Mexicans criticize prosecutor for genocide charge

Monday, July 26, 2004

MEXICO CITY -- Many Mexicans criticized a special prosecutor Sunday for accusing a former president of genocide, with some saying the charges didn't fit the crime. Others questioned a judge's decision to reject the case.

Special Prosecutor Ignacio Carrillo argued that dozens were killed on June 10, 1971, when security forces attacked protesters with sticks and guns, and that the crime fit a 1967 Mexican law outlawing genocide.

Judge Julio Cesar Flores disagreed, and many in Mexico said the charges against former President Luis Echeverria, accused of ordering the attack, devalued the term "genocide."

"It would have been better to do nothing at all," leftist Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Sunday. "I think the majority of people are going to doubt this."

Carrillo said the judge "did not fully analyze the evidence contained in the 14 volumes, consisting of 9,382 pages, probably because of time constraints."

But some doubted the efficacy of genocide charges -- or any criminal charges -- 33 years after the events.

"This was the wrong way to do this," said former national security adviser Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, who had suggested President Vicente Fox form a truth commission rather than try former leaders. "If you can't prove these charges, then it just leaves people thinking there was some lack of commitment, or political maneuvering."

Fox has not commented on the case, beyond saying that it was in the hands of the judicial system.

There was also a debate about whether the 1971 attack was truly genocide, defined as a systematic attempt to exterminate a racial, ethnic or national group.

An attorney for Echeverria said only 11 people died in the demonstration, but activists have said dozens were killed and many of the deaths were covered up.

Columnist Jaime Sanchez Susarrey wrote "there was repression that day, but nobody in their right mind could say that genocide occurred."

The most recent recognized case of genocide occurred in 1994 in Rwanda, when 500,000 people were killed. But Aguilar Zinser, who worked on the Rwanda case as Mexico's former U.N. ambassador, said "you can't compare that" with the 1971 events.

Others criticized the judge for refusing to uphold the case.

"This nullified, in one blow, all the progress that had been made in the credibility of legal processes in Mexico," said writer Carlos Monsivais.

David Roura, one of the 1971 protesters, said the attack was against a "a national group."

"Even though they didn't exterminate all of us, there was a genocidal trap laid," he said.

Most agree Carrillo filed the genocide charges mainly because they were the only accusations -- apart from "forced disappearance" -- on which the statute of limitations had not already run out.

Defense attorneys, however, argued that time limits applied even to genocide.

Carrillo has vowed to appeal Saturday's ruling to the Supreme Court. But most lawyers -- including Mexico's second-highest prosecutor, Joe Luis Santiago Vasconcelos -- have said the charges "will not go anywhere."

Prosecuting political crimes as genocide was pioneered by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon in his investigation of abuses committed during the "dirty wars" in Argentina and Chile during the 1970s and 80s.

But those cases have much higher death tolls. At least 9,000 Argentines died or vanished between 1976 and 1983, and rights groups say the figure could be as high as 30,000. More than 3,000 people were killed or disappeared for political reasons during Augusto Pinochet's 1973 to 1990 dictatorship in Chile.

Few estimates place the death toll in Mexico's "dirty war" at much more than 500.

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