“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 International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas, and who has also been a visiting professor at the University of Costa Rica Law Faculty in San José. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, the Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.) from Stanford University, and a Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) in International Law from Harvard University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stanford University, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, the Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.