In Coahuila, and much of Mexico, abuse and torture of human beings will go unremarked and unpunished. And ignored by the media. Perhaps it’s because, as Amnesty International’s recent report, Abusers known, victims ignored: Torture and ill-treatment in Mexico, says:
Mexico has experienced a severe public security crisis in many regions during the Calderón administration. The government has deployed military and police on an unprecedented scale to combat powerful drug cartels and other organized criminal networks. At least 60,000 people have been killed and more than 160,000 internally displaced1, predominantly as a result of violence during inter-cartel territorial disputes, but also as a result of security force operations. It is in this context that reports of torture and ill-treatment have risen alarmingly.
The government has frequently repeated its commitment to ensuring that its militarized approach to combating drug cartels is carried out with full respect for human rights. However, Amnesty International has documented a sharp increase in grave human rights violations, including unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, excessive use of force and torture by federal, state and municipal public officials.
I’m not excusing what was done to Bella the baby bear, nor do I overlook that a crime was committed, and justice called for swift punishment, I do want to point out that making an example of the Civil Protection officers in Zaragoza, Coahuila seems “too easy” compared to bringing justice to victims of HUMAN rights abuses, by forces like the police and army who are not only armed state agents, but enjoy a mystique as the public’s protectors that unarmed public protectors do not have.
Civil Protection Units are NOT the police or military, although they carry out a smorgasbord of duties police and military units also do: everything from dig out earthquake victims and evacuate communities threatened by volcanoes (both fairly common activities here in Mexico) to direct traffic at accident scenes. In smaller communities, they’re often also the fire department. They also are often the closest thing a community has to animal control officers. The grunts of public safety work.
If you haven’t followed the story, though, a bear cub was spotted wandering around Zaragosa on Thursday. Civil Protection officers captured the cub, but… rather than turn it over to the Secretariat of Natural Resources (as, apparently, it says they are supposed to do with wild animals somewhere in their operations manual), they took the cub back to their station house and began fooling around… or thought that tying up the baby bear and stretching her out for the camera was cute, or funny, or wouldn’t be seen as what it was: animal abuse.
That the photos had an instant reaction when they were tweeted and facebooked and otherwise spread around the internet had an instant reaction… one that is surprising in light of the relative indifferent people have to people being abused. Of course, when we see people abused, we somehow justify it as “well, they probably deserved it,” or “that’s what happens when you do… [whatever it is we're told they did... fill in the blank]. The bear was just being a bear, and it’s hard to rationalize away.
Within twelve hours of the first photos being sent out on the web, the Civil Protection officers had been arrested on complaints by the Federal Prosecutor for Environmental Protection, and were in custody, being threatened with nine years in prison. Five were given a very stiff fine, and Bella… after a night spend under observation and treatment of abrasions to her paws and snout, was released into a national park.
The moral being… if you’re going to be tortured by the authorities, it’s better to be an animal than a human. Unless the captors act like… humans.