Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1991

-Mexico is a federal republic which has been dominated by the
Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) since its founding in
1929. Recent political reforms have expanded the opposition's
role and stake in the political system. A diverse political
opposition currently holds a significant number of seats in
congress, two major governorships, and numerous mayoralties.
Nevertheless, the PRI has maintained its predominant political
control by a combination of voting strength, organizational
power, access to governmental resources not enjoyed by other
political parties, and, the principal opposition parties and
other credible observers charge, electoral irregularities.
In the summer of 1991, midterm elections were held for all
seats in the Chamber of Deputies, for one-half the Senate, and
for 7 governorships. In much of Mexico, the PRI gained
significantly more votes than in 1988, winning nationally with
a wide margin over its nearest competitor. Many political
analysts attributed the PRI ' s improved showing to popular
support for the reform programs, particularly economic
modernization, advocated by President Salinas. However,
opposition leaders and many respected nonpartisan observers,
both domestic and international, cited a variety of actions by
election authorities and PRI supporters that they charged had
distorted the outcome of races in several states. In the cases
of the races for governor in Guanajuato and San Luis Potosi,
the Government responded to charges of egregious fraud by
forcing the PRI candidates who had been declared victorious by
state electoral commissions to withdraw, replacing them with
interim governors pending new elections.
Mexican security forces include federal and state judicial
police, specialized forces such as Mexico City's traffic
police, the federal highway police, and the military. Members
of the Federal Judicial Police (MFJP), especially antinarcotics
personnel, continue to be responsible for most human rights
abuses, including torture, unlawful arrest, and abuse of
authority. Some analysts charge that police brutality is
widespread in Mexico, but according to the National Commission
on Human Rights (CNDH), as well as some state and local human
rights advocates, allegations of such abuse declined in 1991.
Analysts attribute this decline primarily to significant legal
reforms that took effect in February and to the Government's
efforts to begin prosecuting some officials as offenders.
Mexico has a mixed economy that combines domestic market
capitalism with increasingly reduced state ownership of major
industries. The Government's economic reform progam has been
very successful in reducing inflation, promoting growth, and
restoring economic confidence. Negotiations continue for a
Free Trade Agreement with Canada and the United States.
Increased confidence in Mexico abroad has led to record levels
of foreign investment.
A wide range of individual freedoms is provided for by the
Constitution and honored in practice, but there continue to be
human rights abuses. These include the use of torture and
other abuse by elements of the police, instances of
extrajudicial killing, and credible charges by opposition
parties, civic groups, and outside observers of election
irregularities in some races. Throughout the year, however,
the Salinas Administration continued its serious efforts to
promote human rights. As of December, 139 police and other
public employees had been disciplined as a result of 158
recommendations by the CNDH, and criminal charges were pending
against 64 of them. Nevertheless, many human rights abuses
still go unpunished. Both President Salinas and the CNDH
acknowledge that much remains to be done to improve respect for
human rights and to eliminate the culture of impunity that has
traditionally surrounded human rights violators.
Section l Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
Several killings of political and human rights activists
occurred in 1991. As in previous years, the identities and
motives of the perpetrators often could not be shown
conclusively for lack of evidence, but a number of the killings
may have been politically motivated. Most public attention in
1991 was focused on the murder in July of Victor Manuel
Oropeza, a doctor and columnist in Juarez who often denounced
human rights abuses committed by government officials (see
Section 2.a.). Two suspects who were arrested and confessed to
the crime later recanted, claiming they had been beaten and
tortured into confessing by federal and state police
officials. The suspects remained in detention, although a
judicial inquiry into the investigation of the case was pending
at year ' s end.
There appeared to be less electoral violence in the August
elections than in most previous Mexican elections.
Nonetheless, a Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRO) mayor
in Michoacan was shot dead several days after the election by
an inebriated assailant apparently driven by partisan feeling.
A PRI mayoral precandidate was slain before the election in
rural Veracruz, and the son of a National Action Party (PAN)
federal deputy was shot at on election day while working for
the party.
There continued to be incidents of extrajudicial killing by
MFJP agents. In December 1990, MFJP agents killed 8 people in
Angostura, Sinaloa, in an ambush intended to net drug smugglers
who eluded capture. In November 1991, the six policemen
involved were convicted of homicide and sentenced to terms of
from 16 to 18 years. The body of Francisco Quijano Garcia was
identified in March 1991. Quijano disappeared in June 1990
after he had pressed for an inquiry into the shooting deaths of
three of his sons at the hands of police in January 1990. The
CNDH ' s investigation into the sons' deaths implicated MFJP
agents, and the commission issued a recommendation that the
incident be investigated. After the Attorney General's first
investigation left unanswered questions, the CNDH sought
further information and said its own investigation would
continue. As of year's end, the CNDH was awaiting the results
of a study by independent forensic specialists before giving
its views on the case. In September 1991, the Government
announced the arrest of former MFJP Commander Mario Alberto
Gonzalez Trevino, who allegedly contracted for the 1990 murder
of lawyer and prominent human rights worker Norma Corona.
Trevino 's trial for murder was pending at year's end. Although
no suspects have been arrested, investigations continue into
the deaths of Hector Felix, a journalist and police critic who
was killed in 1988, and also into the 1988 slayings of two
senior aides to PRO leader Cuauhtemoc Cardenas.
In Mexico's rural states, violent disputes over land sometimes
-result in extrajudicial killings. Paramilitary bands and local
police controlled by political bosses and land owners have
threatened and sometimes killed peasant activists. A violent
confrontation in November near Acapulco, Guerrero, reportedly
caused by developers trying to evict peasants from a tract of
land, resulted in several injuries and at least two deaths.
In 1991 there was an increase in the number of police officials
disciplined for human rights abuses, principally as a result of
CNDH investigations and recommendations. Cooperation with the
CNDH by the Attorney General's office, which has jurisdiction
over the MFJP, improved after Ignacio Morales Lechuga, the new
Attorney General, took office in May. The investigative power
of the CNDH was substantially strengthened in 1991 by a change
in the federal law that requires government employees to
respond to information requests by the CNDH in a timely and
truthful manner. Morales Lechuga later promulgated an internal
office rule ordering unrestricted access for CNDH investigators
and prompt, full replies to requests for information.
      b. Disappearance
The CNDH investigated the 54 reports of disappearance it
received from January through December, 1991. In addition, on
its own initiative the CNDH investigated 154 other cases as
part of a joint program with the Attorney General's office to
investigate every case in Mexico listed by the U.N. Working
Group on Involuntary or Forced Disappearances. (The U.N. list
contains a total of more than 200 persons who reportedly
disappeared in Mexico over the last 22 years. Mexican
independant human rights groups continue to claim that
approximately 500 persons disappeared in Mexico over the same
period.) As of its December 1991 report on the program, the
CNDH had concluded 40 cases, 16 concerning claimed
disappearances from 1973-1989 and 24 from the period
1989-1991. Of the 40 concluded cases, 30 persons were found
alive and 6 dead (including 1 who drowned and 5 who were
apparently murdered. One murder suspect is in custody.)
Investigations of the other four concluded cases were closed at
the request of family members or for lack of evidence that the
person had disappeared. According to the Commission, of the 24
disappearances from 1989-1991 that it resolved, there was some
evidence of a political motive in l case, that of Jose Ramon
Garcia Gomez. The Commission has issued a recommendation in
his case and its investigation continues. Of the cases
concluded after the subject was found alive, many had been
imprisoned and charged with minor offenses, then released and
had not returned home, while others moved for personal reasons.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Torture is prohibited by the Constitution. However, police
agents continue to employ psychological and physical torture,
and this form of abuse is a significant human rights concern in
Mexico. The most commonly used methods of torture include
threats, beatings, asphyxiation, and electric shock. In its
first 18 months of operation, the CNDH received 602 complaints
of torture out of 5,741 complaints of human rights violations.
According to the CNDH, however, complaints of torture declined
during the course of 1991 and during the second semester
represented 6.2 percent of complaints filed. Through
September, 60 U.S. citizens complained of police abuse, a
decline of 37 compared to the same period in 1990. In the
majority of cases, where victims were able to identify those
involved, MFJP agents were implicated, although the share of
cases involving local and state authorities increased. By
year's end, the U.S. Government formally protested 27 cases of
torture or other mistreatment through diplomatic channels, down
from 43 such protests in 1990. According to the Attorney
General's reports, investigation of U.S. protests in 1991
resulted in 9 dismissals, 59 suspensions, and 20 reprimands of
officials found to have been involved. While criminal
investigations into the nine dismissed officials were
continuing, none had been prosecuted by year's end.
The Government continued efforts begun in 1990 to reduce the
incidence of torture and similar abuse by officials. Since
June 1991, the Government investigated, suspended, and/or fired
137 agents of municipal, state, and federal police forces, in
response to CNDH investigations, and 64 were prosecuted. The
charges against these 64 include 10 of homicide, 13 of torture,
16 of wounding, and 6 of unlawful detention. A total of 143
charges are pending against the 64.
In response to frequent criticism that confessions are coerced
in the period before defendants appear before a judge and are
assigned a lawyer, the federal rules of evidence were amended
in February. Confessions are now inadmissible unless given
before a judge or a Public Ministry official and in the
presence of defense counsel or a person in whom the accused has
confidence. Similar changes have been adopted in several state
codes and are being considered in the rest. The new rule is
credited by the CNDH and independent human rights activists as
partly responsible for the apparent decline in the incidence of
torture in 1991. But some human rights groups argue that
torture is still widespread and that the new rule does not go
far enough. They assert that only confessions before judges
should be accepted. Continued investigation of complaints
combined with vigorous prosecution and severe sentences are
needed to eliminate the practice of torture and other abuse of
detainees and prisoners.
Most prisons in Mexico are overcrowded and lack adequate
facilities for the prisoners. In addition, an entrenched
system of corruption has undermined prison authority and led to
abuses. In May a prison riot in Matamoros was sparked by a
conflict between prisoners involved in the drug trade. After
the riot, both prison officials and police officers were
dismissed and charged with collusion. The CNDH has advocated
legislation, before Congress at year's end, reducing the number
of crimes that carry mandatory prison sentences and giving
judges more discretion to sentence defendants to fines and
supervised release instead of prison terms.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution requires that arrestees be brought before a
judge within 24 hours of arrest, and that the judge take from
them a prelimiary declaration within the following 48 hours.
Within 72 hours after the arrestee first appears before him,
the judge must decide whether or not the detention shall
continue. Police and judges often fail to meet these
constitutional and procedural deadlines.
Incidents of arbitrary arrest and imprisonment occur
frequently: CNDH figures show that illegal deprivation of
liberty is the most common complaint among its human rights
cases. From June 1990 to December 1991, out of 5,741
complaints received by the CNDH, 624 alleged arbitrary
detention. The most notorious arbitrary arrest case in 1991
involved Antonio Francisco Valencia Pontes, the lawyer of
Sergio Machi Ramirez who, according to the CNDH, may have been
abducted by MFJP agents in November 1989. After the CNDH
issued a recommendation calling for the release of Valencia
Pontes, the trial judge dismissed the case for lack of
The law permits suspects caught in the act of committing a
crime (flagrancia) to be arrested with a warrant. It has been
frec[uent police practice to arrest a suspect without a warrant
even when there is no flagrancia and for judges to overlook the
irregularity. That practice has only recently begun to abate
with the dismissal of several cases based on arrests without
proof of flagrancia. In order for the protection against
arbitrary arrest to be given full effect, human rights
advocates assert that defense counsel must regularly raise the
issue and judges must be prepared to recognize it.
Credible reports continue to be made of human rights
violations, including forced expulsions and unlawful arrests,
in connection with land disputes in rural areas. These
incidents often involve indigenous people evicted by landowners
with local police and government support. In the spring
hundreds of people were expelled from their houses in Paso
Achiote, Chiapas, by local police and agents of the landowner.
Those evicted had returned by year's end, but several were
arbitrarily arrested and held for months before their release.
Local human rights activists credit their release to the
intervention of the Pederal Government, publicity, and
demonstrations of domestic and international support. In
another case, the alleged violent occupation of another lot in
Chiapas led to the imprisonment of a local priest who had
supported the Paso Achiote arrestees. The priest was held over
for trial by a judge who did not believe evidence that the
priest was not present, at the time of the incident. On
November 6, the priest was released following a national and
international outcry by religious and human rights groups, and
after an investigation by the CNDH.
Exile and extradition of Mexican citizens are not normally
practiced in Mexico.
e. Denial of Pair Public Trial
The judicial system is divided into federal and state court
systems, with the federal courts having jurisdiction over most
civil cases and those involving major felonies, including drug
trafficking. The political opposition charges that the
judiciary, with judges placed in office by renewable
appointments, is dependent on the executive branch. The
Government, in turn, denies that political beliefs have any
bearing on the impartial administration of justice. Pactors
such as low pay and high caseloads contribute to continued
corruption within the judicial system.
The Constitution recjuires that the court must hand down a
decision within 4 months of arrest for crimes that carry a
maximum sentence of 2 years or less, and within a year for
those with longer maximum sentences. The trial itself,
sentencing, and appeals can delay the imposition of a criminal
sentence for significant periods of time, sometimes adding a
year or more to the entire process. Trial is by a judge, not a
jury, in nearly all criminal cases. Defendants have a right to
counsel, and public defenders are available. Other rights
include protection against self-incriminaton, the right to
confront one's accusers, the right to a translator if one's
native language is not Spanish, and the right to a public
trial. Protection of these rights is improving, but such
protections are not always observed in practice. The problem
of delayed sentencing is one of the major causes of
over-crowding in the prison system. The CNDH has begun to
address this problem by issuing several recommendations to
judges to render timely sentences.
The National Front Against Repression (FNCR) states that there
are currently 5 political prisoners in the country who were
imprisoned before President Salinas took office, down from the
33 reported in 1989. Historically the FNCR has claimed that
most political prisoners in Mexico were peasants and peasant
activists arrested in land disputes. The Government disputes
the appellation "political prisoner" altogether, charging that
most of those listed over the years by the FNCR have been
guilty of common crimes such as terrorism, criminal
association, and damage to property.
f . Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
Privacy and freedom from intrusion by the Government into
homes, family, and correspondence are rights protected under
article 16 of the Constitution. Although search warrants are
required by law, human rights activists charge that unlawful
searches occur frec[uently in Mexico. Peasants and urban
squatters involved in conflicts over land titles have charged
that local landowners, accompanied by police, have entered
their homes without appropriate judicial orders and sometimes
resorted to violence, particularly in rural areas. Wiretaps
placed in violation of the law were found in the office of PAN
Governor Ernesto Ruffo Appel of Baja California and in the
offices of the CNDH. By year's end, investigations into the
perpetrators of both attempts had not been concluded.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Freedom of speech and of the press are provided for by the
Constitution. Opposition leaders freely voice their criticism
of the Government and there are a large number of newspapers
and magazines with a wide range of editorial views. The
Government's control of a significant advertising budget and
its former role as the sole newsprint supplier have long fueled
charges that it used its leverage to pressure editors into
quashing unfavorable reports. Also, a number of journalists
depend upon receipt of "under-the-table" payments from the
often public entities they cover to supplement low wages.
Opposition political parties and independent observers charge
that Mexico's two principal television networks, one government
owned and the other privately owned, accord the PRI inordinate
news coverage, particularly at election time. The Federal
Electoral Code provides opposition parties during an electoral
campaign with 15 minutes per month of television time and
additional time in proportion to their electoral strength.
Violence and threats against journalists continued in 1991.
The death of physician and columnist Victor Manuel Oropeza
Contreras in July was the most controversial individual human
rights case during the year. Oropeza 's murder sparked outrage
among those believing he was killed because he had recently
written articles critical of the MFJP. Then assistant to the
Attorney General and human rights activist Teresa Jardi and
others were critical of the subsequent police investigation
conducted by a special prosecutor appointed by the Attorney
General. A respected advocate for human rights whose presence
lent credibility to reform efforts, Jardi left the Attorney
General's office shortly thereafter. The alleged perpetrators
of the Oropeza murder were arrested, but the victim' s family
and others expressed strong doubts that those arrested were
guilty. At the request of the CNDH, Oropeza 's body was exhumed
for a second autopsy which confirmed the finding of the first
autopsy that death was caused by knife wounds and that there
was no evidence of torture. The case investigation was
continuing at year's end.
The Oropeza case was one of a series of attacks on journalists
that are the subject of a special CNDH study. In response to a
complaint by the Union of Democratic Journalists, the
Commission began an inquiry in 1990 into 55 cases of alleged
denial of the human rights of journalists. Of these, 17 were
passed to the regular complaint program or were not pursued
either because of a lack of information or because they did not
involve journalists. In December the CNDH updated its report
on the study. In 14 cases those responsible had already been
convicted; in 3 other cases (Hector Felix, Manuel Burgueno, and
Elvira Marcelo Esquivel) the killers had been convicted, but
complainants were pressing for further investigation and
prosecution of the intellectual authors; in 14 cases the CNDH
issued recommendations calling for the investigation and
punishment of officials involved in the attacks. One case was
dismissed after a finding of no wrongdoing, while another, that
of Manuel Buendia, remained pending because the alleged
intellectual author of his murder is imprisoned on another
charge. Of the remaining cases, three have been shelved
because of a lack of evidence or jurisdiction, and two
investigations remain pending.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution grants the right of peaceful assembly for any
lawful purpose. A government permit is generally required for
major demonstrations. The Government, with few exceptions,
permits demonstrations by a broad range of political groups.
      c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution permits persons to practice the religion of
their choice. In December a constitutional amendment was
approved by both houses of Congress and several state
legislatures (with final ratification expected in January 1992)
that would transform the legal relationship between Church and
State in Mexico. Applicable to all faiths, it would grant
religious bodies legal standing, authorize them to own
property, run private schools, and permit clergy to vote and
wear religious garb in public. These are all rights that have
been denied de jure since the Mexican Revolution while
tolerated de facto. The clergy remain barred under the pending
change from holding public office and advocating partisan
political positions.
Mexico is predominantly Roman Catholic, though Protestant,
Mormon, Jewish, and other religious communities also exist
unfettered. Protestant evangelists and Mormons, principally
foreign-supported groups, are active and especially successful
in certain rural and largely indigenous communities. A
significant rapprochement between the Catholic Church and the
State, begun by President de la Madrid and carried forward by
President Salinas, continued in 1991. Bishops even ventured
into political commentary during the midterm elections,
encouraging voting, criticizing fraud, and calling for honest
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Movement within and outside the country is unrestricted. The
Government has customarily admitted persons recognized by the
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Approximately 42,000
Guatemalan refugees reside in camps and resettlement areas in
three southern Mexican states. Since 1990 they have been
permitted to accept work outside their camps and may travel
freely in the five-state area of Chiapas, Campeche, Quintana
Roo, Tabasco, and Yucatan. The Government estimates that an
additional 500,000 Central Americans, most of them Guatemalans
and Salvadorans, are living illegally in Mexico, primarily in
the southern border areas and the Federal District.
Undocumented Central Americans lead a precarious existence
because they are subject to deportation if caught, and they are
often exploited by private Mexicans as a source of cheap
labor. The CNDH has drafted a law, similar to a U.S. amnesty
law, that would enable all those Central Americans to apply for
citizenship who could prove long-term residence in Mexico. It
has been held up while voluntary organizations complete a study
on the numbers of refugees to whom the law would apply. Once
their status as undocumented aliens is recognized, some of
these Central Americans will presumably be eligible for refugee
status under a new population law that was passed in 1990. The
Mexican Refugee Assistance Committee (COMAR) was processing the
recognition of 5,000 Guatemalans under this law at year's end.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Since 1929, Mexico's government has been controlled by the PRI
which has won every presidential race and every gubernatorial
race except the 1989 Baja California Norte election. To
maintain power, the PRI has relied on extensive public
patronage, the use of government and party organizational
resources, and, according to respected independent observers,
electoral irregularities.
The midterm federal elections were the first conducted under
the auspices of the new federal electoral law, COFIPE, approved
by the Congress in 1990. COFIPE introduced several changes
into the electoral process, including the complete renovation
of the official list of voters and distribution of over 36
million voting credentials to eligible voters. COFIPE also
strengthened opposition political party representation at the
Federal Electoral Institute, which supervises federal
elections, and created a Federal Electoral Tribunal (TFE), an
autonomous oversight commission that rules on electoral-related
On August 18, the PRI tallied over 61 percent of the vote,
winning 290 of 300 directly elected federal deputies, 31 of 32
Senate races, and all 6 contests for Governor. In addition, it
had won the governorship of Nuevo Leon contested in July.
While hundreds of allegations of electoral wrongdoing were
filed, the consensus of observers and analysts was that an
election devoid of fraud would not have significantly altered
the PRI ' s strong showing.
However, electoral fraud apparently did alter the results of
some state and local elections, especially in the states of
Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, and Sonora. In San Luis Potosi,
an election monitoring effort led by the respected Mexican
Academy of Human Rights suggested that electoral fraud occurred
in over half the voting booths, bolstering opposition claims
that it was fraud that ensured victory by the PRI gubernatorial
candidate. In Guanajuato, in some voting booths several
hundred more people c&st ballots—almost all for the PRI—than
the number of people registered in that precinct. Such fraud
and the inability of electoral oversight organs to provide a
satisfactory remedy resulted in widespread public protests and
some election-related violence. After more than a week of
controversy, the announced election results were set aside. In
a compromise widely seen as having been imposed on the state
party cadre by a Federal Government intent on defusing the
opposition protests and removing the taint on the national
elections of the egregious fraud in those states, the declared
PRI winners resigned in both Guanajuato and San Luis Potosi and
were replaced by interim governors pending new elections. The
interim governor in San Luis Potosi was a PRI member but, in a
surprise move, a PAN mayor was chosen as interim governor in
Guanajuato. In December, municipal elections were held in both
states with the PAN winning a significant share of the vote.
New elections for governor are scheduled for April 1993 in San
Luis Potosi, while the date in Guanajuato was still pending at
year's end.
Despite improvements provided for in COFIPE, the electoral
process is still heavily weighted in favor of the PRI. While
admitting that President Salinas' popularity and Mexico's
economic resurgence contributed to the PRI ' s victory and that
fraud was less prevalent than in past elections, opposition
political parties claimed that sophisticated manipulation and
intimidation bolstered the PRI vote and denied opposition
victories in some races.
The opposition's strongest criticism concerned the official
voter list, which it charged was manipulated by inflating the
number of PRI voters, removing the names of opposition
supporters, or not delivering voting credentials to them.
Opposition allegations were bolstered by the Government's
failures in reporting election results on time and its
inability to deliver credentials to everyone who met the
registration recjuirements . The opposition also complained
about the use of government resources to support campaigns of
PRI candidates. COFIPE outlaws such support, and opposition
representatives filed criminal charges against some government
and PRI officials for violating this law. Independent
observers also critized the Government's frequent use of
patronage, particularly in the form of the Government's social
services and development program—the National Solidarity
Program (Pronasol)—for partisan political advantage.
Many in the opposition still do not have confidence that the
electoral oversight and review organs will act impartially.
Consequently, nongovernmental human rights organizations and
civic and academic groups have taken it upon themselves to
serve as independent electoral watchdogs. For example, during
the 1991 elections, the Council for Democracy, a loosely
aligned group of academics, journalists, and politicians,
organized a "quick count " of the vote results from Mexico City;
its results mirrored the official results. The opposition is
also increasingly bringing cases of election-related human
rights violations before multilateral organizations. In 1990
the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (lAHRC) issued its
report to the Organization of American States (OAS) on a suit
filed in 1987 by the PAN. The report ruled in favor of the PAN
complaint, noting that "the Nuevo Leon electoral law does not
fully and effectively protect the exercise of political rights
and does not provide for simple, swift, and effective recourse
to independent and impartial tribunals .. .the Government of
Mexico must immediately adopt measures to see that the law is
corrected." The Government has not acted on the OAS '
recommendation, although the newly elected PRI governor in
Nuevo Leon has promised to reform the state electoral code.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government permits both domestic and international human
rights groups to operate in Mexico without restrictions or
harassment. Ranking Mexican officials routinely meet with
domestic and international human rights activists to discuss
human rights problems. In June 1990, President Salinas
established the semi autonomous National Commission on Human
Rights (CNDH) and appointed respected jurist Jorge Carpizo
Macgregor as its president. In December 1991, both houses of
Congress approved constitutional reforms that would make the
CNDH legally independent. Final ratification is expected in
January 1992. The Commission's advisory council is composed of
respected human rights leaders, and Dr. Carpizo has received
strong support from President Salinas for CNDH efforts.
During its first 18 months of operation, through December 1991,
the CNDH received 5,741 complaints. It had concluded 3,325
cases and the remainder were pending. Of those concluded,
1,123 were settled during investigation by counseling or
agreement. The Commission issued 158 recommendations in
connection with the remaining cases that resulted in 138
officials being punished for human rights violations—64 were
awaiting trial for criminal offenses, 37 were dismissed from
their jobs, and 36 had been suspended. Sixty-three cases were
closed with a finding that no public official bore
responsibility for the alleged wrongdoing. The remaining cases
were either dismissed for lack of jurisdiction or were awaiting
additional information from complainants. Until now, however,
there have been few convictions of officials for extrajudicial
killings, torture, or similar serious offenses. The murder
convictions of the police involved in the Angostura killings
were the most noteworthy such convictions in 1991.
There are more than 7 5 nongovernmental human rights
organizations active in Mexico. One leading organization, the
Mexican Academy of Human Rights, is composed of respected
political and academic figures and serves primarily as an
information clearinghouse on human rights abuses. This year it
organized observers and issued a study of the August 18
election in San Luis Potosi that revealed a long list of
actions by the state PRI and local government officials ranging
from minor breaches of the electoral code to outright fraud
(see Section 3). The National Commission for the Promotion and
Defense of Human Rights was created in 1990 by experts formerly
associated with the Academy. This organization takes a direct
role advocating individual cases. It criticized the Government
for the impunity of officials who abuse human rights, arguing
that, despite CNDH efforts, few officials had been convicted of
torture or more serious offenses. Twelve state governments
have created human rights commissions and, in Baja California,
the first Office of Attorney General for Human Rights was
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Mexico takes pride in its Spanish and indigenous origins and in
the success the country has achieved in fostering a climate of
racial harmony. Indigenous groups, many of which do not speak
Spanish, are encouraged to participate in political life, and
the Government is respectful of their desire to retain elements
of their traditional lifestyle. However, these groups remain
largely outside the country's political and economic
mainstream, a result not of overt governmental discrimination
but rather of longstanding patterns of economic and social
development. The Government's National Program for Development
of Indigenous Peoples acknowledged in a report that "a set of
relations of inequality for indigenous peoples .... still
exists." These groups are severely disadvantaged in access to
medical care and education. The continued existence of large
family estates results in a severe shortage of land for
indigenous people to feed a rapidly growing population.
Federal law was changed in 1991 to require that indigenous
peoples not fluent in Spanish have an interpreter at every
stage of a criminal proceeding.
Historically, women in Mexico have played a subordinate role,
economically, politically, and socially. However, women are
becoming increasingly active economically and politically. One
woman is a member of President Salinas' Cabinet, and others are
key congressional and union leaders. Legally, women are equal
to men. They have the right to file for separation and
divorce, and to own property in their own name. The
Constitution provides for equal pay for ec[ual work and for
maternity leave. Domestic assault is a crime, but in
practice—largely due to social tradition—women are often
reluctant to file reports of abuse or to press charges. Police
are reluctant to intervene in what is often considered a
domestic affair. After a successful effort to reform the law
on sexual crimes in 1990, specialized medical and social
assistance is now available for rape victims, at least in urban
areas, and there are penalties for sexual harassment. Violence
against women in prison continues to be reported, particularly
in overcrowded facilities where, contrary to law, women are
held in common areas with men. In rural areas there have been
reports of harassment and mistreatment of indigenous women in
the aftermath of land evictions. Four bodyguards of former
Attorney General antinarcotics chief Javier Coello Trejo, who
were originally charged with a series of rapes in Mexico City,
remain in jail with additional charges pending against them.
 Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
The Constitution and specific provisions of the current Federal
Labor Law (FLL) give workers the right to form and join trade
unions of their own choosing. Unions must register with the
Labor Secretariat and, although registration requirements are
not onerous, there have been charges that they have not been
uniformly applied. About 30 to 35 percent of the total Mexican
work force of 23 to 26 million (some 11 to 12 million in the
formal sector and 12 to 14 million in the informal sector) is
organized in trade unions, most of which are members of several
large union confederations, also known as labor centrals.
Mexican unions may join together freely in labor centrals
without the Government's prior approval.
The principal Mexican trade union organization is the
Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), which is
organizationally a major sector of the PRI . All PRI-af filiated
federations and a number of the independents (a total of 36
organizations) belong to the Congress of Labor (CT), a trade
union coordinating body which represents approximately 85
percent of Mexico's organized workers. The significant
presence of union officers in the Government, especially in
elected positions, and the continued heavy union influence in
the nominating process for candidates at all levels of
government, perpetuates a symbiotic relationship which limits
the freedom of action of unions. For example, union officers
support government economic policies and PRI political
candidates in return for having a voice in policy formation.
The next largest category of trade unions is that of strictly
apolitical unions. Many, but not all, are company unions, with
widely varying degrees of independence from management
influence. The smallest category encompasses unions and labor
centrals that oppose the PRI. Spokespersons for the largest
unions in this category claimed in 1991 that in practice
federal and state government registrars have improperly
frustrated attempts to register new unions that oppose the PRI
Mexican law grants workers the right to strike. The FLL
requires as a first step that a 6- to 10-day strike notice be
filed, followed by a brief, government-sponsored mediation
effort. If a strike is ruled illegal, employees must return to
work within 24 hours or face dismissal for cause. On the other
hand, once a legally recognized strike occurs, by law the
company (or its subunit) that is the strike target must shut
down totally. The FLL also permits strikes by public sector
employees, although this rarely occurs. In the early months of
1991 a dissident group within the National Teachers Union
undertook wildcat work stoppages for better wages. The
Government granted all teachers a 25-percent wage hike,
recognizing that a real gap had developed between teachers' pay
and that of comparable employees.
There were no major, prolonged strikes in 1991. There was,
however, a well-publicized effort by union dissidents and
former workers of the Ford plant outside Mexico City to hold a
new union recognition election. This grew out of a
confrontation in 1990 between the incumbent CTM auto workers'
union and dissident workers linked with a competing labor
central. The dissidents eventually won their legal appeal, and
a union representation election was held on June 3 which the
CTM won by a close margin.
Following the closing of a major oil refinery in Mexico City,
there were a series of protests by workers who had been
dismissed without benefits. Angered that their protests were
not supported by their local of the Oil Workers Union, the
protesters criticized the local. Shortly afterward, according
to a credible report from a respected human rights advocate,
Braulio Aguilar Reyes, the younger brother of one protester,
was seized, beaten, and held incommunicado part of the time in
a police building by men whom he later identified as members of
the Federal Judicial Police. He was not charged with any
offense and was released after 36 hours, following pressure by
the family and advocacy groups. The assailants were arrested
but, as of year's end, no proof of their alleged union link had
been established.
Mexico was again formally criticized by the International Labor
Organization (ILO) in 1991 for its legal requirement that
federal public sector employees can only belong to a single
union in each category of public employment. Such federal
employee unions, in turn, are grouped together in a single
public sector labor central, the FSTSE.
Unions and labor centrals are free to join or affiliate with
international labor organizations and do so actively.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The FLL strongly upholds the right to organize and to bargain
collectively. On the basis of only a small showing of interest
by employees, an employer must recognize the union concerned
and make arrangements either for a union recognition election
or proceed immediately to negotiate a collective bargaining
agreement, and such agreements are commonplace. FLL prounion
bias is so pronounced that it has led many employers to
encourage company unionism as an alternative to organization by
national or local unions affiliated with the dominant labor
The public sector is almost totally organized. The degree of
private sector organization varies widely by states. While
most traditional industrial areas are heavily organized, states
with a small industrial base usually have few unions. Workers
are protected by law from antiunion discrimination, but this
law is unevenly enforced, especially in states with a low
degree of unionization.
The rate of unionization of in-bond export, or "maquiladora,
industries varies, but the rate of unionization on average for
in-bond export industries is comparatively low. A 1990 study
by the U.S. Department of Labor suggested that antiunion bias
by employers played a contributing role. The report also cited
allegations, denied by the Mexican Government and labor
centrals, of a tacit agreement to refrain from organizing the
in-bond export plants. The Attorney General for Human Rights
of Baja California attributes the low rate of unionization of
"maquiladoras" in his state to the fact that the relatively
good wage and benefit packages of the large "maquiladoras" have
reduced the incentives to unionize.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution prohibits forced labor. There have been no
credible reports for many years of forced labor in Mexico.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The FLL sets 14 as the minimum age for employment by children.
Children from 14 to 15 may work a maximum of 6 hours, may not
work overtime or at night, and may not be employed in jobs
deemed hazardous. This means there is little incentive for a
responsible employer to hire children under the age of 16,
especially since in most instances more mature adults are
available at the same wage scale. In the formal sector,
enforcement is reasonably adequate for large- and medium-size
companies; it is less certain for small companies. As with
employee safety and health, the worst enforcement problem is
with the many very small companies, especially those with five
or fewer employees. Child labor is largely found in the
informal economy. It is widely believed that the informal
economy includes significant numbers of underage street
vendors, employees in very small business, and workers in rural
In 1991 the Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS) and
the U.S. Department of Labor undertook joint studies of both
the child labor problems and the nature of the informal
economies in Mexico and the United States as part of an effort
to consider better ways for both countries to prevent illegal
child labor.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Constitution and the FLL provide for a minimum wage for
workers, which is set by the tripartite National Minimum Wage
Commission (government/labor/employers). In December 1987, the
major labor centrals and unions, along with employers, agreed
to a temporary tripartite accord to limit price and wage
increases. It has been renewed annually since then. Since
1987, annual minimum wage adjustments have been made to
compensate for inflation only. Generally, in the private
sector in the past few years, wages set by collective
bargaining agreements have kept pace with inflation even though
the minimum wage did not.
The FLL sets 48 hours as the legal workweek. The FLL provides
that workers who are asked to exceed 3 hours of overtime per
day or work any overtime in 3 consecutive days must be paid
triple the normal wage. For most industrial workers,
especially unionized ones, the real workweek has declined to
about 42 hours. Mexico's legislation and rules regarding
employee health and safety are relatively advanced. All
employers are bound by law to observe the "general regulations
on safety and health in the workplace" issued jointly by STPS
and Mexican Institute of Social Security. The focal point of
standard setting and enforcement in the workplace is in
FLL-mandated bipartite (management and labor) safety and health
committees in the plants and offices of every company. These
meet at least monthly to consider workplace safety and health
needs and file copies of their minutes with federal or state
labor inspectors.
Government labor inspectors schedule their own activities
largely in response to the findings of these workplace