Two years since the passage of the Mérida Initiative – a $1.4 Billion military aid package to combat narco trafficking in Mexico – the country is experiencing more violence than ever. Dallas News reported that 2009 has been Mérida’s bloodiest year yet, “with more than 6,000 dead, including about 2,280 just in Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso.” But even more disturbing is the fact that blame for the violence is falling increasingly on the U.S.-funded military.
According to Human Rights Watch:
Since Calderón deployed more than 40,000 troops to combat drug-related violence, Mexican soldiers engaged in counternarcotics operations have repeatedly committed egregious abuses against civilians – including rape, torture, and killing. Last year, the country’s human rights ombudsman received 1,230 complaints of military abuses, a six-fold increase over the past three years.
The problem is largely rooted in the military’s lack of accountability within the Mexican legal system. Kristen Bricker of Narcosphere News points out that, according to Mexico’s Federal Constitution:
A soldier that has been accused of human rights violations has legal recourse in a civilian court if he believes justice has not been served in a military tribunal, but that a civilian victim has no such right. If a civilian victim of human rights abuse does not obtain justice in a military tribunal, there is absolutely no possibility of appealing to the civilian justice system.
Allegations of misconduct on the part of the soldiers are tried entirely within the military tribunal system, which is notorious for failing to prosecute. A report by Human Rights Watch details a series of incidents that have gone unpunished by Mexican military tribunals, including:
In a May 2007 case, soldiers detained eight people after a shootout between the military and alleged drug traffickers in Michoacan. Soldiers took the detainees, none of whom were involved in the shootout, to military installations, where the soldiers beat and kicked four of them, placing their heads in black bags, and forcing them to lie on the floor, blindfolded. A federal prosecutor requested that the military investigate the soldiers’ actions. The military closed its criminal investigation in a month and sent it to the archives, arguing there was no evidence that the soldiers had committed a crime.
The U.S. Congress was well aware of these failings before Mérida was passed. In an attempt to placate human rights organizations, 15% of Mérida Initiative funds have been held back on the condition that the Mexican government improve transparency and military accountability. However, the administration is currently looking to free up these funds. In response, over seventy Mexican civil society organizations sent a letter to Congress calling for a halt in U.S. military aid to Mexico, citing the growing number of unpunished human rights abuses. José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, also drafted a letter to Senator Patrick Leahy, urging him to block the allocation of the remaining 15% of funding.
Whether or not this small percentage of funding goes into affect is, unfortunately, somewhat irrelevant. According to a senior Obama administration official: “U.S. assistance to help Mexico fight drug traffickers will probably continue beyond the allotted three years of the Mérida Initiative,” despite indications that continuing with the program is likely to further deteriorate the human rights situation in Mexico.
By Mary Tharin