Critics Fear Mexico Will Sweep Aside 'Dirty War' Probe

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Mexico quietly releases its first official report on the country's "dirty wars," a period from the late '60s to the early '80s when state security forces ordered hundreds of kidnappings and murders. But victims' families and human-rights groups fear nothing will come of the investigation.


The Mexican government has quietly released its first official report on crimes against political opponents, crimes committed by three administrations stretching from the 1960s into the 1980s. The report is part of an investigation ordered by President Vicente Fox that was supposed to lead to prosecutions for the decades old crimes. From Mexico City, Michael O'Boyle reports.

MICHAEL O'BOYLE: The release of the long awaited report on Mexico's so-called Dirty War couldn't have had a more unceremonious presentation. The 859 page document details what investigators say were crimes against humanity ordered by the highest levels of the government. It was posted on a government Web site a little over a week ago, late on a Friday evening before the beginning of a holiday weekend. Edgar Cortez(ph) is a leading Mexican human rights activist.

Mr. EDGAR CORTEZ (Human Rights Activist): (Through translator) It looks like this. At the beginning, the investigation was announced with a brass band at the front door. But now they just dump the report out the back.

O'BOYLE: The investigation was launched in 2000 by President Vicente Fox. His election in 2000 ended 71 years of one party rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. In the late '60s, the PRI began to resort to increasingly violent means to repress political dissent. That repression drove leftists to take up arms and guerilla movements, sparking even more repression. While the report was released without fanfare, it still marks a landmark in Mexico's attempt to come to grips with its past.

Ms. KATE DOYLE (Director, Mexico Project): This is the first time that the Mexican government has officially acknowledged its role in the Dirty War.

O'BOYLE: Kate Doyle is the director of the Mexico Project at the National Security Archive in Washington. The Archive has posted the report on its Web site.

Ms. DOYLE: The report describes the all-out assault that the government launched against its critics in the late 1960's, attacking people that were beginning all over Mexico to protest the lack of democracy, and that meant attacking armed groups, guerillas fighting in the mountains of Guerrero, and it meant attacking student protestors marching in the street waving signs.

O'BOYLE: The report cites nearly 100 extra judicial killings. It names hundreds of people who were kidnapped by state security forces and whose fate remains unknown. It documents thousands of cases of torture. But the report was only supposed to be the beginning. Daniel Wilkinson is the Deputy Director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, and he has followed the investigation closely.

Mr. DANIEL WILKINSON (Human Rights Watch): After five years, the Special Prosecutor's Office has not successfully prosecuted a single person. There have been no convictions. So it's a mixed record. On the one hand you have something that 10, 15 years ago would have been unthinkable in Mexico, for there to be a government acknowledging that these crimes took place. On the other hand, the goal of ending the years of impunity has yet to be accomplished.

O'BOYLE: The failure to successfully prosecute any of the cases has left the family members of victims hungry for justice. Blanca Hernandez has worked with many of the families since the '70s, when her own husband was jailed for belonging to a guerilla organization. She says just as troubling is that almost no information has been uncovered on the hundreds of those who disappeared.

Ms. BLANCA HERNANDEZ: (Through Translator) We don't have the truth because we don't know what happened to our comrades. Where did they take them? They've never investigated and we don't have justice because no one has been punished. This confirms that even under this administration, things are the same as before. Nothing has changed.

O'BOYLE: It is unclear if the Special Prosecutor's Office will continue its labors under the incoming administration of Fox's successor, President-Elect Felipe Calderon. Calderon takes office on December 1st. So far, he has made no promises. Even if he would, few of the victims in Mexico believe justice is coming any time soon. For NPR News, I'm Michael O'Boyle in Mexico City.

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