Students target human rights issues in Mexico

A group wants to raise awareness about 43 Mexican students who went missing.

Raj Chaduvula

A group of University of Minnesota students wants to address human rights issues and violence in Mexico by raising awareness in Minnesota.
The Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee is trying to bring attention to 43 Mexican students who went missing last year. The group held a rally to commemorate the missing students and plans to send demands to the Mexican consulate, said Maria Mendez Gutierrez, a spokesperson for the group and a political science doctoral student at the University.
Late last month, MIRAC held a rally at Coffman Union in commemoration of the disappearance of the 43 students in Iguala, Mexico, on Sept. 26, 2014. 
The student group hopes to launch a campaign that would request the United States stop funding the Merida Initiative, through which the U.S. funds Mexican armed forces and provides funding for the government’s war on drugs. MIRAC’s members say they believe the funds are misused.
“There is no clear separation between the divide [of the] Mexican government and the drug cartels and the police and the military. These are very blurry lines,” Gutierrez said.
Patrick McNamara, a professor of Latin American history, said the violence in Mexico is a result of the demand for drugs in the U.S.
“People in the U.S were too often looking at Mexico in isolation and asking questions about why Mexico is so violent … without really making the connections to the demand [for drugs] in the United States,” McNamara said.
Violence in Mexico has risen since 2006, he said, and the Merida Initiative is ineffective because crime groups are able to smuggle drugs through black markets into the U.S. 
For the U.S. to better the situation in Mexico, it would have to improve its own drug problems, he said.
“I don’t see it as an issue of American foreign policy. What’s happening in Mexico is tied to U.S. domestic policy around drug use,” McNamara said.
Eric Schwartz, dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and a global policy expert, said funding for the initiative has been withheld recently due to violations of human rights standards that were placed on the initiative in 2006.
MIRAC is trying to inform people that the disappearance of the students isn’t an isolated event but rather another incident in a long history of the alleged cooperation between drug cartels and the government, Gutierrez said.
Barbara Frey, director of the University’s Human Rights Program and a Fulbright researcher in Mexico in 2013, said there’s mistrust between the people and the government.
Few missing people cases are investigated or reported due to corruption and mistrust, she said.
“A lot of the police either willingly or through coercion are acting to support the drug cartels and high-level people as well,” Frey said.
Frey said MIRAC’s demands are important because the Merida Initiative funding ends up in the pockets of people allowing atrocities to happen.
“These kinds of demands are important ones in that the United States has been uncritical supporter of the current government in Mexico and previous governments as well and provides huge amounts of funding that are supposed to be going for the rule of law … but are ending up in the pockets of local and national officials,” she said. 
Frey said building support and awareness in the U.S. is important because American tax dollars should not be sent to corrupt officials.
A conference on human rights in Mexico will be held at the Humphrey School from Oct. 29-30.