Human Rights Defender Kerry Kennedy Detained, Threatened by Mexican Military

Robert F. Kennedy's Daughter Nearly Meets Tragic Fate at Drug-War Checkpoint

A squad of heavily armed Mexican soldiers this past weekend accosted Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, while she and her 14-year-old daughter were traveling in southwestern Mexico to attend Easter Sunday mass.

The incident played out in the Mexican state of Guerrero, near the city of Acapulco, at a time when the Mexican military is under increasing scrutiny for human rights violations related to its role in the war on drugs.Kerry Kennedy

Also accompanying Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, was Mexican human-rights defender Abel Barrera as well as a team of lawyers — who attempted to point out to the military-unit commander that the soldiers were violating Mexican law, but to no avail.

“We were stopped, harassed, threatened and detained by eight soldiers in battle fatigues brandishing automatic weapons,” Kennedy writes in a recent op/ed penned for the Inter Press Service, in which she recounts her experience.

After establishing that we were an international human rights organization, the lieutenant responsible for the checkpoint maliciously demanded to inspect our belongings for narcotics. He raged menacingly, “I am the authority, I have the power.” At that moment, my heart stopped.

Kennedy, a prominent Catholic author and long-time human rights activist, had reason to feel dread. Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war on Mexico’s drug “cartels” in late 2006, more than 65,000 Mexicans have been murdered and thousands more disappeared, tortured or raped — no small number at the hands of Mexico’s military, the spearhead of Calderon’s drug-war dragnet.

A November 2011 report by Human Rights Watch found that in five Mexican states alone (including Guerrero) security forces are allegedly responsible for “more than 170 cases of torture, 39 ‘disappearances,’ and 24 extrajudicial killings since Calderon took office in December 2006.”

A recent story in the Wall Street Journal reports, “military prosecutors say they are investigating more than 3,500 cases of human-rights violations allegedly committed by soldiers, including cases of killings, rape and torture.”

Kennedy and her teenage daughter that day, on the road to church, could easily have become the latest victims in a drug war that has escalated far beyond the control of US and Mexican policymakers.

It is a drug war fueled by US consumer demand for drugs moving north and a river of iron flowing south, into Mexico, that gives teeth to the carnage — a river fed by US programs such as the $1.5 billion Merida Initiative and the hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons shipments approved via the State Department’s Direct Commercial Sales program.

“Instead of reducing violence, Mexico’s ‘war on drugs’ has resulted in a dramatic increase in killings, torture, and other appalling abuses by security forces, which only make the climate of lawlessness and fear worse in many parts of the country,” Human Rights Watch Americas Director Jose Miguel Vivanco said in prepared statement announcing his organization’s report on abuses by Mexico’s security forces.

But Kennedy and her daughter, this past weekend, were spared the fate of assassination at the hands of a drug-war enabled, power-drunk Mexican military squad, possibly armed with US-supplied weapons and bullets. She and her daughter, and their traveling party, after a half hour of nail-biting agony, were allowed through the Mexican military checkpoint and went on to visit the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

“On Sunday [April 8],” Kennedy writes in her Inter Press Service op-ed, “I experienced what few leaders in Mexico's elite know: the fear of a military that turns its power on the very people it has vowed to protect, the rage engendered when that power is challenged, and the arbitrary nature of its wrath.”

Stay tuned……

UPDATE April 13, 2012, 7:40 PM

Narco News did contact the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights seeking further comment from Kennedy concerning her encounter with the Mexican military. Meaghan Baron, senior communications strategist for the RFK Center, indicated that Kennedy was unavailable for comment due to her travel schedule.

U.S. Senator John Kerry’s office also was contacted for comment. Kerry serves as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A spokeswoman from his office confirmed that the request was received but as of yet has provided no comment.

Likewise, the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., was contacted for comment on the Mexican military’s treatment of Kennedy. Ricardo Alday Gonzalez, the Mexican Embassy’s press spokesman, sent a short e-mail reply: “Thank you. Will get back to you.”

So far, he has not gotten back to Narco News, but it is clear the Mexican government is now officially aware of the incident.

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