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Road blocks: Soldiers told: ‘Don’t shoot’

April 28, 2012

The Mexican military should not shoot at cars that fail to stop at roadblocks, unless they or the general population face a serious and imminent danger, according to guidelines issued by the federal government this week.

The use of firearms will be permitted “only in the event that the driver of a vehicle or crew of a vessel does not obey the order to stop” and “endangers the life or physical safety of others or the military, in which case the latter can directly implement the level of force as is strictly necessary.”

The order clarifies that “when the use of firearms is unavoidable, officers should exercise restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense, with the objective of minimizing damage and injury.”

With these measures, “Mexico takes a fundamental step toward the professionalization of police investigation work and, of course, in ensuring and preserving human rights,” said President Felipe Calderon.

The new measures should go some way to assuage drivers’ fears over approaching military checkpoints in Mexico. Roadblocks are particularly common in the north of the country, most affecting snow birds driving back up to the States, or vacationers in the Baja California peninsula.

A spate of violent incidents in recent years has caused considerable concern over roadblock safety.

In June 2007, Mexican soldiers shot and killed three children and two women when their vehicle failed to stop at a military roadblock in Sinaloa. Witnesses said the soldiers shot more than a dozen rounds into the vehicle.

Then, in May 2008, a U.S. marine was wounded when Mexican soldiers fired on his vehicle, having failed to stop at a roadblock outside the border town of Rosarito. More recently, two children were among the dead when the military opened fire on a a family of 13 traveling in a truck through Tamaulipas in April 2010.

Compounding the problem is the fact that travelers cannot always be sure that checkpoints they encounter are not phony roadblocks operated by criminal gangs in order to rob or even abduct passersby.

A U.S. State Department warning from February 2012 highlighted “reports of roadblocks and false checkpoints on highways between the states of Zacatecas and Jalisco,” while a previous warning from April 2011 noted that “concerns include roadblocks placed by individuals posing as police or military personnel.”

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