, when the government's own National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) recommended several times that there should be an investigation of human rights violations by soldiers in Guerrero state.

One such case involves imprisoned anti-logging activists Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera, who were given the Sierra Club's Chico Mendes Award early this month. Last summer, the CNDH directed the Mexican armed forces to investigate the officers who commanded the soldiers who arrested and tortured the two farmers.

Mario Patron, legal defense coordinator for the organization defending Cabrera and Montiel, says Macedo de la Concha did not act on the recommendation. He "had the possibility of coming up with a good finding against the military torturers, but up until now, there has not been such a finding," says Patron.

"The victims (Montiel and Cabrera) of the torturers haven't even been deposed." According to Patron, one of the officers in the chain of command to be investigated was the son of then-Defense Secretary Enrique Cervantes-Macedo de la Concha's boss at the time.

In a meeting with supporters of Montiel and Cabrera, Fox said he has ordered a review of the mens' cases.

For his part, Macedo de la Concha pledges to respect citizens' constitutional rights while breaking up organized crime. He claims that he has placed military personnel in his office because of a lack of qualified personnel — it is a pragmatic measure, not a political one.

Macedo de la Concha has garnered praise for his work — notably for overseeing the arrests of two colleagues, General Quiros and General Acosta Chaparro, for having associations with the Juarez drug cartel.

Professor Ernesto Ontiveros, a retired schoolteacher and president of the Association of the Detained, Disappeared and Human Rights Victims of Mexico, wants the new attorney general to go a step further and prosecute Acosta Chapparo for his alleged involvement in the disappearance of hundreds of people in Guerrero state during a guerrilla conflict in the 1970s.

Ontiveros, the El Paso-based Relatives Association of Disappeared Persons, as well as the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Antonio, Texas, tie Acosta Chaparro to activities in Juarez, where nearly 200 individuals have disappeared since 1993.

Opening the skeleton's closet of the disappeared could prove extremely uncomfortable for Mexico's elite-and Macedo de la Concha.

"If Macedo de la Concha puts Acosta Chaparro on trial, he will be a just man," says Ontiveros. "If not, we will continue struggling against him."

Kent Paterson is a freelance journalist based in Albuquerque, NM.

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