Enrique Peña Nieto is president of a North American country whose police officers have become the targets of public outcry for their role in the awful deaths of guiltless people. No, he isn’t president of the United States, of course. Yet critics seem to believe President Obama possesses even the narrowest sliver of ground from which condemn his Mexican counterpart’s record on human rights. He doesn’t.
I understand why people on both sides of Río Bravo wanted to see Peña Nieto receive a tongue-lashing from the leader of the free world during his visit to the White House on Tuesday, but that was never going to happen—not even in private.
Had Obama uttered the name Iguala —where 43 students disappeared after they were detained by local police this past September and handed over to cartel members— the devilishly debonair Peña Nieto would’ve countered with a passing reference to Ferguson, Beavercreek or Staten Island. As if I needed to remind anyone, in those three cases, which occurred within the span of a single month last year, the lives of unarmed black men were cut short at the hands of police officers.
Had Obama opted to discuss the failures of Mexico’s criminal justice system —which has preserved Mexico’s reputation as a land of rampant impunity and corruption— the pretty-boy PRI presidente could’ve mentioned the recent non-indictment verdicts in Missouri, Ohio and New York. There wasn’t even a trial; merely the pretense of justice.
And if Obama wanted to talk about military abuses and torture, he would’ve immediately been asked how his shuttering of Gitmo was coming along. It was only last month that the Senate released a report detailing just how sadistic (and ineffective) the CIA’s torture of detainees was during the Bush years. Obama could blame it all on his predecessor, but here we are, nearly six years into the Hope & Change of Obama’s presidency, and there are still prisoners (127 of them) being held at Gitmo, many of them having spent years in solitary confinement without so much as being charged with a crime. Plus, lest we forget, the prison at Guantanamo Bay is part of a U.S. naval base located in a foreign country whose government objects to any imperialistic presence, and whose leaders Washington has made its sworn enemy.
At the end of the day, through the Mérida Initiative —commonly known as “Plan Mexico”— the presidents of Mexico and the United States are both architects of the human rights abuses endemic to Mexico. Mexican military and police officers may be the perpetrators of countless assaults on the public peace, but the United States, which has provided hundreds of millions in funds to such actors, is undoubtedly their chief sponsor. Taking into account American dominance of the Mexican economy, the person occupying Los Pinos is no more to blame for Mexico’s dysfunction than the U.S. president, as Mexican institutions are more or less proxies for U.S. interests.
And must I get into the president’s liberal use of drones to deliver steely death from the skies on an untold number of innocent people across the Arab world?
President Obama may seem aloof, but he’s no fool. He’s smart enough to know a guy shouldn’t throw stones when he lives in a glass house—no matter what color it may be.
Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.