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Mexico and the Merida Initiative: Surveying the Risks Ahead

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When the Bush Administration and the U.S. Congress contemplated a dramatic expansion in counternarcotics aid to Mexico, also known as the Merida Initiative or Plan Mexico, the LAWG and partner U.S. organizations joined with Mexican human rights organizations to raise concerns and recommendations aimed at pushing the package away from support for Mexico's military, a force that has been linked to serious and ongoing human rights abuses, and towards measures that safeguard human rights, strengthen civilian institutions, and curb domestic drug demand.

 

Mexico and the Merida Initiative:
Surveying the Risks Ahead

When the Bush Administration and the U.S. Congress contemplated a dramatic expansion in counternarcotics aid to Mexico, also known as the Merida Initiative or Plan Mexico, the LAWG and partner U.S. organizations joined with Mexican human rights organizations to raise concerns and recommendations aimed at pushing the package away from support for Mexico's military, a force that has been linked to serious and ongoing human rights abuses, and towards measures that safeguard human rights, strengthen civilian institutions, and curb domestic drug demand.

The pressure did help to reduce proposed aid to Mexico’s military. However, we remain deeply concerned that the final package did approve an expansion of U.S. aid to the military and encouraged a role for the Mexican military in domestic law enforcement.  Moreover, a strong lobbying effort by the Mexican government at the last minute resulted in weakened human rights provisions.  The Mexican government threatened to walk away from the package if the State Department could “certify” that Mexico met reasonable human rights conditions intended to reduce impunity, and the conditions were softened.

While our first choice would have been zero aid to the Mexican military and our second choice would have been strong, binding human rights conditions, we now need to work with what we have while trying to change the aid and the conditions in future years.  The safeguards in the final version of the assistance package do require the State Department to report to Congress on the Mexican government's progress in: Improving the transparency and accountability of federal, state and municipal police; ensuring that civilian authorities are investigating and prosecuting members of police and military forces who have been credibly alleged to have committed human rights violations; engaging in consultation with Mexican human rights organizations; and enforcing the prohibition of testimony obtained through torture.  Fifteen percent of funds for the military and police could be withheld if the Mexican government fails to demonstrate adequate progress in these areas.  Although this sounds like a weak hook, our experience with human rights conditions in Colombia is that when used effectively, they can push both governments to focus more on investigating and prosecuting human rights crimes by the security forces.  We will seek to apply some of that experience in Mexico. 

In late September, the LAWGEF and partner organizations in the United States and Mexico, including the Washington Office on Latin America, Human Rights Watch, Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez and the Human Rights Network "Todos los derechos para todas y todos," and others, co-organized a workshop with civil society organizations from Mexico City and other regions of Mexico to discuss the Merida Initiative.  In addition to sharing information about the content of the Merida Initiative, the central theme of this workshop focused on how advocates can take full advantage of the limited human rights safeguards incorporated into the initiative, especially those designed to ensure greater accountability for human rights abuses committed by Mexican federal police forces and the military.

In the coming months, LAWGEF will be working with partner organizations in Mexico and the United States to monitor and affect programs funded by the Merida Initiative.   We will be documenting and presenting concerns regarding the Mexican security forces’ human rights performance.  Examining lessons learned from Colombian colleagues, we will work to chart a plan to affect future U.S. funding priorities and policies to strengthen, not undercut, human rights and the rule of law in Mexico.