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Click here for more about the drug war in Mexico.

Mexican Army Accused of Massive Human Rights Violations, Putting US in Tough Position

In a July 9, 2009 expose for The Washington Post ("Mexican Army Using Torture to Battle Drug Traffickers, Rights Groups Say"), Steve Fainaru and William Booth report that "The Mexican army has carried out forced disappearances, acts of torture and illegal raids in pursuit of drug traffickers, according to documents and interviews with victims, their families, political leaders and human rights monitors." Fainaru and Booth describe gruesome torture tactics employed by members of the Mexican army seeking information, acts of rape and physical assault committed against women and men of varying ages, and reports of soldiers stealing " food, milk, clothing and medication" from civilian families. Although the Post does not - indeed, cannot - provide exact figures regarding the number of human rights violations carried out by the government-backed armed forces, it cites a 2007 National Human Rights Commission report, which "concluded that the army committed abuses against 65 people" over a period of just three days in the state of Michoacan alone.

As the writers explain, "Mexican security forces have long had a spotty human rights record, but the growing number of abuse allegations appears to be a direct response to the savagery unleashed by the cartels after President Felipe Calderon put the military in charge of the drug war in December 2006." According to the article, Mexican officials claim both that the reported incidents are isolated and that "drug traffickers may be accusing the army of torture and other human rights violations as propaganda and to deflect attention from the government's attempts to dismantle their operations." Interior Minister Fernando Gomez Mont, " who is responsible for coordinating security operations across Mexico," states that he "'know[s] that the armed forces are not acting innappropriately, although there have been some cases.'" He continues, "'The government honestly believes that. There is no incentive for abuse.'" However, numerous documents, eyewitness and victims' testimonies, and reports from human rights groups contradict officials' claims.

Fainaru and Booth report that "The U.S. government has encouraged and, in part, funded, Calderon's risky strategy of using the army to fight the cartels." However, as the Post reminds readers, "Under the Merida Initiative, a $1.4 billion counter-narcotics package that President George W. Bush requested in June 2007, 15 percent of the money cannot be released until the secretary of state reports that Mexico has made progress on human rights." That report "will be delivered to Congress within weeks" of the articles' printing; however, although "U.S. officials said Calderon has initiated reforms that they think ultimately will increase respect for human rights among soldiers and police," an unnamed source involved in those proceedings told the Post that "it remains unclear whether the report will be enough to satisfy the conditions to release the money."

Due to the dire circumstances currently facing Mexico and U.S. border states, "the State Department is hoping that Congress will release the money despite human rights concerns." Moreover, "U.S. officials expect a backlash" from the Mexican government, which "has long opposed the human rights conditions included in the Merida agreement," if Congress witholds the promised financial support. Indeed, according to the article, "Many Mexican human rights activists do not support the [Merida human rights] conditions, noting that they were imposed by a U.S. government widely accused of torturing prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."

While some "human rights groups have lobbied the U.S. government to send a blunt message by witholding the money," other human rights watchdogs see the situation differently. Ryan Powers, writing for the web site Think Progress ("Torture by Mexican Government in Drug War Highlights U.S. Loss of Credibility on Human Rights"), asserts that "The accusations of hypocrisy highlight one of the hard-to-quantify costs of the Bush administration's use of torture against suspected terrorists [...]: the loss of credibility as a champion of human rights." He cites "a growing number of nations [that] have rejected calls from the U.S. to end human rights abuses" due to its previous administration's own use of torture and questionable detaining practices.

Thus, whether Congress ultimately decides to provide Mexico with Merida funds or withold them based on Mexico's human rights record, Powers writes, "Obama must work to rebuild the credibility that his predecessor squandered." And, no matter what Congress decides to do with the Merida money in the coming weeks, the primarily U.S.-driven, global "war on drugs" will no doubt continue to produce and promote violence, human and civil rights violations, and various forms of corruption both at home and abroad.

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