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Mexico: The United States Should Help, But How?

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Day after day, stories of nightmarish stories of gangland slayings and growing violence that affects the lives of countless families and communities across Mexico are splashed across the media.  A recent U.S. Joint Forces Command report ominously projected that Mexico may be on the verge of becoming a “failed state.”  Governor Rick Perry of Texas suggested that 1,000 troops be deployed at the U.S.-Mexico border to repel “spillover” violence.  In recent weeks, these troubling forecasts contributed to an unprecedented spurt of congressional hearings that ask the question – how should the U.S. respond to spiraling drug-cartel related violence in Mexico? 

For one thing, we do not want to see solutions that only leave more problems in their wake: U.S. support for the Mexican military in domestic law enforcement and U.S. troops or National Guard on the U.S.-Mexico border, which will only aggravate abuses of human rights and civil liberties on both sides of the border.

LAWGEF Director Lisa Haugaard was able to raise this and other concerns when she was invited to testify at a hearing on the Merida Initiative held by the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations in early March.

In her testimony, Lisa outlines some ways in which the U.S. must shoulder its own responsibilities for the violence, and then provides suggestions as to how the United States can ensure its aid and policies strengthen—not undermine—respect for human rights. We thought we’d share a few key snippets from her testimony below. If you’d like to read her testimony in its entirety, you can view it here.

“Expanding and improving treatment and prevention would be the single most important contribution that the U.S. government could make in addressing the problem caused by the illicit drug trade in Mexico and Central America.”

“The United States must also do its part to curb the “iron river” of assault weapons into Mexico…According to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), 90 percent of the weapons confiscated from organized crime in Mexico originate in the United States.”

“The United States should not provide support for a military role in domestic law enforcement and should encourage the Mexican government to make clear its exit strategy for withdrawing the military from public security.”

“The growing role of the Mexican military in public security is resulting in increased human rights violations against the civilian population.  This is reflected in the rising number of complaints filed against Mexico’s Department of Defense (SEDENA) before the National Human Rights Commission, which more than doubled during the first year of the Calderón administration, rising from 182 in 2006 to 367 in 2007. …Abuses by members of the military are not effectively investigated and prosecuted, resulting in impunity in such cases.”

“The concerns and first-hand perspectives of elected officials, law enforcement officials and community stakeholders from the border region must be taken into consideration in the design and oversight of border enforcement measures and the national debate over responses to the violence in Mexico.”

“The U.S. government tends to conceptualize human rights as including human rights training for security forces or otherwise budgeting funding for human rights activities….[this] is not sufficient.  U.S. policy must also pay attention to structural reforms…”

“Human rights must be central to U.S. policy…  For human rights improvement, diplomacy and dialogue, not just aid and training, is the answer.”