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De-Militarize Bush’s Aid Package to Mexico

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It has been five months since President Bush announced his request for a substantial aid package known as the “Merida Initiative” for Mexico and Central America. This package would provide $1.4 billion in funding for counternarcotics, border security and counterterrorism programs in those countries over the next three years.

The first installment of this funding, $500 million for Mexico and $50 million for Central America, has already been included as part of the President’s Iraq emergency supplemental appropriations request—a request that will likely come before Congress in the coming weeks.

Although the package is currently framed as a three-year effort, our experiences with Plan Colombia make it reasonable to expect that any aid that passes this year will continue for the next several years. Now is the key time for grassroots activists to get involved in reshaping the Merida Initiative—and we need your help!

As it stands, the Merida Initiative is consistent with
a failed model of U.S. policy toward Latin America—
one that emphasizes militarization rather than development.

The Merida Initiative itself is a hodgepodge of assistance programs, including aircraft, communications equipment, computer software, and technical assistance and training destined for the military, attorney general’s office, federal police, National Migration Institute, other federal institutions, and, to a far lesser extent, civil society organizations. However, the first installment of the Merida Initiative is dominated by hardware for the Mexican military, namely helicopters and inspection equipment.

We are strongly concerned that such assistance will reinforce the highly flawed counternarcotics strategies utilized by the administration of Mexico’s President Calderón. These strategies rely heavily upon the Mexican military, a force that has been linked to ongoing human rights violations including rape, torture, murder and robbery in the course of counternarcotics and domestic law enforcement operations.

Since his election, President Calderón has deployed over 25,000 additional troops around the country to engage in counternarcotics efforts. The impact this strategy has been felt in communities as reports of horrific human rights violations at the hands of the military have surfaced. Just days ago, soldiers open fired on a vehicle at a military checkpoint in Santiago de Caballeros, Sinaloa, killing four civilians. Other recent violations have included a June 2007 incident in Sinaloa in which soldiers opened fire on a pick-up truck after it failed to stop at a checkpoint, killing three women and two children. In 2007 Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission cited additional reports of sexual assault, torture, and other severe human rights abuses committed by soldiers against civilians in the course of counternarcotics efforts, including the rape of 14 women by soldiers in Coahuila in July 2006. A recent article in Mexican newspaper La Jornada notes a surge in reports of abuses by the Mexican military in the past three years. Far too many of these incidents have gone unpunished as military authorities are solely responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases of abuse by soldiers.

“I understand there are those who say that at times you have to turn to
a more powerful forcesuch as the army, but it seems to me that in the
long term that it is frankly dangerous.”
United Nations High Commissioner
Louise Arbour during February 2008 trip to Mexico

Soldiers are not trained for domestic law enforcement and should not take over policing roles, even in cases where police are tainted by corruption. Rather than perpetuate these human rights abuses, U.S. aid should support a shift away from the use of the military in carrying out counternarcotics activities.

Moreover, the Merida Initiative, if passed as presented by the administration, will further skew U.S. assistance to Latin America in the direction of security and counternarcotics assistance. Unlike aid to Africa, where HIV/AIDS programs have helped improve the United States’ reputation in the region, nearly half of U.S. aid to Latin America is security assistance. As the White House proposes this $550 million package for counternarcotics, it also proposes to reduce assistance for children’s health programs (Child Survival and Health programs) in the region. To be a better neighbor to Latin America, our nation must help to reduce poverty, support public health programs, and help refugees and people displaced by violence and natural disaster.

This is a historic opportunity to change the face of U.S. counternarcotics assistance to a more humane and effective approach. Congress should learn from past mistakes. We don’t need another billion dollar program that exacerbates the human rights situation and has little chance of long-term success in the face of a scourge of drug-related violence. Contact your member of Congress today and tell them to demilitarize the Merida Initiative and instead direct resources towards long-term solutions that promote human rights and address the root of the problem, namely drug treatment and prevention programs in the United States. For more talking points, click here.

Take Action!

1. Contact your member of Congress! To do this, call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Ask to be connected to your House or Senate member (if you’re unsure who it is, just give your state and zip code).

2. Key Members of Congress: We particularly urge folks who are constituents of the following members of Congress to call!

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senate Appropriations Committee, Chair of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee

Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Chair of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee

Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY), House Committee on Appropriations, Chair of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee

Representative Elliot Engel (D-NY), House Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee

Representative Howard Berman (D-CA), Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee

 

With your help, we can encourage Congress to develop humane and sensible policies towards Mexico. Please consider making a call today.