President Bush Signs the Merida Initiative into Law

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This past Monday morning, President Bush signed into law an emergency supplemental spending bill that includes a $400 million aid package to support Mexico in fighting drug-related violence.

On June 30, 2008, President Bush signed the Emergency Supplemental into law, the bulk of which supplies funding for the war in Iraq.  This supplemental also includes $465 million counternarcotics aid package for Mexico, Central America, Haiti and the Dominican Republic known as the Merida Initiative.  The Merida Initiative allocates $400 million for Mexico and $60 for Central America, and $2.5 million each for Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

To see a final version of this bill, click here.  The primary sections on Mexico and Central America can be found on pages 17-19.

Disturbingly, a disproportionately large segment of this aid package, $116.5 million is allocated for equipment and training for the Mexican military, a force that has been linked to serious and ongoing human rights abusesNot only does this funding perpetuate the military's inappropriate role in domestic counternarcotics and law enforcement activities, but it also draws attention and limited resources away from the critical work of reforming and strengthening civilian institutions.  The LAWG has worked with advocates like you to raise awareness about the dangers of military aid.  Although we would have liked to see a 'zero' in this category, efforts of advocates and grassroots activists helped to slash millions of dollars from this fund.

On a more positive note, the plan calls for at least $73.5 million to be spent on programs that support judicial reform, anti-corruption and rule of law activities.  Other beneficial components of the bill include $3 million to assist Mexico in developing a national registry of federal, state and municipal police – a key tool for screening law enforcement officers – and $1 million for the UN High Commission for Human Rights office in Mexico City.

Citing sovereignty concerns, members of President Calderón's cabinet and Mexican policymakers loudly objected to human rights protections and conditions included in the earlier versions of the Merida Initiative.  In response, Mexican human rights organizations, including the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center and Amnesty International-Mexico, sent a letter to US appropriators expressing their concern that human rights provisions be included as a central part of the package.

In the end, congressional leaders revised the language in the final version of the package, but did not eliminate these safeguards all together.

The remaining human rights safeguards 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 these conditions are not met.

As the Merida Initiative is implemented in the coming months, LAWG will work with partners and grassroots activists in the U.S. and Mexico to make certain that the spirit and letter of the human rights safeguards included in the Merida Initiative are adhered to in full.

Finally, U.S. policymakers need to take the call for 'bilateral cooperation' seriously.  Until the United States dedicates significant attention and resources to curb domestic drug demand, develop fair trade policies and halt the flow of guns into Mexico from the U.S., the success of well-intentioned efforts to reduce violence in Mexico – or decrease the availability of drugs on the streets of the U.S. – will be limited at best.