In a story that could be pulled right out of Roberto Bolaño's haunting posthumous novel 2666, about a thinly-disguised Ciudad Juarez — where the violent murders of hundreds of women go unsolved for years — the Mexican government publicly apologized yesterday to an indigenous woman named Valentina Rosendo Cantu, who, along with Ines Fernandez, was raped by soldiers while washing her clothes in a river when she was seventeen in 2002. And not a a moment too soon.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Rosendo read a prepared statement yesterday at a ceremony held in Mexico City's Museum of Memory and Tolerance, where she also accepted the formal mea cuplas from government officials such as Alejandro Poire, who said that it is up to the Mexican government to bolster the institutions that safeguard citizens' rights. This might seem like a straightforward task for anyone assuming that Mexico's law enforcement, however corrupt, is at least a nominal steward of public safety, but a handy little Mexican drug violence Q & A on the Newark Star-Ledger's blog paints a different picture. According to Linda Ocasion of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson center in D.C.,
Law enforcement agencies have historically existed to protect the regime and did not prioritize crime-fighting, investigations and prosecuting people. This has begun to change slowly over the past decade, but there continues to be a lack of training and professionalization, a lack of capacity to prosecute crimes. They have a criminal justice system that depends on confession and relies on pretrial detention. The federal criminal justice system was not based on a presumption of innocence until recently, and trials are written, not oral, and they are not public. Corruption is part of it; it's not a transparent system, but the system itself is partly at fault.
The system is especially at fault when law enforcement officials turn on citizens and the nine-year old Rosendo case illustrates the glaring injustice that faces the most marginalized group in Mexico — indigenous women, who, because of extreme poverty and language barriers, are often socially excluded. A member of the Me'phaa community in Mexico's southern state of Guerrero, Rosendo and fellow victim Fernandez made their case to local officials, who, despite the support the women received from human rights groups, dismissed the women until the case reached Inter-America Court of Human Rights.
The Rosendo case is merely one of many military abuses that international courts have forced Mexico to acknowledge and accept responsibility for. With reports of new violence almost daily, corrupt federal agencies, and an army that bear more resemblance to a band of marauding Visigoths, one wonders just how President Felip Calderón's administration can offer Mexican citizens anything other than an, "Our bad, everyone" as the country's institutions continue to fail its most vulnerable citizens. And, lest you take any solace in the fact that this case, at least, has been resolved, consider what Rosendo reminded her contrite audience yesterday: the soldiers who raped her are still at large.
Image via Gilmanshin/Shutterstock.