HRW Head Warns US Not to Ignore AMLO’s Human Rights Abuse



In an op-ed piece published in the Los Angeles Times on Saturday, Dec. 4, the Americas director of the New York-based nonprofit Human Rights Watch (HRW), José Miguel Vivanco, warned the United States to not be complacent about the mounting violations of basic human rights being compiled by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO).

In the article — which was published just days after AMLO celebrated the midpoint of his six-year term with a massive, mostly mask-less music fest in the capital’s main square Zócalo as the first case of the highly contagious omicron virus in Mexico was being confirmed — Vivanco pointed out that since his assumption of power in December 2018, the president “has not only failed to improve the country’s disastrous human rights record, he has worked to undo many of the hard-fought gains in transparency and the rule of law that rights groups, activists and campaigners have achieved since the end of one-party rule in Mexico in 2000.”

But while murders and drug violence has continued to surge in Mexico under AMLO, Vivanco said that the “United States has been noticeably silent regarding the Mexican president’s accelerating attacks on democracy.”

“President (Joe) Biden has instead chosen to focus on enlisting López Obrador to prevent migrants from reaching the U.S. border,” the HRW leader said.

“López Obrador, a prominent anti-establishment figure in Mexican politics for decades, is the kind of populist leader that has become increasingly common in Latin America. He was democratically elected in a landslide on a promise to ‘transform’ Mexico by taking back control of the country from the elites, whose policies he blamed for economic inequality, social breakdown and growing violence.”

But rather than fulfill those campaign promises, Vivanco said that AMLO has only made the situation worse.

Still, Vivanco admitted that López Obrador had inherited a human rights catastrophe that had long been brewing in Mexico.

“When he came to office in 2018, 12 years of a military-led drug war had led to horrific abuses. Homicides hit staggering numbers. Thousands of people disappeared every year,” he wrote.

“But (AMLO) has not addressed these problems. Soldiers continue to kill civilians. Homicides remain at historically high rates. And according to the government’s own figures, more than 25,000 people have gone missing on his watch.”

Despite his horrific human right record, Vivanco said that López Obrador has remained immensely popular with his base, which has only encouraged him to be even more authoritative and to further disregard basic rights.

“He appears to believe that his continued popular support gives him the moral authority to concentrate as much power as possible in his own hands and to attempt to control every part of the state to bring about his promised transformation,” Vivanco wrote.

“He labels anyone who criticizes him or stands in his way as a ‘neoliberal’ or ‘conservative,’ nebulous groups of supposed adversaries whom he describes as corrupt and morally bankrupt. Leveling this charge allows him to avoid responding to genuine concerns raised by journalists who question him, women’s rights campaigners upset at his lack of action on gender-based violence, indigenous communities that oppose his megaprojects, environmentalists who disagree with his coal and oil-focused energy policy, and press freedom campaigners concerned about his government’s harassment of journalists, among others.”

Vivanco noted that in his thirst for absolute power, AMLO “has eliminated or proposed eliminating many government agencies not under his direct control, including the independent energy and telecommunications regulators, funds for protecting journalists and responding to climate change and natural disasters, the independent transparency agency and the independent electoral authority.”

The HRW official likewise criticized AMLO for his recent presidential decreed making all his government’s construction and infrastructure projects matters of “national security,” thus automatically granting them permits without any public scrutiny or semblance of transparency.

By the same token, Vivanco said, López Obrador has “gone after the judicial system, which has delayed or blocked a number of his projects and proposals as abusive or unconstitutional.”

“His efforts to intimidate the judiciary have grown brazen,” Vivanco continued.

“López Obrador has publicly singled out those whose rulings he dislikes and called for a judge who ruled against him to be investigated. In April, his coalition in Congress passed a law — since overturned — to extend the term of the Supreme Court chief justice, who has ruled in favor of the president. And in August, López Obrador held a referendum on whether the government should put five previous presidents on trial for alleged crimes such as ‘neoliberalism’ and the ‘privatization of public goods’.”

Vivanco said that the current U.S. policy of ignoring López Obrador’s attacks on the rule of law were blatantly evident when Vice President Kamala Harris visited Mexico in June and, according to White House sources, spoke only about immigration and the economy, “nothing else.”

Vivanco concluded by saying that with still another three years in office and a majority control of both houses of Congress, López Obrador “has made it clear that he is willing to amend the Constitution if necessary to remove obstacles to achieving his goals.”

“Unless the circumstances change,” Vivanco said. “there are no signs he intends to alter his course.”

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