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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Calderón under fire for security chief pick

Financial Times: Felipe Calderón, Mexico’s president-elect, drew fierce criticism on several fronts on Tuesday after he chose a highly controversial figure to fill a pivotal cabinet position.

The criticism came as Mr Calderón, who begins his six-year term on Friday, revealed the final six names of his cabinet. Yet attention immediately focused on Francisco Ramírez Acuña, who as government secretary will be responsible for implementing security policy, among other things.


Tamara Taraciuk of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Washington said on Tuesday: “This appointment sends a terrible signal both to the domestic and international communities.”

HRW and other human rights groups say that Mr Ramírez, who comes from Mr Calderon’s centre-right National Action party (PAN), believes in “firm-hand” policies to deal with issues of public order, and that he has an unenviable record on human rights.

They argue that Mr Ramírez bears much of the responsibility for the detention and subsequent physical and psychological abuse of dozens of anti-globalisation protesters in Jalisco in 2004.

The incident, considered one of the most prominent cases of human rights abuses in Mexico’s recent history, occurred when Mr Ramírez was state governor, and human rights defenders claim he did little or nothing to stop the violations.

HRW, for example, says there was never any serious attempt to investigate the incident and no police officers were ever sanctioned in spite of many testimonies from the detainees describing beatings, humiliation and death threats while in police custody.

Political analysts on Tuesday said Mr Ramírez’s appointment was almost certainly motivated by paybacks and rewards within Mr Calderón’s PAN party. Mr Ramírez was the man who first announced Mr Calderón’s presidential candidacy in 2004, and was instrumental in handing the president-elect a crucial victory in his state of Jalisco.

But they also say the appointment could be a signal that Mr Calderón is willing to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to civil unrest and conflict at a time when Mexico finds itself deeply divided along political, social and regional lines.

The most immediate concern is the southern state of Oaxaca, where what initially started out as a teachers’ strike over pay has turned into a bloody confrontation between social organisations and unions on one side and state authorities on the other.

Last month increasing levels of violence – a US journalist was shot dead while filming street clashes – forced Vicente Fox, the outgoing president, to send in federal forces.

Dan Lund of Mund Americas, a consultancy in Mexico City, said on Tuesday: “With Ramirez’s appointment there is now a much greater worry among different groups and political parties that Oaxaca will be handled by repression not negotiation.”
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