common ground

Border Security/Democracy in Africa

Program 0204 January 22, 2002

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(This text has been professionally transcribed, however, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

TOM HANSEN: I think one of the things clearly that Mexico doesn’t need is more internal security. There, the lack of freedom, the lack of respect for human rights, the lack of respect for civil rights, is rampant throughout this country.

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, US-Mexican security training. And, promoting democracy in East Africa.

DR. JOEL BARKAN: Democratic regimes do not usually get involved in armed conflict with each other.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Human rights activists have long criticized US military aid to repressive governments in Latin America and elsewhere. But in recent years a variety of US police agencies have stepped up their training of security forces around the globe.

MCHUGH: Now, some argue that one such training program in Mexico violates not only human rights but official US policy as well. Correspondent Kent Patterson has more.

[sound of a street demonstration]

KENT PATTERSON: Students from a teachers college stage a protest at the Guerrero state government headquarters in the city of Chilpancingo. They demand the release of companions whom they charge were brutalized and detained by state anti-riot police. Although conflicting versions exist as to who was responsible for the violence, student leader Jose Francisco, a member of the Socialist Federation of Rural Students, lays the blame squarely at the feet of the police.

[A man speaks in Spanish]

PATTERSON: Jose Francisco charges that what began as an academic conflict mushroomed into a social one because of the repressive actions of the police. He says the protesters were attacked and gassed, with some held incommunicado for more than one day.

[sound of a street demonstration]

PATTERSON: Accusations of police repression are widespread throughout Guerrero. But not far from where police and students clashed are the offices of the Guerrero State Human Rights Commission. Established in 1990, the Commission was Mexico’s first official local agency set up to hear citizen complaints. It makes nonbinding recommendations to the authorities.

JUAN ALARCON: [speaks in Spanish]

PATTERSON: [summarizing Alarcon] Juan Alarcon is President of the Guerrero State Human Rights Commission. He says that some progress is being made in fostering a human rights culture in the police.

ALARCON: [via a translator] In one way or another they are gaining the knowledge that they should respect human rights and the constitutional guarantees that are granted to all citizens and visitors who come to our country. That’s why there are academies, training courses, and orientations about human rights. New police graduate from academies with psychological, physical, technical, and investigative preparation. And also with the knowledge that they should respect the constitution, the law, and human and civil rights. To sum it up, they graduate with a new mentality.

PATTERSON: But recent statistics from Alarcon’s office show that human rights complaints against police, especially the Guerrero State Judicial Police, continue to be numerous. Juan Alarcon.

ALARCON: [via a translator] Old attitudes as well as some vices and bad practices still exist among some public servants. Above all, among the judicial police who haven’t understood that they should respect human rights. Sometimes in their pursuit against crime and criminals they trample people’s rights. Then we have to request that they be sanctioned in accordance with the law. This is a permanent struggle we’re in.

PATTERSON: Nevertheless, in recent years the United States has stepped up its training programs for the Guerrero State Judicial Police.

[Mexican music playing at a resort hotel

PATTERSON: While sunbathers recently basked in the sun outside the posh lodgings of the Acapulco Radisson, Guerrero State Police, together with officers from throughout Mexico, gathered inside to hear the latest in anti-kidnapping and interrogation techniques from FBI trainers. One of the trainers, Raoul Salinas, estimates he had trained 4,000 Mexican police in the two years prior to this session. What called attention to this particular training was the fact that many of the same agencies being trained by the FBI have had some of their own members previously implicated in kidnapping rings.

ZEFERIN TORREBLANCA: [speaking in Spanish]

PATTERSON: Zeferin Torreblanca is the Mayor of Acapulco. He says he invited the FBI to train his police two years ago. Like other elected officials in Mexico, Toriblanca is turning to foreign police trainers because of a dire need to professionalize Mexican police and curb high rates of crime.

TORIBLANCA: [via a translator] We’ve asked the FBI and we understand that other places have, too, to share with us their experiences, training, and guidance in matters of public security, and whatever they’re disposed to do. We’re hoping it will be in the middle of February when they give a five-day training program to state, municipal, and federal law enforcement authorities. Also, we might do the training with the regional representatives the FBI has in Oaraca and other states next to Guerrero.

PATTERSON: But others question US training for police forces that commit human rights abuses. Some critics cite the Leahy Amendment to the Foreign Operations Act that prohibits assistance to foreign security forces which violate human rights and don’t punish the responsible individuals.

TOM HANSEN: And our argument is that, “Well, if this Leahy—if this law is on the books in the United States then our Embassy ought to follow that law.”

PATTERSON: Tom Hansen coordinates the Mexico Solidarity Network in the United States. Hansen was once deported from Mexico because of his support for indigenous communities in the state of Chiapas.

HANSEN: Yeah, we’ve heard documentation from dozens of campesinos about human rights abuses that are conducted by all kinds of security forces, whether it be the army, the state police, the PFE—the Federal Preventative Police. But we’ve also heard—and this is maybe even more scary—about human rights abuses that have been carried out by paramilitary groups. These are groups that have no official standing in the state but that are often armed and trained by the military or by the police and do the dirty work of those groups at night, out of the spotlight of public opinion. They’re responsible for many of the individual massacres throughout the state. The US government makes the argument that—it’s a pretty ridiculous argument, really—that there’s at lot of, for example, campesinos or community leaders or leaders of civil society who are in prison here in Mexico are in prison because they were arrested by security forces, they were tortured into confessions, and then they use those confessions to imprison these people. And the US government makes the argument, “Well, the reason that they use torture is because they don’t have good police tactics.” I don’t think that has anything to do with it. I think they use torture as a repressive technique and it doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not they have good police investigative tactics or not. I think one of the things clearly that Mexico doesn’t need is more internal security. There, the lack of freedom, the lack of respect for human rights, the lack of respect for civil rights, is rampant throughout this country.

PATTERSON: The US State Department, which is responsible for implementing the Leahy Amendment, declined to go on tape for this broadcast. However, in a phone interview US State Department spokesman Charles Barkley said Washington takes the Leahy Amendment very seriously and makes a good faith effort at quality control. Other US government sources insist that individual officers are screened ahead of time to make sure that known human rights violators are not trained. But a loophole in the Leahy Amendment arguably prevents units like the Guerrero State Judicial Police from being denied training, since in Mexico individual officers are selected for training instead of whole units.

Because no formal Congressional reporting is currently required of the Mexican police training, it’s hard to know the exact scope and expenditures of the programs. And nonfederal agencies like the Arizona Highway Patrol and the El Paso Police Department, which have trained Mexican police, might not even be subject to the Leahy Amendment if they don’t receive certain federal funds to conduct their programs. Another agency that’s jumping on what might be termed the NAFTA police bandwagon is the US Border Patrol.

DOUG MOSIER: Well, the training of Mexican authorities is really part of the Border Safety Initiative, which began in 1998.

PATTERSON: Doug Mosier, a spokesperson for the US Border Patrol in El Paso, Texas. Mosier discusses the recent water rescue training the Border Patrol gave to police and other authorities in Ciudad-Juarez, Mexico. Mosier says the training is needed to save the life of migrants who attempt to cross dangerous canals and waterways into the United States. But Mosier adds that it’s only one piece of an expanding US-Mexico law enforcement relationship.

MOSIER: You know, we have a Border Liaison Unit that works directly with the Mexican liaison unit that works directly with authorities in Mexico on a variety of issues. Everything from developing effective border safety techniques to working on, you know, information that will lead to stopping crimes being committed along the international border. And you know, five years ago that was unheard of. But we have come to the point where I think, and come to the table, so that both countries understand the importance of this. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.

ALMA MAQUITICO: [speaking to an audience at a meeting of human rights activists] If you see that here to the left, we have for example some of…..

PATTERSON: In El Paso, immigrant rights activists recently convened a meeting at which they reported alleged human rights violations by the US Border Patrol and police agencies. Alma Maquitico of the American Friends Service Committee says she supports the Border Patrol’s water rescue training. But Maquitico says such exercises stem from a 1993 US government policy of sealing off the border to job hungry Mexican immigrants.

MAQUITICO: If we didn’t have that operation these people wouldn’t be dying on the border, wouldn’t be trying to cross remote, remote and dangerous areas. That’s what they’re doing right now. They’re not crossing through the traditional points of crossing that they had before. Right now they’re crossing through the desert, through mountains. And actually there has been an increment on the number of criminal organizations that are trafficking with humans. And this is due to the, to this operations, because right now people have to go through these organizations to try to cross the border and to try to enter here into the United States. And we see that these operations are not stopping migration. It’s just increasing the number of deaths.

[a man speaking in Spanish]

PATTERSON: Maquitico says that Juarez City Police, who are being trained by the United States, violate rights outlined by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She says the abuses were documented by her group for a report delivered last year to the UN Conference on Racism in South Africa.

MAQUITICO: The main abuses that were committed in the Ciudad-Juarez area were wrongful confiscation of property. And that included extortion and robbery of personal belongings.

PATTERSON: Meanwhile, US State Department Spokesman Charles Barkley says Washington supports efforts by the administration of Mexican President Vicente Fox to improve policing and deal with human rights offenders. For Common Ground, I’m Kent Patterson reporting.

MCHUGH: Making the case for democracy in East African nations, next on Common Ground.

DR ADRIEN WING: I hope that in this period, post-September 11, we will not create a new Cold War in effect, where terrorism is the only thing that matters. And that we will keep our eye on the importance of continued democratization.

PORTER: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

MCHUGH: Historically, United States foreign policy has paid little attention to Africa. But with Sudan and Somalia being mentioned as potential targets in America’s war on terrorism, that may change.

PORTER: Common Ground’s Cliff Brockman recently spoke with two experts who say the events of September 11 could have both positive and negative impact on US efforts to promote democracy in East African countries.

DR. JOEL BARKAN: Generally, it’s widely accepted that democratic regimes do not usually get involved in armed conflict with each other.

CLIFF BROCKMAN: Dr. Joel Barkan is a political science professor at the University of Iowa. Among his specialties is African democratization.

BARKAN: Democratic regimes are more peaceful internally. More specifically in respect to the African experience, the level of economic development in Africa has not been as high as in other developing areas such as Asia and Latin America. And most people who watch the region have concluded that one of the reasons is that the quality of governance is many of these countries, particularly under authoritarian and military rule, has not been conducive to economic development. And so for the, improving the lives of the people and in terms of directly, the United States perhaps improving trading relationships, a turn to democratic governance would perhaps raise the prospects for economic development in the region.

BROCKMAN: Dr. Adrien Wing is a University of Iowa law professor. She says the US has changed its human rights policies since the end of the Cold War.

DR. ADRIEN WING: The Clinton administration was very interested in human rights issues. The Bush administrations—I and II—much less interested. Certainly since the Bush II administration has taken over it has not really focused on human rights concerns until the events of September 11, which, of course, has forced the administration to focus on foreign policy.

BROCKMAN: It sounds from your writing that you think that human rights policies have been a little ambiguous.

BARKAN: There has been considerable variation in terms of how we apply our policy on democratization and human rights from one country to another. In countries which have suffered from civil wars or particularly harsh conditions such as Rwanda or Uganda, I think we’ve gone a little bit easy, frankly, on those countries in terms of holding up the human rights standards. And Uganda is a case in point where Human Rights Watch has been quite critical recently on their record there. Whereas by contrast, in Kenya, towards Kenya—and I think rightly so, we’ve been much more forceful. So I think there’s been first of all an inconsistency from one country to the next. And there has been very definitely in some countries an inconsistency from one ambassador to the next. It’s the conventional wisdom that policy is made in Washington, which is true. And that the ambassadors no longer count. They’re kind of mouthpieces. But at least in this area a number of countries—and Kenya which is the one I know best—our application of democratization and human rights policy has zigged and zagged as we’ve moved from, through a series of four ambassadors in the last five years. And that clearly has to be, that has to be addressed.

BROCKMAN: US foreign policy seems like it generally focuses on places where we see a threat or we have a financial interest in that country. We don’t really have either in some of these countries. Do we need to encourage more trade?

BARKAN: Well, we do have some potential threats in the East African area. One problem you have across the continent is stable and viable and legitimate regimes. Although there’s a much greater variation than ten years ago. And there is a democratic process that’s evolving in, in many countries. But unevenly. But to take, since we are focusing on East Africa—take Kenya for example. Kenya just by virtues of geography and the way the railroad lines run and its infrastructure left over from the colonial period, is a pivotal place for the entire region. If Kenya were to collapse and become instable and its economy continues to decline as it has for the last ten years, then that has a ripple effect out into Uganda and Tanzania to the south and Rwanda, which is landlocked. And consequently if you have added instability then you could have perhaps another Rwanda. There have been ethnic clashes and issues of ethnic cleansing in, in Kenya. Or you can have a collapse of the state as in eastern Congo. And then the question is, “What then?” The US did not intervene as probably it should have to stop the genocide in Rwanda. We need stable and democratic government in this region. So there’s not a direct threat to us but if you have a collapse we get drawn into this.


WING: And of course Kenya and Tanzania were attacked by terrorists. The embassies were bombed. And so in this post-September 11 emphasis on terrorism, Kenya and Tanzania will be a focus. They may be countries that they look for various terrorists in. And of course there’s Somalia. There’s other countries in this region. And so from that perspective alone the stabilization or democratization in these areas may be looked at differently now.

BARKAN: That’s, if I may add to that….


BARKAN: …That’s very true. We have real concern, for example, that in southern Somalia, where there is an indigenous Islamic fundamentalist movement, that these groups might, in fact, provide havens and that there have been prior connections with Al Qaeda. And consequently it’s become a real concern. I might add though, however, that one of the things I’m concerned about is that in our, our concern about terrorism and the fact that Kenya or Tanzania or Somalia may be harboring terrorists, that we lose sight of the broader thrust of foreign policy that still puts an emphasis on, on democratization. We might slip back into a type of policy we had during the Cold War, where everything is, turns on the litmus test of terrorism and then we see regimes going up in smoke and collapsing in front of us. And were that to happen that’s not in our long-term interest. So we have to keep our eye on two balls here and not just one.

BROCKMAN: You mentioned Rwanda just a minute ago. Adrienne, you’re involved in helping to write the constitution for Rwanda. Would you like to tell us about that, please?

WING: Yes. This past summer I was able to make my first trip to Rwanda as an independent contractor for the State Department. Rwanda is in a two-year process of trying to draft a post-genocide constitution. And so I was one of four Americans brought in, along with people from some African countries, to advise the constitutional commission in this two-year process. Rwanda is under an interim regime, military in nature. The regime is one that’s stopped the genocide in ‘94. They were primarily based in Uganda and came in. And so that regime is not democratic obviously, in the interim. And they are in great fear there will be people from the genocidal regime who will come back into the country from Congo and other places and destabilize the existing government. So they, they want to have a constitution that deals with democratic principles, but at the same time they are really afraid that another genocide may occur. Since the prior regime was composed of people from the majority ethnic group, the Hutu. So if you have true democracy based on one person, one vote, the Hutu’s will win by any standard. And therefore, of course, the Tutsi’s, who are the bulk of the current government, are deathly afraid of being wiped out—literally exterminated once again. So it’s a lot of very tense issues. The balance between survival and democratization.

BARKAN: Adrienne’s comment points out an interesting dilemma here, which is laid bare in Rwanda perhaps more than other places. And that is, does democracy always go with the protection of human rights? And as she just said, not necessarily so, unless you craft some form of power sharing or federalism or even partition. This is a debatable issue in a place like Rwanda. I would say more generally though, that democratization is the best defense of human rights, though some people, particularly lawyers, disagree.

BROCKMAN: In ’94, of course, it was a horrible genocide. The majority party used machetes to kill many of the minority parties. It’s a very violent place. Do you have hope for this country?

WING: I’m not necessarily that optimistic about Rwanda. Being there I’ve, I really felt at any point that there could be a resurgence. Because most of the people who perpetrated this violence were not soldiers. They were neighbors. They were doctors and lawyers and nurses and teachers and nuns and priests. So most of these people still live in Rwanda, and then if you couple them with people in exile who were more of the military or militia from the prior regime, that’s not a very good combo. You can’t round up all the guilty, so to speak. They have over 100,000 people now in custody, ever since ‘94. And it would take 200 years to try all of these people. And they’re only a tiny fraction of the guilty. So I really don’t see how they can effectively and efficiently, and being fair to people’s human rights, grapple with this situation in any way that will result in a permanent peace.

BROCKMAN: It’s a big topic, certainly. But I want to give each of you a chance to maybe just touch on a point that we didn’t discuss about democratization and human rights in East Africa. Adrienne, would you like to go first?

WING: I hope that in this period, post-September 11, that we will not create a new Cold War in effect, where terrorism is the only thing that matters. And that we will keep our eye on the importance of continued democratization, continued and expanded emphasis on human rights in East Africa and other areas of the world outside of whether or not there is any terrorism going on in these countries.


BARKAN: Well, picking up on what Adrienne said, I would endorse that entirely. It’s in our interest for the reasons I said originally. We have a number of critical issues coming up in all three countries in the next couple of years. This coming year in Kenya Daniel Arap Moi, who has been president in Kenya in 1978, is facing a term limit. There’s a big question of whether he’ll step down. There’s going to be an election. The elections in ‘97 and ‘92 were accompanied by quite a bit of ethnic violence. We have an excellent ambassador there and so far we’re maintaining a focus that we’re going to support the continued democratization process there with a hopefully a holding of a better election and a transition from someone who has grudgingly accepted multiparty politics to a younger generation of politician.

The same would go for Uganda, where as Adrienne mentioned before you have a no-party state, essentially a one-party state. And Tanzania which is very quiet—we don’t pay a lot of attention to it—has quite a capable government. And they’ve really moved ahead on economic reforms. Tanzania has had a positive growth rate, although not spectacular, for the last ten years. All that is good for the stability of the region. So as I said before, and echoing what Adrienne just said, we shouldn’t mortgage our foreign policies’ broad objectives just because of the terrorist concern. Which is real and East Africa has been the victim of this. But it’s not the whole picture by any means.

BROCKMAN: Dr. Barkan is also a Senior Consultant to the World Bank and is currently serving as a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. Dr. Wing has served as an advisor to the African National Congress of South Africa and as a consultant to the United Nations on international human rights treaties. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.

PORTER: Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free; cassettes cost $5.00. To place an order or to share your thoughts about the program, write to us at: The Stanley Foundation, 209 Iowa Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Please refer to Program Number 0204. That’s Program Number 0204 To order by credit card you can call us at 563-264-1500. That’s 563-264-1500.

MCHUGH: Transcripts are also available on our Web site: Commongroundradio is all one word. Our e-mail address is For Common Ground, I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Cliff Brockman is our Associate Producer. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Common Ground is produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

© 2002 by The Stanley Foundation

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