Oct 11, 2015

Response to New York Times Op-Ed on Why More US Aid to Mexico Equals More, Not Less, Injustice

As far as I can tell, the New York Times never published this letter. I think it's important to enter into this debate because the position of the author, a journalist who has worked in Mexico for years, is very common, probably well-intentioned, and extremely dangerous.

The author, Ioan Grillo, wrote one of the earlier books on the drug war called El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency, unfortunately echoing Hillary Clinton's insurgency language that has been used to justify the use of Pentagon counterinsurgency training in the country.

After running down some points on the human rights situation, especially from the IACHR Group of Experts report, the British reporter concludes:

And when the United States supports Mexico in fighting cartels, it cannot just provide hardware like Black Hawk helicopters. It needs to help Mexico rebuild its institutions from the bottom up.
It's essentially the same argument we hear from the State Department: continue with the "hard" security, but sugarcoat it with "institution-building" programs. These programs have been going on for years as a very small part of US aid to Mexico, as the human rights situation has deteriorated alarmingly. That should be the first clue that something is wrong with this reasoning.

At a recent meeting with representatives of the State Department in the US Embassy, one (it was not-for-attribution) expressed her view that to cut off aid due to serious human rights violations would be folly since the violation of human rights is a reason to be engaged in Mexico. The fact that the US government funds blatant human rights violators in the Mexican government, thus enabling them, was beyond her comprehension.

This is interesting, considering the State Department historically has used human rights criteria to withhold aid to nations considered major violators. The criteria, however, has always been highly political rather than humanitarian or principled. While countries on the left receive sanctions, nations like Mexico can --and do--get away with murder.

Here is the letter I sent:

The op-ed "Mexico's Fruitless Hunt for Justice" portrays the frustration we feel living in a nation where government and organized crime are often indistinguishable and the justice system functions largely to conceal that fact. However, the author's final prescription -- that the United States government must increase aid to 'fix' Mexico -- is both offensive and absurd. U.S. government aid to Mexico's drug war through the Merida Initiative has contributed to the deaths, disappearances and crimes that have resulted.  Every major victims' organization in the country has called for an halt to the Merida Initiative.

The power, wealth and brutality of the drug cartels derives from the millions they earn, and want to keep earning, from the US market for prohibited drugs. Instead of spending taxpayers' money to intervene in Mexico, this money could much better be spent on drug regulation, rehabilitation and treatment in the US. In this way we could show a real commitment to solving the problem, rather than a pretext for militarizing Mexico. 
Impunity thrives on business as usual. Continuing US Merida Initiative aid to corrupt and violent Mexican security forces is a strong message to maintain current policies and practices; it's a reward. Although the U.S. government knows the way these forces operate and how dysfunctional the justice system is, the militarization of Mexico has been a boon to both defense industry companies and Pentagon global reach strategies.

So what's a few hundred thousand dead Mexicans?

This patriarchal logic maintains that the US "needs to help Mexico" with its institutional problem, not put pressure on the Mexican government to stop executing its own citizens.  And as long as the aid keeps flowing, whether it's for military equipment or police training or what have you, and the world's super-power gives its unconditional support to the PRI government, there will be no changes and the Peña Nieto administration will consider itself vindicated.

And the torture, and extrajudicial executions and disappearances and murders will continue.

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