US pays Colombia to train Mexican soldiers

Some 7,000 Mexicans have participated in a program through which the Colombian government trains Mexican soldiers and police in techniques for fighting drug cartels, according to an article in the Jan. 22 Washington Post. The administration of US president Barack Obama is encouraging this effort, and the US is paying part of the costs. Washington’s share so far is $800,000, according to the article.

The program provides the Obama administration with “a politically viable way to improve Mexican security forces without a substantial American military or police presence in Mexico,” reporter Juan Forero writes. “The American military can indirectly do a lot more through the Colombians than they politically would be able to do directly,” Roderic Ai Camp, of Claremont McKenna College in California, told the Post. “Given the loss of half of Mexico’s national territory to the United States in the 19th century, and the Mexican army’s hesitant cooperation with their American counterparts, the Colombians are a logical proxy.”

Nearly 35,000 Mexicans have died in drug-related violence since Mexican president Felipe Calerón Hinojosa militarized the fight against drug trafficking soon after taking office in December 2006; the US helps fund this “war on drugs” through the Mérida Initiative, a security cooperation agreement between the Mexico, the US and Central American countries. “Mexico has what we had some years ago, which are very powerful cartels,” Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos told the Post. “What we can provide is the experience that we have had dismantling those cartels, training intelligence officers, training judicial police.” (WP, Jan. 22)

The Colombian military is notorious for human rights violations, including the practice of creating “false positives”—murdering civilians and counting them as rebels killed in battle. An article in the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada about the Post‘s revelations drew a number of sarcastic comments on the Mexican paper’s website. “Don’t forget to give them a lot of courses in HUMAN RIGHTS and the PREVENTION OF DRUG ADDICTION,” one reader wrote. “Will the course include the subject ‘obtaining false positives’…?” another asked. One comment called the program a “training camp for prospective Zetas,” referring to Los Zetas, a criminal gang started by Mexican Special Forces deserters and specializing in the drug trade. (LJ, Jan. 23)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 23.

See our last posts on Mexico, Colombia and the narco wars.

See also our feature, Plan Colombia: Exporting the Model.