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02/27/2013

Mexico's 'missing' and a debate at Harvard

It’s a staggering figure: 26,121.

That’s the number of people who have “disappeared” in Mexico during the past six years as the government took its war against the country’s drug cartels into the streets.

And that’s the government’s own number.

It was released this week, hard on the heels of a Human Rights Watch report that was harshly critical of the government’s use of violence against violence in combating the country’s drug scourge.

But in conducting that war, HRW charges, the government threw fundamental human rights under the bus.

“Mexico’s security forces have participated in widespread enforced disappearances,” Human Rights Watch charged in a 176-page report.

The NGO documented some 250 “disappearances” from Dec. 2006 to Dec. 2012, and in 149 of those found compelling evidence of direct participation by state security forces.

None of that can be good for at least one lecturer at Harvard’s prestigious Kennedy School of Government: former Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

The disappearances occurred during his watch and, according to the report, involved every branch of the state’s security apparatus: Army, Navy, federal and local police.

While the report stops short of baldly accusing Calderon of approving such methods – the inference is mighty strong.

A former Harvard alum, Calderon is currently teaching and compiling case studies at the KSG as part of a year-long residency that began in January.

His successor, President Pena Nieto, is now dealing with the aftermath.

One HRW official called Mexico’s problem, “one of the worst crises of disappearances in the history of Latin America.”

From the get-go, Calderon’s Harvard appointment was controversial and could now become more so.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent and a Mexican citizen compiled an online petition last month, endorsed by 35,000 people, urging Harvard to rescind the appointment.

“Calderon’s legacy is one of blood and corruption,” border agent John Randolph told BostInno, a Boston-based website. “Americans are very uninformed about the Mexican drug war.”

But Calderon’s removal is not likely to happen.

“We recognize that not everyone agreed with his policies or his approaches,” KSG Dean David T. Ellwood told the Cambridge Chronicle, “…but one of the fundamental tenets of the Kennedy School and all American universities is a free exchange of ideas.”

Bill Schiller has held bureau postings for the Toronto Star in Johannesburg, Berlin, London and Beijing. He is a NNA and Amnesty International Award winner, and a Harvard Nieman Fellow from the class of '06. Follow him on Twitter @wschiller

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