"Plan Mexico" dies with Iraq funding bill —for now

President Bush's $163 billion Iraq war funding request collapsed in the House May 15. Republicans expected to provide the winning margin instead sat out the vote in protest of Democratic efforts to add money for the unemployed and an expansion of education benefits for soldiers. In the 149-141 tally, 132 Republicans abstained. (AP, May 16) Also included in the measure was $500 million as part of a multi-year commitment to Mexico, including about $204 million for the purchase of transport helicopters and surveillance aircraft. An additional $50 million was requested for Central American governments. In a burst of phone calls, Secretary Condoleezza Rice called about a half-dozen lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol the week before the vote to advocate the Mexican measure, and Bush spoke for it at a meeting with Republicans at the White House. (Politico, May 8)

On May 14, Amnesty International expressed grave reservations about the Mexico funding, in a statement entitled "Aid to Mexico to Fight Drug Cartels Must Not be a Blank Check for Abusive Security Forces." The statement reveals that concern with the human rights situation is growing on Capitol Hill:

Given a long history of human rights abuses by Mexican police and military forces -- including unresolved claims by 26 women that they were beaten and raped by police in San Salvador Atenco two years ago -- U.S. aid to Mexico must include strict accountability mechanisms for Mexican security forces and the justice system, Amnesty International said today. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to review and vote this week on legislation for the Merida Initiative, a $1.4 billion aid package for Mexico and Central America to fight drug cartels and organized crime requested by the Bush administration. Legislation authorizing the funding but including insufficient human rights safeguards will reportedly be introduced today.

"Aid for Mexico must not be a blank check for Mexican security forces that have been implicated in crimes like rape and torture," said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). "If the authorization bill does not include strong human rights safeguards, the United States would be sending the wrong message to Mexican security forces at the beginning of this partnership, which could have grave consequences. The U.S. needs to be sure it is funding justice and the rule of law in Mexico and not condoning human rights abuses."

Amnesty International said that allowing any kind of "waiver" on human rights safeguards within the legislation would undermine those protections. The human rights organization called on members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to carefully consider the consequences to the United States and Mexico of authorizing initiatives that could exacerbate human rights abuses in Mexico.

In one example of ongoing human rights concerns about Mexican security forces and the justice system, authorities have failed to bring to justice those responsible for the police attacks on civilians in San Salvador Atenco in May 2006. Today, 96 U.S. Representatives sent a bipartisan letter to Mexican authorities -- the federal Attorney General and Mexico State governor -- expressing concern over the lack of justice in the cases. In the incident, police responded to protests by activists from a local peasant organization and arrested 47 women during the violence that ensued. Bárbara Italia Méndez was one of 26 women who reported having been subjected to physical, sexual and psychological abuse by the police. She testified to state and federal authorities that she was beaten and repeatedly raped by three police officers while other uniformed officials cheered them on. None of the officers involved have been prosecuted.

The letter, initiated by Representatives Solis (D-CA) and McGovern (D-MA) and supported by Amnesty International, calls on the Mexican federal Attorney General to assume jurisdiction over the investigation and ensure that evidence gathered so far is used to identify and bring charges against those responsible.

Amnesty International's investigations have exposed serious flaws in Mexico's justice system, including:

* Arbitrary detention, torture, unfair trials and impunity.
* The detention and prosecution of social and political activists and human rights defenders to silence those who speak out about human rights violations and corruption.
* Reports of torture dismissed or ignored by judges, reinforcing impunity.

Amnesty International recommends that U.S. aid be used to support Mexico in addressing deep flaws in its justice system and public security institutions, which have allowed violent crime to flourish and human rights violations to go unpunished. Failing to effectively address these concerns will result in continued drug-related violence and abuses by members of the police, military and justice officials, the human rights organization said.

"Authorizing assistance for the security forces without requiring human rights violators to be punished and ensuring that basic freedoms are protected would further undermine the rule of law in Mexico," said Renata Rendón, advocacy director for the Americas at AIUSA. "American taxpayers should not foot the bill for military and police forces with histories of abuse if it is not guaranteed that those forces are being fundamentally reformed."

Amnesty International said that any initiative to support Mexico's fight against drug cartels and organized crime must focus on the rule of law and should also press for justice in the un-resolved killing of U.S. journalist Bradley Roland Will, and other civilians, in Oaxaca in 2006.

Amnesty International's recommendations on Merida Initiative funding include:

* Training for security force personnel in human rights standards, particularly the use of force.
* Vetting for all aid recipients to ensure they have not been involved in human rights violations.
* Transferring investigation of human rights cases implicating military personnel from military jurisdiction to civilian jurisdiction, in line with international standards.
* Establishing a strong, independent mechanism to monitor implementation of the Merida Initiative and its impact on human rights in Mexico.
* Supporting the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico.
* Monitoring the justice system's efforts to stop using torture as a way of extracting information and confessions.

See our last posts on Iraq, the Mexican narco crisis and the Atenco case.

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