Mexico should redouble its efforts to arrest former officials charged with committing past abuses, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to President Vicente Fox today. While meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush later this week, Fox should request the United States to share information that could be useful to the Mexican special prosecutor investigating “dirty war” crimes.

"President Fox’s decision to create the special prosecutor’s office appears finally to be bearing fruit,” said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, referring to the capture of former federal security chief Miguel Nazar Haro last month. "In other countries in the region, the first arrest of this sort has proven to be decisive in tipping the scales against impunity."

On February 18, federal authorities arrested Nazar Haro in Mexico City to face charges for his alleged participation in the 1975 forced disappearance of Jesús Piedra Ibarra, a member of a leftist guerrilla organization. This was the first arrest obtained by the special prosecutor that Mexican President Vicente Fox appointed in 2001 to investigate and prosecute human rights violations committed under previous governments. A federal judge later confirmed that the case will go to trial. Yesterday another judge announced that Nazar Haro will also be tried for his alleged role in the forced disappearance of Ignacio Arturo Salas Obregón, a founder of the organization in which Piedra Ibarra participated.

Human Rights Watch said in its letter that it is important not to overlook the fact that two other suspects in the same case, Luis de la Barreda Moreno and Juventino Romero Cisneros, remain at large despite arrest warrants issued against them over two months ago.

Another suspect, Isidro Galeana, was able to elude capture for several weeks, until his death in January. Particularly disturbing about the Galeana case were reports that he was being protected by local policemen in Guerrero, who served as his bodyguards when they should have been arresting him.

President Fox should devote the same attention and resources to these cases that his government has devoted to its successful efforts in recent years to arrest some of the country’s most powerful and violent drug traffickers, Human Rights Watch said. The Mexican government should investigate reports that Galeana received support from local police officers.

Human Rights Watch also pointed out that, for justice to prevail, it is not enough for suspects to be arrested; they must also be fairly tried and, where proven guilty, convicted. In order to obtain evidence, it is critically important that the special prosecutor receive more active cooperation from the Mexican military, which played an important role in internal security operations during the era when the abuses under investigation were committed.

President Fox should use his meeting this week with President George W. Bush to request that the United States share the information it possesses its government archives on the Mexican “dirty war,” Human Rights Watch said. There is good reason to think the United States possesses relevant information on Nazar Haro, given that he served as a liaison for the CIA and was investigated by a federal prosecutor and briefly arrested to face charges for alleged participation in a car theft ring, only escaping prosecution by posting bail and fleeing the country.