Thu, Apr 13, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Victims of military torture fear security bill


A soldier flies in a helicopter on March 18 as he patrols a poppy plantation used in the production of heroin during a military operation in Badiraguato, Mexico.

Photo: Reuters

One afternoon, young Mexican engineer Jethro Sanchez was out partying.

Hours later, he was dying — burned with acid and choking on earth as soldiers buried him alive, his father says.

Mexico called in the armed forces a decade ago to fight drug crime.

However, the military has not been trained for that kind of police work and has ended up torturing innocent suspects, critics say.

Now the Mexican Congress is debating proposals to formalize the use of the armed forces for public security, raising fears that the eventual reform would shield soldiers who commit abuses.

His father, Hector Sanchez, 63, who makes a living recycling auto parts, spoke in a choked voice as he stood next to his son’s grave.

Jethro Sanchez “was studying for his master’s degree” and was out celebrating a successful business investment,” he said — not a drug trafficker as the military alleged.

“There was no reason for them to do what they did to him,” he said.

As politicians argue over the new law, he said he wishes more relatives of torture victims would come forward.

On May 1, 2011, Jethro Sanchez, 26, was at a fair in Jiutepec, a town south of Mexico City, to celebrate the victory of a football team he had sponsored.

A street fight broke out and Jethro Sanchez was detained by police, who handed him over to the military, claiming he was a drug trafficker.

Soldiers threw acid in his face and buried him, Hector Sanchez said.

The body was found two months later in Puebla, 150km to the east.

After a six-year legal fight, the grieving father is hoping that three soldiers arrested in connection with his son’s death would finally be tried and sentenced for the crime.

In December 2006, then-Mexican president Felipe Calderon turned to the military to wage his war on drugs, saying that the police were too corrupt for the task and needed cleaning up.

Since then, non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International have documented scores of similar cases of torture and abuse in the country.

“For years, we have warned that involving armed forces trained for combat in internal matters, especially in the prosecution of crime, can be a big mistake,” said Juan Mendez, the former UN envoy for torture, who wrote a report on Mexico.

More than 50,000 military personnel are deployed throughout Mexico to help fight crime.

Organizations opposed to the proposed internal security law fear that it will give nefarious elements within the military a “blank check” to commit abuses.

Congress has been studying proposals from various parties on the military’s policing role since September last year.

Details of the proposals have yet to be published. However, the issue has raised so many red flags that the law might not be approved before the parliamentary session ends on April 30.

The military has defended its record in the face of torture allegations.

“We are not systematic violators of human rights,” the military’s human rights director, General Jose Carlos Beltran, said last month.

Mexican National Defense Secretariat legal affairs Director Alejandro Ramos said the armed forces have felt “uncomfortable” doing police work.

“If they think we don’t use the right kind of weapons or have the right police training, then the armed forces were not what they needed,” he told reporters.

Claudia Medina, 36, was also accused of drug trafficking when she was taken from her home in the eastern city of Veracruz in 2012.

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