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Freed Mexican Army General Calls for More Civilian Control Over Military

In Mexico, an army general who was recently freed from prison by President Vicente Fox is calling for more civilian control over the military. A proposal to create an ombudsman is meeting with stiff resistance in the armed forces.

Attending a conference at the Autonomous National University of Mexico, or UNAM, General Jose Francisco Gallardo reiterated his support for the creation of a military ombudsman. He said it is important to create this institution because it will allow the president of the Republic, the Mexican civil government, to maintain the Mexican Army under control.

General Gallardo was jailed by a military court in 1993 on charges of embezzlement and defamation. This came one month after he had published an article criticizing the military's human rights record and calling for the creation of an ombudsman. The imprisonment of General Gallardo became a rallying cause for human rights groups here in Mexico and around the world, who called him a prisoner of conscience. President Fox commuted the 55-year-old general's sentence and had him released earlier this month.

Senior army officials have rejected the idea of a human rights ombudsman for the military, in spite of a deluge of recent reports linking soldiers to rights abuses of the past. Military leaders say their members should only be judged by military courts.

Since his release, General Gallardo has continued his calls for military reform and even hinted that he might run for office after he leaves active service. In comments to reporters at UNAM Thursday, he said he had been visited in prison by prominent human rights attorney Digna Ochoa, who was murdered here in Mexico City in October of last year. General Gallardo said he may have information that would be useful to the investigation.

He declined to go into detail about his meeting with the well-known attorney, whose clients included a number of people who claimed to have been persecuted by the military. Human rights activists have accused the military of involvement in her murder. General Gallardo said he wants to provide the information he has to investigators, but that no one from the city Attorney General's office has called on him yet.