UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet speaks during a press conference in Mexico City, Mexico, on April 9 2019. Picture: AFP/RODRIGO ARANGUA
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet speaks during a press conference in Mexico City, Mexico, on April 9 2019. Picture: AFP/RODRIGO ARANGUA

Mexico City — UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday the deadly toll of Mexico’s rampant gangland violence was reminiscent of the era in her native Chile when thousands died or disappeared during a military dictatorship.

Bachelet, a former Chilean president, concluded a five-day visit to Mexico where she met with victims of violence as well as government officials and pushed for a full accounting of past abuses.

She told reporters at a news conference that stories of anguish she heard from the families of victims reminded her of the darkest days of the police state that Augusto Pinochet oversaw in Chile during the 1970s and 1980s.

“It was like returning to a part of my own history,” she said.

During the military dictatorship in Chile from 1973 to 1990, about 3,000 people were killed or disappeared and 28,000 others were victims of torture, including Bachelet and her father, an air force general.

In Mexico, homicides rose by one-third in 2018, according to government data, breaking a record for the second consecutive year as more than 33,000 murder cases were opened.

In her prepared remarks, Bachelet cited other “terrifying figures,” including 26,000 bodies that Mexican officials have not been able to identify and 850 mass graves dug up.

“It was moving for me to meet with the families,” she said. “They have the same cries, the same calls for truth and justice.” 

Since late 2006, vicious internecine strife among drug cartels and their clashes with the state have been blamed for more than 200,000 deaths in Mexico.

The government has succeeded in taking down cartel bosses, but that has often led to fragmentation of the gangs and more killings.

Bachelet said the violence in Mexico had unique characteristics and that the country suffered from weak rule of law.

“The truth is you have laws for everything,” she said, her voice rising. “There isn’t a lack of laws, but rather a need to implement them.”

Asked about crisis-racked Venezuela, Bachelet said her office continued to monitor the violation of human rights and humanitarian needs in the South American country.

In March, Bachelet issued a blistering report on excessive use of force by Venezuelan security forces and pro-government militias, including extra-judicial executions.

She said a visit to Venezuela was possible relatively soon, but emphasised she wanted to guard her office’s neutrality.

Reuters