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Cablegate: Mexican Senate Chooses Front-Runner to Head Human

VZCZCXRO3258
RR RUEHCD RUEHGD RUEHHO RUEHMC RUEHNG RUEHNL RUEHRD RUEHRS RUEHTM
DE RUEHME #3172/01 3131405
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 091405Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY MEXICO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8918
INFO RUEHXC/ALL US CONSULATES IN MEXICO COLLECTIVE
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 1164
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0367
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHME/USMLO MEXICO CITY MX
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEHME/USDAO MEXICO CITY MX

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MEXICO 003172

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR WHA DAS JACOBSON, OFFICE DIRECTOR LEE, D
STAFF CUE, AND INL HOHMAN. NSC FOR O'REILLY.

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM PINR UN MX
SUBJECT: MEXICAN SENATE CHOOSES FRONT-RUNNER TO HEAD HUMAN
RIGHTS COMMISSION

1. (SBU) Summary: The Mexican Senate's confirmation, on
November 5, of Raul Plasencia Villanueva as the new President
of Mexico's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) is a
welcome leadership change that could herald a more activist
and transparent era for an important state-sponsored advocate
for human rights. While the CNDH has made valuable
contributions since 1990, providing detailed and
authoritative information on specific human rights cases and
usefully documenting systematic obstacles to progress, it has
suffered under the direction of Jose Luis Soberanes,
President of the Commission since it became autonomous in
1999. Soberanes, dogged by rumors of personal corruption and
criticized for not addressing aggressively charges against
the military, ends his term on November 15. We know Plasencia
as a knowledgeable and careful defender of human rights,
perhaps the best choice of the many who were vying for the
post. End Summary.

Senate Chooses from a Crowded Slate...

2. (U) The Mexican Senate brought a contentious and somewhat
controversial selection process to a close on November 5,
with its choice of Raul Plasencia Villanueva to be the next
President of the CNDH. The Senate's decision, late in
October, to delay action and extend the confirmation
deadline, had already elicited some expression of concern
from the NGO community. The Senate's committees on Human
Rights, Justice and Legislative Studies had released a list
of eligible candidates, eliminating 13 out of 39 candidates
in early October. NGOs then had two days to express their
views regarding the process and eligible candidates,
including an open forum discussion on October 15. The
candidates were asked to appear before the Senate to explain
why they wanted to become CNDH's new president and review
their proposals for the CNDH's future work. In the final
vote on November 5, Plasencia came out on top with 78 votes,
well ahead of the other two finalists: Emilio Alvarez Icaza
(32 votes) and Luis Raul Gonzalez (2 votes). Plasencia will
be sworn in on November 10 in an inauguration ceremony before
the Mexican Senate and will take office on November 17.


To Head Mexico's official Human Rights Watchdog

3. (U) CNDH was created in response to demands and pressure
on Mexico's government to investigate crimes of the "dirty
war" during the 1970s, with a mandate to investigate, report
and recommend measures to address human rights concerns.
Despite several attempts at creating a state level organ, it
was not until 1989 that Mexico's Secretariat of Government
(SEGOB) created a General Human Rights Directorate as a
subordinate office tasked with looking into allegations of
human rights abuses. In 1990, under presidential decree, the
Directorate was renamed the National Human Rights Commission
(CNDH). CNDH remained a part of the SEGOB until 1999 when
the Mexican Congress adopted a constitutional reform
declaring it autonomous and freeing it from executive
oversight. CNDH continues, however, to rely entirely on the
Congress for its funding, which has been generous -- USD 72
million last year to perform its daily duties.

4. (U) CNDH is comprised of five major offices: the
Presidency, the Consultant Council, its Technical
Secretariat, the Executive Secretariat, and the General
Visitorships. Of these offices, the two most important are
the Consultant Council, which consists of ten academics
appointed by the Senate to establish CNDH's guidelines,
approve internal rules and oversee the budget (the CNDH
president serves as the head of the Council), and the General
Visitorships, of which there are five undersecretaries or
"Visitors", who are responsible for investigating allegations
of human rights abuses. Each Visitorship is assigned to
investigate specific complaints, such as the dirty war,
gender violence, trafficking in persons, migration, prison
conditions, and indigenous affairs.


Front Runner Wins...


MEXICO 00003172 002 OF 003


5. (SBU) As the CNDH's current First Visitor -- the second
highest position within the CNDH -- Plascencia has ten years
of experience in the human rights arena. He has taught on
human rights related topics at various universities across
the country for more than 20 years, and is currently a
professor at the prestigious National Autonomous University
of Mexico (UNAM). Plasencia holds a Bachelor's, Master's, and
Ph.D. degree in law. He is viewed as calm, prudent and
knowledgeable, but has been criticized for being too close to
current President Soberanes. Plascencia was clearly the front
runner, with the most influential contacts and the support of
29 of 31 State Human Rights Commissions. He was also the
favorite of Isabel Miranda Wallace, influential and
well-known for her proactive role in solving the case of her
kidnapped son. In the end, Plascencia's work in CNDH over the
last ten years and his bi-partisan support among PAN and PRI
legislators likely helped carry the day. To charges that his
Presidency would represent an extension of Soberanes,
leadership. Plasencia has countered with a commitment to seek
strengthened relations with NGOs, as well as a restructuring
and consolidation of CNDH activities.


Others Fall Short

7. (SBU) In Mexico it is not just the winners that tell the
story. The other two finalists that fell short of the needed
votes included:

-- Emilio Alvarez Icaza: One of the three finalists, Icaza
finished a respectable second. Former President of the Human
Rights Commission of Mexico City, Alvarez worked for CENCOS,
an NGO dedicated to the protection of journalists. He holds a
Bachelor's degree in psychology and a Master's in the social
sciences. He was criticized severely by conservative groups
for supporting the decriminalization of abortion in Mexico
City, which was backed by the Democratic Revolutionary Party
(PRD), but not by the United Left Faction of Andres Manuel
Lopez Obrador (AMLO). His support for the initiative likely
cost him crucial votes.

-- Luis Raul Gonzalez Perez: Currently UNAM's General
Counsel, Gonzalez finished a very distant third. He served
as a CNDH official in charge of the Journalists, program and
was former First Visitor of CNDH during the Jorge Carpizo and
Jorge Madrazo administrations, when CNDH was created. He was
also a prosecutor at the Office of the Attorney General (PGR)
in charge of the investigation into the assassination of
Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) presidential
candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio. He is aligned with Carpizo,
who is close to former PRI President Carlos Salinas.
Gonzalez' poor showing at the hearing, at which Plascencia
outshone him, cost him critical support.


Reaction to Plasencia's Appointment

8. (SBU) Opinions on Plascencia differ, with detractors
worried about his close ties to Soberanes. Carlos Heredia
from the Center for Investigation and Economics (CIDE) told
Poloff that he thought Alvarez Icaza was the most independent
and promising candidate and lamented his defeat. He said
that CIDE would join other groups in monitoring Plascencia's
performance to make sure that he implements his proposals and
improves CNDH policy. Representatives from leading Human
Rights NGO Fray Francisco de Vitorio Center, registered
disappointment with the result, which they see as a
continuation of the much criticized Soberanes era. On the
other hand, more than 500 NGOs publicly expressed their
support for Plascencia's presidency, encouraging him to
strengthen CNDH's relationship with the NGO community.

Comment

9. (SBU) Plasencia has promised to present a number of
reforms to Congress within the first 100 days of his tenure,
including an initiative to strengthen CNDH's ability to
enforce its recommendations. If he is successful he could
help fulfill the unrealized potential in the CNDH, an

MEXICO 00003172 003 OF 003


important human rights institution without parallel in the
rest of the continent. While it can produce comprehensive
reports that are impressive, the CNDH is open to political
pressures that often dilute its effectiveness. The new CNDH
president will need to build closer ties with the broader
human rights community and exert more pressure on government
agencies to end impunity for abuses. It can also help to
propose practical remedies for long-standing problems and
promote needed constitutional reform. In the past, CNDH
investigators have been resourceful in documenting abuses
and,in some instances, proactive in promoting structural
reforms. Plasencia can help build a CNDH that works
constructively with government and the NGO community on
practical ways to reinforce civil society and strengthen the
Mexican Government's commitment to addressing human rights
problems.
Visit Mexico City's Classified Web Site at
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/wha/mexicocity and the North American
Partnership Blog at http://www.intelink.gov/communities/state/nap /
PASCUAL

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