“The Government of Mexico is fighting a deadly battle to protect human rights and stop those who seek to rule by violence and terror.” John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy at the White House, made that assessment in the ONDCP’s blog, Pushing Back.
Drug Chief Walters asks us to believe the Mexican government is fighting a life-or-death battle to protect human rights. “Pushing back,” ONDCP took Congress to task for adding strong human rights conditionality to the proposed Merida Initiative to aid Mexico is its drug war.
According to ONDCP, “Insisting on such conditions would reduce the possibility of implementing our strategic partnership and compromise relations with a vital partner in the fight against crime and illegal drugs.” What’s more, the strong human rights conditionality included in the original Senate version of the bill raise serious sovereignty concerns.”
Echoing the complaints of the Mexican Congress and President Felipe Calderón, the title of the ONDCP blog posting asks, “Is it fair to ask Mexico to change its constitution?” It surely was an odd turn in U.S. politics when the Bush administration, eager to increase its drug war involvement in Mexico, stood behind nationalist sentiment in Mexico against U.S. meddling in its internal affairs.
The Mexican political elite stood largely united behind the Calderón administration’s position that human rights conditionality violated national sovereignty and undermined the cooperative character of the Merida Initiative – a binational anti-narcotics, border security, and anti-terrorism accord that was publicly unveiled by President Bush in October 2007 and named after the March 2007 meeting of Bush and Calderón in Merida as part of the trinational Security and Prosperity Partnership.
Expressing the political opposition’s view, Ruth Zavaleta, a leading deputy of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, told the Dallas Times: "We are the first ones to defend the idea that Mexico needs these reforms, along with advances in human rights," she said. "But the United States cannot make unilateral demands."
Human Rights Demands Not Unilateral
Human rights demands weren’t exactly unilateral. Mexico’s human rights community called for human rights conditionality. According to Victor Serrato Lozano, the president of Michoacán's state commission for human rights, the Mexican army’s drug war has come with a “high cost to human rights.”
"There should be conditions on the aid package. This is not a violation of our sovereignty if what the US is seeking is to strengthen human rights organizations." Which of course it does not do. It gives the state department—a dubious authority on human rights-- the task of rubber stamping Mexican government actions.
A May 29 letter from directors of Amnesty International Mexico and the Miguel Augustín Pro-Juárez Human Rights Center to the leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives, which was signed by 25 other Mexican human rights and civil society organizations, stated: “The strengthening of efficient mechanisms that guarantee full respect for human rights should be at its center if it truly intends on being an act of collaboration between countries with common concerns.”
Opposition by the Mexican government and Congress, together with the “push back” strategy of the Bush administration, persuaded U.S. congressional representatives to withdraw the controversial human rights conditionality. As a result, Mexico is set to receive $400 million in anti-drug and security aid this year, with $116.5 million allocated to the Mexican armed forces for training and equipment.
The House of Representatives has already authorized the president’s $1.4 billion three-package, but additional funds for the next two years will still need to go through the appropriations process. According to the original Merida Initiative presented to Congress by President Bush, another $450 million appropriation is proposed for the initiative’s second year.
Increased U.S.-Mexico cooperation on illegal drug flows and other transborder crime is clearly needed. But cooperation in a failed drug war won’t solve drug violence and drug abuse as the history of the U.S. government’s drug war – launched by President Richard Nixon in 1972.
New Paradigm—Legalization of Marijuana, Cocaine, Heroin
Bush and Calderón should have taken advantage of their alliance and meeting in Merida to call for a new cooperative campaign that treats the transborder drug problem as a public health issue rather than as a threat to national security. Rather than helicopters and weapons, what’s needed is a combination of a shared intelligence, public education, treatment, and the regularization and legalization of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Instead, the failed drug war is being extended and pumped up by more foreign aid.
Concern for human rights should be part of all U.S. foreign aid agreements – with the exception of humanitarian and disaster assistance. Congress was right to consider adding human rights conditions to its aid package to Mexico. U.S. taxpayers should be able to rest assured that our foreign aid isn’t given to recipients with patterns of human rights abuses – like the Mexican army and police.
But the main failure of Congress was neither adding the human rights conditions nor withdrawing them. Rather, Congress should have outright rejected Bush’s Merida Initiative as a waste of taxpayer money – throwing scarce dollars into yet another war that is misguided and counterproductive.
Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), one of the Senate’s leading voices on Latin America policy, may have expressed it best when he called the Bush administration’s Merida Initiative part of the “old war on drugs paradigm.” Unfortunately, even critics of the drug war model in Congress have been reluctant to cast their votes against funding the drug war – just as they continue to vote to fund the Iraq war. And so the drug war continues from decade to decade, country to country.
A new paradigm is badly needed.
For more information:Resource Page on Plan Mexico: http://americas.irc-online.org/am/5118