The Merida Initiative (aka Plan Mexico)

What it is and where it came from:

The Merida Initiative, also known as Plan Mexico, was announced by former President George W. Bush in 2007 as a “new security cooperation initiative” between Mexico and the United States to combat drug trafficking and organized crime. Plan Mexico pursues a failed militarized approach to narco-trafficking by providing lethal aid to human rights-abusing security forces rampant with corruption and expecting results different from ones history has shown we can expect (see Failure of the “War on Drugs”).

Friends of Brad Will supports the call for a new approach to drug trafficking through a focus on drug abuse education, prevention and rehabilitation, anti-corruption programs. We also recognize that economic necessity is largely responsible for creating ready recruits for narco-organizations and that the promotion of local and regional economic development alternatives to the neo-liberal ‘free trade’ model, which has gutted local economies across the Hemisphere, is an integral part of any solution.

Despite calls from a broad range of organizations across the political spectrum for the funding package to be stopped, the U.S. Congress and the Bush and Obama Administration launched Plan Mexico. Over objections, a lack of accountability and transparency was written into the appropriations when benchmarks were left out of the militarization authorization.

These benchmarks are the unique features allowing evaluation of the success or failure of legislation and were used by the US Government Accountability Office in November 2008 (see Resources on Plan Mexico) to show that Plan Colombia had failed miserably to reduce narco-trafficking and drug abuse while increasing human rights abuses at the cost to U.S. taxpayers of $8 billion over the last decade.

Why is the Post-ideological Pragmatic Obama Administration Pursuing A Failed Approach?

Prior to the launching of the project to militarize Mexico, Central America and the Carribean through Plan Mexico, the region had seen unprecedented mobilizations by communities and movements opposed to the neo-liberal economic model which was impoverishing the Western Hemisphere.

Many fear that the only rationale for pursuing a model of narco-trafficking control which had failed so definitively to increase street prices, lower demand, reduce acres under cultivation or lower exports of narcotics from the region to the United States is that militarization itself is useful to counter the burgeoning popular movements against right-wing, corporatist economic models under which populations had suffered for over a decade.

Next Steps

Friends of Brad Will and many other organizations (see Resources on Plan Mexico) continue to monitor and speak out against the predictable increases of human rights violations, oppression and violence toward the citizens of Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and other Central American and Caribbean countries. The Merida Initiative is lauded by a few beneath-the-beltway human rights organizations as a cooperative strategy between the US and Mexico.

Friends of Brad Will and many other local (Latin American) and U.S.-based human rights, fair trade, and labor organizations adamantly oppose Plan Mexico because it promotes the following conditions anathema to the values and interests of United States voters:

1. Human Rights Violations and Impunity

The Merida Initiative places greater emphasis on the role of the military in the ‘drug war’ rather than the police and justice sectors. There have been hundreds of reports of human rights violations committed by military personnel – ranging from house break-ins and interrogations to rape, kidnapping and murder – in the past few years, most of which have been ignored or silenced. The military is a tool used for warfare and Mexican and other Central American soldiers are not trained in or (ostensibly) established for civilian deployment or accountability. Such deployments are predictably leading to widespread and increasing human rights violations and impunity as military personnel are deployed domestically. In the few instances in which investigations into human rights abuses by military personnel take place, they are handled internally by the military itself, leading to bias, tainted evidence, secrecy and exoneration. While civilian casualties of the ‘war on drugs’ continue to rise, guilty soldiers go unpunished and continue to commit such violations.

2. Corruption and Abuse of Human Rights

Targeting Pro-democracy Movements

While the aid given to Mexico through the Merida Initiative have been justified by the Democratic Congress and Presidents Obama and Bush as means of combating drug trafficking, transnational crime and money laundering, there are no effective conditions in the legislation to ensure that U.S. taxpayer-funded resources are being properly used. Benchmarks to gauge success or failure are completely lacking from Merida funding.

The Mexican and other regional governments is so riddled with corruption that its fight against the drug cartels is a fight against itself. These governments will likely continue to use their lethal force against their perceived “internal” enemies, waging a renewed “dirty war” against rural organizations, social movements or indigenous communities that show opposition to or disagreement toward corrupt government programs. History and annual State Department Human Rights Reports from countries in the region warns us that fears of authoritarian abuse of human rights and pro-democracy forces are well-founded. Deep wounds of the “dirty wars” from the 1960s to the 1980s are still raw and explain why human rights and religious organizations from throughout the Hemisphere oppose the Merida Initiative.

The suppression of the Oaxacan social movement of 2006 is a prime example of this. Both federal and state security forces brought an iron fist down on the demonstrations, leaving a wake of human rights violations that include over 20 assassinations (including that of Brad Will), hundreds of arbitrary detentions, and widespread torture. Crimes of Mexican security forces, which are well documented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, remain unpunished in Mexico. A sizeable portion of the money from the Merida Initiative would support the very security forces responsible for these violations. Many in Oaxaca fear that with this support, legitimate protest in Mexico will continue to be answered with repression.

* Further evidence of Corruption andHuman Rights Abuse Promoted by Plan Mexico

What about Human Rights Conditions and the Required State Department Report On Brad Will’s Murder Investigation?

A number of human rights conditions were advocated for by Amnesty International and the Washington Office on Latin America, two inside-the-beltway human rights organizations, despite the fierce opposition of Friends of Brad Will, the United Steelworkers, Witness for Peace, Global Exchange, TIKKUN and many other human rights, labor and religious tolerance organizations to any U.S. funding for unaccountable security forces. Friends of Brad Will pointed out to these organizations that similar human rights conditions had failed to prevent Colombia from becoming the worst place in the world for labor activists, under a similar Plan Colombia, which resulted – predictably – in millions of people being displaced with lethal aid provided by U.S. taxpayers. We asked these organizations how – given that history of human rights abuses in similar ‘conditioned’ context –they could advocate for a similar lethal aid package and why, if they somehow believed in these conditions, they could fail to mobilize against a bill that was 85% unconditioned!?

The original 2008 Appropriations for Plan Mexico required the State Department to report on the steps towards accountability for the murder of Brad Will which the Mexican authorities has taken. The Mexican government was, therefore, desperate for a conviction in Brad Will’s case because its resolution was specifically made a condition of approval of the controversial lethal aid funding. That condition was used, however, to scapegoat an innocent man, Juan Manuel Martinez Moreno (see Issues – Juan Manuel Martinez Moreno).

3. Funds for Proven Non-military Solutions

wasted on Ineffective Approach

From a human development perspective, the flaws of the Merida Initiative run rampant. The key one is that every dollar wasted on the

failed ‘drug war’ approach is money not provided for proven solutions that reduce addiction and therefore the market for drugs. No money from Plan Mexico is provided for drug treatment or harm reduction within the US, thereby ignoring the long-term causes and the social aspects of narco-cartel power. Similarly, Plan Mexico does not address the poverty gap and development needs that exist within the region.

Current situation

On August 4, 2009 Senator Patrick Leahy of the Appropriations Committee refused to approve $100 million (15%) of the lethal aid package because Mexico has “not complied with human rights conditions” of the Initiative.

In September, 2009, Senator Leahy’s opposition to releasing funds for lethal aid vanished mysteriously and the funding was approved.

Impunity and corruption within the militaries, police forces and broader societies of countries targeted for Plan Mexico funding threaten the prospects of their viability as truly representative democratic countries. It is largely for that reason that three conservative fmr Heads of States of Latin American countries – - have called for the United States to consider a ‘paradigm shift’, including decriminalization of marijuana (the source of 75% of the revenue of the Mexican cartels (see Resources on Plan Mexico).

Despite predicted sky-rocketing human rights abuses and corruption and the absence of any benchmarks to determine success or failure of Plan Mexico, discussions between the administrations of Democratic US President Obama and right-wing PAN Mexican President Calderon are apparently underway to extend Plan Mexico beyond its initial promised 3-years.

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