Harvard is taking flack for handing a fellowship to former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who led an assault on organized crime that plunged his country into a human rights crisis.
Calderón is set to begin lecturing at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government this month as the university’s first Angelopoulous Global Public Leaders fellow. Critics point to the startling violence that characterized Calderón’s presidency, saying he shouldn’t be rewarded with a paid position at a prestigious university.
“In awarding Mr. Calderón a high-profile fellowship, the Kennedy School is telling the world that former leaders, however questionable their leadership, are worthy of recognition,” Marion Lloyd, a Harvard alum and researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education. “It is an unfortunate and dangerous message.”
An estimated 60,000 people died violent deaths during Calderón’s presidency. Mexico’s attorney general has documented 25,000 disappearances during that time.
While most of the violence can be attributed to fighting between drug cartels, the Mexican military and police have committed thousands of human rights abuses. A Human Rights Watch report released Nov. 2011 found evidence tying Mexican security forces to more than 170 cases of torture, 39 disappearances, and 24 extrajudicial killings during Calderón’s presidency.
Human rights concerns led retired Border Patrol agent John Randolph to start a petition against Calderón’s appointment on Change.org that had fielded 7,423 signatures by Monday.
"I can't help but think of the Mexican people who have tried to legitimately gain asylum in the United States because of the drug war—and have been turned down," Randolph told Mother Jones. "How can Calderón waltz in and work for Harvard?"
But many Harvard faculty defend the decision to bring Calderón on board, saying it will give students a chance to interact with a prominent world leader.
“I am certain...that this is a good person, a good president, and that the Kennedy School did the right thing to appoint him as Fellow,” Harvard professor Jorge Dominguez wrote in an email to The Crimson, the university’s student paper.
Before accepting the fellowship from Harvard, Calderón had discussed the possibility of visiting the University of Texas at Austin. Though he was never extended an offer, U.T. students protested the decision.
Calderón is himself a Harvard graduate, having earned his M.A. in public administration from the university in 2000.
It isn’t the first time a Latin American president’s university appointment has stirred controversy. Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe’s faced protests on Georgetown University’s campus by students angry at his appointment because of the stains on his human rights record.