Mexico City – Prominent poet and peace activist Javier Sicilia urged Mexican lawmakers here Thursday to defeat the public safety bill President Felipe Calderon proposed in April 2009 and "replace it with another one drafted jointly with citizens."
"The law they want passed undermines the freedoms and civil rights enshrined in the constitution and validates the disgraceful effort to rein in institutional corruption and inefficiency by imposing a military and police state," Sicilia told members of Congress during a public forum at the Chapultepec Castle.
In April 2009, Calderon proposed a wide-ranging plan to Congress that outlines the norms governing his controversial policy of using the military in law enforcement.
Calderon has maintained that the military must have the lead role in the drug war for the time being because municipal and state police have been thoroughly corrupted by well-funded cartels.
The bill was revised in the Senate and has now been sent to the lower house for further analysis.
Calderon's legislative proposal "was a serious mistake," Sicilia said, citing the bill's failure to ensure the political independence of prosecutors and investigators.
"We can't allow democracy to surrender to authoritarianism or chaos and we also can't let peace surrender to war in order to preserve 'partyocracy' (a political system dominated by traditional parties) and privileges that betray the fatherland," said the poet, who founded the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity after his son's murder by suspected drug-gang members four months ago.
He therefore called on lawmakers to approve another measure "whose guiding principle is to guarantee human safety and full respect for civil liberties and human rights."
"Those who think today's war will lead to tomorrow's tranquility, who think this war that has taken thousands of our children should go on any longer are mistaken. No war in pursuit of abstractions can compensate for the death of any of our children," he added.
Sicilia has led marches to demand a change in Calderon's militarized approach to the drug war, a conflict that has claimed more than 40,000 lives in Mexico since the current president took office in December 2006.
Among other measures that should be approved is one "that would create mechanisms to legalize some drugs" and another that establishes "democratic controls" on the police, including an independent entity to review the activities of the Federal Police, the poet and journalist said Thursday.
Talks between Sicilia's movement and the executive branch broke down Wednesday after Mexico's navy secretary, Francisco Saynez, said organized-crime groups were using "trickery" to manipulate citizens into undermining institutions "under the banner of human rights."
Mexico's autonomous National Human Rights Commission has publicly chided the navy for refusing to apologize or pay compensation in several cases where innocent civilians were killed by marines engaged in law-enforcement operations.
International human rights watchdogs also have criticized the use of military tribunals in Mexico to hear cases involving alleged violations of civilians' human rights by soldiers.
In that regard, Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, hailed a decision earlier this month by Mexico's Supreme Court, which ruled on July 6 that Mexico's courts must comply with an Inter-American Court of Human Rights judgment in an enforced disappearance case dating back to the 1970s and that Mexico's judges should take its jurisprudence into account.
"Mexico's highest court has found that the Inter-American Court's ruling must be the law of the land: no cases of human rights violations should be tried in the military justice system," Vivanco said that same day.
"President Calderon and Congress should swiftly reform military jurisdiction to ensure that this ruling is upheld," he said.
HRW said in March that the National Human Rights Commission - Mexico's equivalent of an Ombud's Office - had received close to 5,000 allegations of human rights violations by the military, including killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and rape dating back to 2007.
Despite the scale of the abuses and military courts' record of "near total impunity," Calderon's government "continues to rely on its flawed military justice system to investigate and prosecute soldiers alleged to have committed human rights abuses," HRW said then.