Friday, July 10, 2009

mexico accused of torture in drug war

Washington Post | Under the Mérida 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. The requirements include the prosecution of suspected human rights offenders, the prohibition of testimony obtained through torture and regular consultations with independent human rights groups.

The State Department's Mérida human rights report will be delivered to Congress within weeks, according to a U.S. official involved in the process. The official described Mexico's human rights record as "a mixed bag" and said it remains unclear whether the report will be enough to satisfy the conditions to release the money.

"This is the hardest part" of Mérida, the official said.

At least $90.7 million allocated to Mexico to fight drugs cannot be released unless Congress accepts the State Department's findings. An additional $24 million is also subject to Mérida's human rights conditions in the supplemental budget package that President Obama signed on June 24. Part of the Mérida funding is for inspection equipment, police training and support for the Mexican military.

With the Mexican government and governors from U.S. border states clamoring for more assistance -- drug violence killed 769 Mexicans in June, one of the worst months since Calderón took office, in December 2006 -- the State Department is hoping that Congress will release the money despite human rights concerns, according to the U.S. official, who expressed frustration that the Mexican government has not provided more information about the army's progress, including the number of human rights cases that have been prosecuted.

"The military justice system in Mexico is very opaque; it is very hard to get a handle on how many cases have been brought and what has been their disposition," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The Mexican government has long opposed the human rights conditions included in the Mérida agreement, and U.S. officials expect a backlash if Congress refuses to release the money. Many Mexican human rights activists do not support the conditions, noting that they were imposed by a U.S government widely accused of torturing prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"It really takes a lot of cynicism, a lot of hypocrisy, for the United States to say, 'We will give you money to fight drug trafficking as long as you respect human rights,' " said José Raymundo Díaz Taboada, director of the Acapulco office of the Collective Against Torture and Impunity, which documents abuses in Guerrero.

At the same time, human rights groups have lobbied the U.S. government to send a blunt message by withholding the money. A letter that a consortium of U.S. and Mexican organizations sent to the State Department in January concluded: "Mexican authorities have in no way adequately met the human rights requirements established in the Mérida Initiative."