“Plan Mexico” hits snags in Congress

The US House of Representatives voted 311-106 on June 10 to authorize $1.6 billion over three years for the Merida Initiative, a project ostensibly aiding the fight against drug trafficking in Mexico and Central America. The measure won’t be finalized until the Senate passes its own version and the two chambers work out their differences and send the authorization on to President George W. Bush, who is expected to sign it. The House version authorizes spending $1.1 billion for Mexico, $405 million for Central America and $74 million for efforts by the US government to slow down the flow of illegal weapons from the US to Mexico. Mexico’s share breaks down into $780 million for enforcement, including helicopters and new technology, and $330 million for programs to improve the rule of law and the Mexican judicial system. (La Jornada, June 11 from correspondent)

Many US unionists and human rights activists oppose the initiative, which they call “Plan Mexico” to point out its similarities to Plan Colombia, through which the US has heavily funded the Colombian military. Human rights advocates say the program will enrich US defense contractors—through the purchase of Bell helicopters, CASA maritime patrol planes and surveillance software—while endangering Mexican civilians, especially political dissidents. The project allocates no money for drug treatment and rehabilitation, which advocates say are necessary to address the root causes of drug use in the US. (Truthout, US, June 13) (Activists from the group Friends of Brad Will protested the measure at a congressional hearing in February; Brad Will was a New York-based independent killed while covering protests in Oaxaca, Mexico—see Update, Feb. 10.)

The New York Times also objects to the plan, but principally because the “timid assistance package proposed by the Bush administration and pared down by Congress” is “too small.” “Both governments need to work, urgently, to salvage the aid package,” an editorial warned. (NYT, June 4)

Mexican Congress members have raised objections to the Merida Initiative because of conditions the US Senate wants to impose requiring monitoring of human rights violations by Mexican security forces. At the 47th Mexico-US Inter-Parliamentary Meeting, which ended on June 8 in Monterrey in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, legislators from the ruling center-right National Action Party (PAN) and the formerly ruling centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) expressed concern that these conditions violated Mexican sovereignty. Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) had a letter from Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who heads the Senate Appropriations Committee’s State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, suggesting that the final version will be modified to address these concerns. (LJ, June 9)

Mexican activists also oppose the Merida Initiative, which was negotiated by the administrations of Bush and Mexican president Felipe Calderon Hinojosa of the PAN. The Mexican Action Network on Free Trade (RMALC) called the opposition in the Mexican Congress “an excellent signal that authoritarian initiatives between the executives of the two countries are in their death agony.” Retired general Jose Francisco Gallardo, who served eight years in prison for criticizing the Mexican army, said the Merida Initiative was part of a “covert maneuver by the US so that through the militarization of the political and economic structures and the annexation of the army, it can appropriate the country’s energy resources.” (LJ, June 9)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 15

See our last posts on Mexico’s narco wars and Plan Mexico.

  1. Congress caves on human rights?
    This bill will authorize the funds already earmarked in appropriations passed by Congress last month. Provisions for human rights “conditions” in the appropriations bill were met with vociferous protest from Mexican politicians. Nicholas Johnston reports for Bloomberg, June 10:

    The final aid language also will have to be approved by the Senate, where the certification requirement will probably be changed to “guidelines,” said Senator Christopher Dodd.

    “I don’t have the details, but we’re going to have something that is no certification,” said Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, who met with Mexican officials over the weekend. He said the certification requirements were “highly offensive” to Mexico.

    The administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderon has rejected the certification condition, and U.S. President George W. Bush this month urged Congress not to tie the aid to “unreasonable” conditions…

    The final language will probably be included in war spending legislation Congress is working to approve this month. Dodd said the human rights language in that legislation won’t be a requirement but “guidelines that we all agree on.”

    Johnston also reported June 11:

    Representative Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, said an agreement on the so-called Merida Initiative was reached yesterday to require “monitoring” of human-rights issues instead of mandating that the Mexican government certify that law enforcement authorities fighting drug cartels aren’t involved in corruption or human-rights abuses.

    So does this mean that the provision for withholding aid if Mexico fails to meet human rights conditions (or “guidelines”) has been stripped?

    1. Human rights?
      Well written piece, hope we get more information specifically on where/who would get the proposed $. people need to contact their elected officials now, it can make a difference, it has been months and we need even more people to get involved, we can win this issue and help prevent alot of violence to people. Also, we need an expose by one of these excellent writers on the inside the beltway crowd who even consider supporting 75% of aid with no conditions and then put forth fake conditions on 25% of the aid. Who funds them? Who sets their policy? Who invites them to testify, over and over, in Congress? Like WOLA. What staffers make these life or death decisions? Everyone knows that these groups suck, but less established groups somehow feel they can work with them or change them. It’s gross!

  2. D.C. human rights NGOs and Democratic Congress support impunity.
    good piece. useful.

    you wrote: “Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) had a letter from Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who heads the Senate Appropriations Committee’s State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, suggesting that the final version will be modified to address these concerns. (LJ, June 9)”

    Do you have a copy of that letter?

    Vermonters for the Drug War and Against Autonomy would love to read it;)

    We would too.

    Laura carlsen provided a useful assessment of a newsworthy difference within the NGO and activist communities:

    “there are two camps: one is the groups … that object only to military equipment and believe that human rights safeguards can make the Merida initiative a positive measure in the binational relationship and the fight against organized crime. The other has consistently taken the position that the initiative is fundamentally flawed. It is made up of groups with a far greater constituency in fact: AFL-CIO (10 million workers, see letter attached), Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (1.4 million, see letter), Witness for Peace, Latin American Solidarity Coalition, CISPES, Alliance for Democracy, CIP Americas Program, Friends of Brad Will and . . . a few more names (will be added) to the list soon.

    . . . We believe it is a mistake to facilitate the passage of a failed drug war model that will militarize Mexican society and allow the US government to take over its national security and intelligence programs.”

    Retired general Jose Francisco Gallardo has it down quite clearly: he said the Merida Initiative was part of a “covert maneuver by the US so that through the militarization of the political and economic structures and the annexation of the army, it can appropriate the country’s energy resources.”

    So the U.S. Congress is maneuvering to accommodate Bush’s ‘security’ initiative and seems hell-bent on stripping even the inadequate ‘human rights conditions” (which failed in Colombia to protect hundreds of trade unionists and activists and has protected the continuation of paramilitary terror) from the final bill!

    “So does this mean that the provision for withholding aid if Mexico fails to meet human rights conditions (or “guidelines”) has been stripped?”

    Great question!!

    Plan Mexico can be stopped and many are working to make that happen. But it’s certainly worth exploring why those opposed have to work against some D.C.-based ngos – Amnesty International, LAWG and WOLA in particular who support this Bush initiative threatening Mexican civil society.

    And these groups even now – with human rights conditions targeted for removal – refuse to rally their members to demand that EFFECTIVE human rights safeguards for 100% of the funding (and not the 25% originally accepted by them).

    Why are they not joining the AFL-CIO and Friends of Brad Will to oppose Plan Mexico? Are they supporting the resource-grabbing agenda behind the ‘drug war’ pretext?

    Why aren’t these ‘human rights organizations’ demanding that outstanding cases – Brad Will just one among many which underscore the Mexican government’s lack of political will (and not its lack of lethal resources) to end what the Committee to Protect Journalists calls “the endless cycle of impunity”?

    1. Sources please?
      Where did you get the idea that all these groups support Plan Mexico? Amnesty International just monitors human rights and does not typically take a stance on legislation one way or another. LAWG‘s May 14 statement on Plan Mexico reads:

      We urge you to contact your member of Congress and encourage them to demilitarize any aid to Mexico. It is important that they hear from you.

      Please call the capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to speak to your members of Congress in the House and the Senate. When you reach their offices, please say, “I am a constituent of Representative/Senator _______. I urge her/him to REMOVE any aid for the Mexican military in the Iraq Supplemental package… I encourage them instead to direct valuable and limited resources towards long-term solutions that promote human rights and respect for the rule of law in Mexico. The U.S. needs to address the root of the problem, namely through enhanced drug treatment and prevention programs in the United States.”

      WOLA‘s March 19 statement read:

      The Merida Initiative, though worthy in principle, does not offer sufficient support for long-term police and justice reform in Mexico and lacks built-in accountability measures; continued support for Mexico’s armed forces’ involvement in counter-narcotics tasks will not contribute to strengthening civilian public security institutions or guaranteeing respect for human rights…

      Given these concerns about the Merida Initiative – the emphasis on equipment, the absence of transparency, the confusion about the plan’s goals and how to reach them, the uncertainty over whether Mexico’s government has the will to implement structural reforms – Congress should tell the Administration to revise the $500 million supplemental budget item request for Mexico, in order to address these problem before it approves the package.

      This may be disappointingly lukewarm opposition, but it certainly doesn’t constitute support.

      Furthermore, you never finished your last sentence. “Why aren’t these ‘human rights organizations’ demanding that outstanding cases” what?

      1. completed sentence
        Furthermore, you never finished your last sentence. “Why aren’t these ‘human rights organizations’ demanding that outstanding cases” what?

        One could guess that it would read:

        Why aren’t these ‘human rights organizations’ demanding that outstanding cases be investigated and settled before rewarding them with more money for more crimes?

        something like that…

        the days are over when gobbeldyguck language gives fundraising ngo’s a pass on their supposed missions.

  3. Plan Mexico “strings intact”?
    The New York Times indicated June 11 that the amount of the aid which can be withheld has been reduced from 25% to 15%.

    Mexico: Antidrug Aid’s Strings Intact
    A plan to help Mexico fight drug trafficking emerged from a House-Senate conference in Washington with controversial human rights conditions intact, although softened in response to objections from Mexican officials and the White House, officials said. The initiative will send $400 million to Mexico. Fifteen percent of the money will be conditioned on governments’ holding their security forces more accountable for abuses.

    1. Human rights groups sell out
      It is very clear to all grassroots activists inside the beltway in DC and on the gorund and in other countries that the large DC groups, ie Amnesty International, WOLA, Human Rights watch etc support these guides of measures. If you interpret wishy washy statements and suggestions that 75% of the lethal aid go forward and that a mere 25% have some ineffective “conditions” as opposing this initiative, then we disagree. WOLA has said that they do not oppose it, and Amnesty has said they support the 25% of aid with some gobbledy gluck State department updates or other before that too is release, which would be used against the civilian population, we can agree on that. If you are defending them, please post and share their opposing statements or a web link. AFLCIO, US STEELWORKERS are opposed for example and wrote to congress, and here is the link for many groups that oppose, like Global Exchange. and you can too! Please ask your friends at AI and WOLA if this is their position or not, otherwise knee-jerk defense of compromised complicits does not help people in Mexico, the US taxpayer or the effort to make these DC groups more effective for real.

      1. Burden of proof
        You are the one who is making charges against Amnesty International, so it is up to you to provide a link. Where did they say they support the Merida Initiative with “conditions”? Link please.

        1. Amnesty International on Plan Mexico
          From Amnesty International‘s May 13 statement on the Merida Initiative:

          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.

          This is not the unequivocal “no” position we advocate, but nor is it “support.” Certainly no reporter would interpret it that way.

  4. House approves first year of Plan Mexico funding
    From Reuters, June 19:

    WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives approved $465 million on Thursday to fund an anti-narcotics package to help battle drug cartels in Mexico and Central America.

    By a vote of 416-12, the House approved the funding for the first year of the so-called Merida Initiative, proposed in October by President George W. Bush as a three-year plan to provide Mexico with aircraft, equipment and training to fight drug traffickers.

    “Congress has come to agreement on supporting the first year of the Merida Initiative to combat the narcotics trade and the violence that it spawns,” said Rep. Howard Berman, a California Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

    The plan, which offers $85 million less than Bush requested for fiscal 2008, is expected to be approved in the Senate next week, legislative sources said.

    The House version softens language aimed at protecting human rights, which Mexico said would require constitutionally unacceptable changes to its laws.

    What exactly does it mean that the “House version softens language aimed at protecting human rights”? Why must these reports be so damn vague?

    Can anyone help us out with more information?

  5. Brad Will provision in Plan Mexico package
    Yes, it does appear that the most significant difference between the original human rights “conditions” and the new “guidelines” is that the amount that can be withheld has been dropped from 25% to 15%. Renata Rendón, Amnesty International’s advocacy director for the Americas, informs us:

    The final conditions on 15% of funding to Mexico include:

    (1) improving the transparency and accountability of federal police forces and working with state and municipal authorities to improve the transparency and accountability of state and municipal police forces through mechanisms including establishing police complaints commissions with authority and independence to receive complaints and carry out effective investigations;

    (2) establishing a mechanism for regular consultations among relevant Mexican Government authorities, Mexican human rights organizations and other relevant Mexican civil society organizations, to make recommendations concerning implementation of the Merida Initiative in accordance with Mexican and international law;

    (3) ensuring that civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities are investigating and prosecuting, in accordance with Mexican and international law, members of the federal police and military forces who have been credibly alleged to have committed violations of human rights, and the federal police and military forces are fully cooperating with the investigations; and

    (4) enforcing the prohibition, in accordance with Mexican and international law, on the use of testimony obtained through torture or other ill-treatment.

    Although, in the currently favored bureaucratese, those “conditions” are now considered “guidelines.” The report accompanying the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill also mandates action in the case of slain Indymedia journalist Brad Will. It reads:

    The state and Federal investigations into the October 27, 2007, killing in Oaxaca of American citizen Bradley Will have been flawed and the Secretary of State is directed, not later than 45 days after enactment of this Act and 120 days thereafter, to submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations detailing progress in conducting a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation to identify the perpetrators of this crime and bring them to justice. The Department of State should work with Mexican Government authorities and relevant Federal government agencies of the United States to assist in the investigation of this case.

    1. Reading through the lines
      And asking tough questions.

      Seems clear that these groups have supported the Merida Initiative. All one has to do is not read their statements in a vacuum and consider the many ways they say they support the (fraction of) bill which ‘reforms’ the police etc.

      Mr. Weinberg, you have experience of over a decade of counter-insurgency in Chiapas and you’re believing that the Amnesty and WOLA statements are not key signals of support for this new CI program! I’m astounded.

      1. What lines are you reading through?
        Why have you people got so much invested in dissing Amnesty International? I don’t get it.

        It is because I have experience of over a decade of covering the counterinsurgency in Chiapas that I have high regard for Amnesty. They are relentlessly rigorous in documenting and raising the alarm on rights abuses. I believe that their work has saved the lives of personal friends in Mexico who were receiving death threats or being harassed by the security forces.

        As usual, AI was more helpful than anyone else (including Leahy’s office) in getting me the information I needed about what the Merida Initiative legislation actually does. I have absolutely no reason to suspect their position is anything other than what they say it is—an insistence on human rights conditions, and that the package include measures for meaningful reform of Mexico’s security forces. If you have information to offer which contradicts this, please share it. Otherwise I will consider this mere lefter-than-thou posing.

        AI likely views an unequivocal “no” position as tactically unwise, as the package is going to pass in one form or another, and that would just put them out of the game. Their position may not be our position, but please do not portray it as “support for this new CI program.” That’s utterly disingenuous. As we recently had reason to note, the idea that Amnesty International is controlled by the US government is an absurdity.

        1. game?
          To Bill

          This is not a game.

          i encourage you to reflct on what would lead you to say that a principled and clear no to a military aid package to be used against the civilian population put s a group out of the “game”.

          1. Excuse me?
            I just think we should put more effort into opposing Plan Mexico than opposing Amnesty International. OK? For all their equivocation, they are doing more to actually raise awareness of Plan Mexico and its human rights implication than all the lefter-than-thou posers out there. Sorry.