Mexico: Militaryâ€™s Battle Against Mexican Drug Cartels Terrorizes Civilians
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JUAREZ, Mexico -- "Alfa," as he wants to be called, remembers his ordeal well. His story is not uncommon in Mexico's drug wars.
"I was kept blindfolded and they stripped off my clothes again and wrapped me in a blanket like a taquito, and they wet the blanket and connected [two] electric wires, one to each testicle. They made sure they were in place and took an instrument that sounded like a small refrigerator or a battery charger and started giving me electric shocks.
"They would also sit me in a chair and cover my head with a plastic bag and close it until I almost suffocated. Then they would remove the bag and let me breath again and begin the questioning."
But Alfa is not talking about Mexico's notorious drug lords. In his testimony to the Chihuahua Human Rights Commission, Alfa is describing being abducted by the military -- the forces that are supposed to protect the civilians in President Felipe Calderón's war against drug cartels.
The body count has dropped since Calderón deployed troops to patrol Ciudad Juárez. But the fear of being arrested for practically no reason, "disappeared" for days, and tortured by the very force that is supposed to protect the population, is on the rise.
Alfa continued his story:
"I was detained very early in the morning by members of the army who got into my house by breaking the front door. Besides arresting me, they searched all my belongings and kept all the valuables for themselves. I remember hearing one of the soldiers ask another one for a gold chain, claiming that it would fit his daughter and would be a nice birthday gift. They didn't find any drugs or anything illegal, but they took a Jeep Cherokee and a Dodge car.
"They blindfolded me and took me to a place where I could hear the sound of helicopters and other military roaming around. I was kept blindfolded for several days, and I noticed that one side got brighter in the afternoons, so I think it was a window.
"I could feel that there were another 10 or 20 other people there. Now and then, soldiers would come inside and start hitting people, saying things like: ' No te hagas pendejo (Don't be a fool). Where are you hiding the drugs for Azucena Street? Or where is the hiding place for [alleged drug dealer] "El Chivo"?'
"They tortured them, but when they got an answer [it seems to me that] they let them go. They started to torture me, and I told them that I could lead them to the place and that the only thing I knew was that they used to sell drugs in the 'hood. But the soldier in charge of the torture seemed to know more, and he would tell me, 'No te hagas pendejo. ' "
Between January 2008 and March 2009, the Juarez Human Rights Office has collected hundreds of reports from people stopped at checkpoints or in their homes who claim that the "Operación Conjunta," -- the joint operation of the federal police, municipal police and military forces -- has resulted in violations of their civil liberties.
While the figures suggest that the heavy presence of the military has indeed reduced the number of executions, extortions and kidnappings, it has not been able to eliminate the violence. The difference is that this time, forces in charge of public safety are being fingered as the perpetrators of the crimes once attributed to the drug cartels.