Raises Human Rights Concerns
by Renata Rendon
Despite the poor human rights record of Mexico's law enforcement agencies, Congress has been deliberating a Bush administration proposal the Merida Initiative-to provide $1.4 billion over three years to Mexico and Central America to combat "drug trafficking, transnational crime and terrorism in the Western Hemisphere." The Bush administration's first request for funding amounted to $550 million, most of which is proposed for equipment for Mexico's law enforcement and criminal justice systems.
The U.S. State Department acknowledges that impunity and corruption are serious problems within the Mexican justice system and that the drug cartels themselves are composed of many former-and current-police. At a Senate hearing in November, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) raised serious concerns about human rights violations in Mexico, citing a report by the U.N. Committee Against Torture that found that Mexican police "commonly use torture and resort to it systematically as another method of criminal investigation."
Amnesty International's foremost concern about the Merida Initiative is the lack of clear procedures for monitoring the arrest and detention of criminal suspects, their treatment in detention, and investigations of alleged abuses by members of the public security and criminal justice systems. Without such monitoring, it is possible that Mexican authorities could use U.S. equipment to silence social movements and target human rights defenders who speak out against corruption.
Moreover, approximately half the $500 million slated for Mexico would pay for helicopters for the Mexican military, which has taken on an expanded role in law enforcement activities and counternarcotics operations and which operates with almost complete impunity. Mexico's Human Rights Commission recently reported that the military was involved in serious human rights violations, including torture, rape and homicide, while executing counter-narcotics operations in 2007.
A large portion of the aid package, approximately $120 million, would support Mexico's Federal Attorney General's Office. The current attorney general, Eduardo Medina Mora, was head of public security in 2006, when federal police were implicated in serious human rights violations in their response to protests by peasant organizations in the town of San Salvador Atenco. The Human Rights Commission reported 2 killings, 200 cases of torture and other ill-treatment and 26 cases of rape or sexual assault of female detainees during the crackdown. Mora rejected the commission's recommendations to investigate the role federal police played in the abuses.
AIUSA is urging Congress to view the Merida Initiative as an opportunity to address deep flaws in Mexico's law enforcement institutions and promote the incorporation of human rights into regional security strategies.