Feb 28, 2009

Ex-Chihuahua governor is new Mexican ambassador to Canada

Article in the Canadian press about Francisco Barrio:


Controversy greets new Mexican ambassador

Former state governor refused inquiry into rapes, murders of hundreds of women
Feb 26, 2009 05:03 PM

OTTAWA – Mexico's new ambassador to Canada arrived in the diplomatic corps Thursday trailing some unpleasant baggage, his appointment protested by rights organizations in both countries.
Francisco Barrio Terrazas presented his credentials to Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean in the traditional ceremony Thursday at Rideau Hall. He is a well-connected politician with the ruling PAN party in Mexico, and has occupied a series of important posts at different levels of government.
It is his legacy as governor of the border state of Chihuahua that has garnered the most criticism. During his mandate, the rapes and murders of hundreds of women and girls began in the industrial city of Juarez. Barrio Terrazas famously dismissed the number of women who had died to that point as nothing unusual, and suggested the victims were to blame for walking in dark places and dressing provocatively.
He resisted calling a special investigation until the final year of his mandate in 1998, and then told the New York Times: "It's been very well handled."
Mexico's national human-rights commission had a different view, criticizing the state administration for mishandling the investigation and for the attitude taken toward the women and their families. A subsquent federal inquiry found no fraudulent activity in the Chihuahua investigations, but said the authorities had a substantial lack of training and resources.
The FBI and investigative reporters have theories on the murders, and all are connected to organized crime.
"We can't accept that Canada, a model country that's culture is based on the respect of human rights and rule of law, could shelter a person who tolerated the murder and rapes of women and girls," the Juarez-based group May our Daughters Come Home said in a release.
The Quebec Federation of Women wrote a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper this week saying it was "deeply concerned" about Barrio Terrazas' appointment.
"We ask that the Canadian government remind the Mexican government of its international and national commitments to uphold women's rights and that it contribute adequate resources to prevent and combat all acts of violence against women," the letter reads.
"Mr. Barrio Terrazas' past doesn't give us any guarantee that as Mexico's representative he would be sensitive to this issue, quite the contrary."
The Governor General, who was aware of Barrio Terrazas's background, made reference in her prepared remarks to the commitment Canada and Mexico share to promote certain values.
"Values such as the rule of law, respect for human dignity, equality between women and men, freedom of speech and the responsibility to act," Jean said as she addressed Barrio Terrazas directly.
The ambassador was not available for comment Thursday. In an interview in 2004, he acknowledged there had been mistakes made in the investigations, but pointed to a number of arrests that had been made and sentences handed down.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Office said Canada accepted President Felipe Calderon's appointment of Barrio Terrazas. Harper has built a strong relationship with Calderon over the past two years.
"Mexico's President Calderon is introducing deep reforms of the judicial sector and human rights institutions in Mexcio and we applaud Mexico for its progress in these areas," said Karine Leroux.
The controversy around Barrio Terrazas does not end with the Juarez murders.
When he came to the post in 1992 with much fanfare, he was the first governor to be elected from a party other than the long-ruling PRI. He vowed to stamp out corruption in the state, but observers say that drug cartels got an even stronger hold on the state of Chihuahua during his mandate. Today, Chihuahua is the front-line of Mexico's debilitating drug wars.
Barrio Terrazas went on to become the country's anti-corruption czar under former President Vicente Fox.
Tony Payan, a Mexico expert at the University of Texas at El Paso, called it "puzzling" that Barrio Terrazas was selected as Mexico's representative in Canada, given what the professor characterizes as a unremarkable career.
"During the Fox administration, the drug cartels penetrated the federal police and the security apparatus in Mexico in unprecedented levels, when (Barrio Terrazas) was the man in charge of making sure the federal bureaucracy operated without fraud, waste and abuse," said Payan.
"Fraud, waste and abuse grew enormously under his watch."
Murders in the city of Juarez continue unabated, compounded by the surge in organized drug crime around the city. The city's mayor has moved his family to Texas, and this week assassins killed the bodyguard of the current governor of Chihuahua.
Barrio Terrazas recently told a reporter he was coming to Canada partly because of the poor security situation in his home state.