“Houston, we have a problem” — Mexican Prison Director Allegedly Uses Inmates as Hit Squad

Guards and officials at a prison in northern Mexico let inmates out, lent them guns and sent them off in official vehicles to carry out drug-related killings, including the massacre of 17 people last week, prosecutors claim.
–“Convicts used as hit squad by Mexican prison governor,” The Telegraph (Telegraph.co.uk), July 26, 2010

The United States has ignored Mexico and Latin America for over a decade, with disastrous results. As the United States and NATO continue in the ninth year of the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the degree to which public order has deteriorated in Mexico and other Latin American countries has been obscured by events half a world away. Interest in foreign policy among the American electorate is low, and what there is has been overwhelmingly directed toward events in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, public order in Mexico has worsened dramatically, while other states in the region also have been increasingly weakened by the influence of drug gangs and cartels. In Guatemala, according to reports, the office of the Attorney General was briefly taken over by individuals close to the drug cartels.

See, e.g., Tim Johnson, “How Guatemala almost went ‘narco'”, McClatchey Newspapers, July 8, 2010

Every once in a while, a news story or event flashes across the world’s consciousness for a brief second, like a lightning flash illuminating a dark countryside. The news stories about the director of a Mexican prison who used inmates as a hit squad represents one such lightning flash.

It also suggests that the continued low priority given to Latin America by the Obama administration, notwithstanding Hillary Clinton’s own lightning-like visits to the region, will continue to have dire consequences for both the region and the United States.

If the rule of law is important in Iraq, should we not also pay attention to what is going on in Mexico and Guatemala?

The Trenchant Observer

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About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is an international lawyer who has taught innternational law, human rights, and comparative law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), and an international development practitioner who has worked on human rights and judicial reform projects in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and in Russia. He has also worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in Europe, the Middle East, throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Observer speaks fluent French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, in addition to English. He holds undergraduate and law degrees from Stanford University, and a Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) in International Law from Harvard University. As an undergraduate, he studied modern European history at Stanford, where he won the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best honors thesis in history.