Oct 20, 2015

U.S. Cuts Off $5 Million in Security Aid to Mexico

WSJ: Signaling disapproval of recent human rights violations in Mexico, the U.S. government is withholding $5 million in funding for the country’s security and judicial system, officials have confirmed.

The money is a small fraction in funding that was to be disbursed by the State Department this year under the eight year old Merida Initiative, through which the U.S. Congress so far has appropriated more than $2.3 billion in aid earmarked to train and equip Mexico’s security forces and to improve its judicial system.

In funding the Merida Initiative, Congress has mandated that 15% of certain funding be withheld if the State Department fails to certify Mexico is making progress on human rights.

Such certification has come regularly during years of criminal violence that has killed tens of thousands of Mexicans and left more than 20,000 others missing.

This time was different.

“This year, the Department was unable to confirm and report to Congress that Mexico fully met all of the criteria,” Mark Toner, the deputy spokesperson said in a memo sent to the media. “However, we continue to strongly support Mexico’s ongoing efforts to reform its law enforcement and justice systems—critical components to enhance the rule of law and protect human rights.”

The $5 million withheld is part of $33 million provided by the State Department. Nearly $150 million in total funding isn't affected.

In a statement late Monday, Mexico rejected the “unilateral” process by which the funds were withheld. But the foreign ministry said Mexico “recognizes the current challenges that confront the country in matters of human rights and reaffirms its unwavering commitment” to their projection.

The funding cut, first reported Monday in the Washington Post, comes amid ongoing concerns surrounding the Mexican government’s response to the September 2014 disappearance and likely killing in southern Guerrero state of 43 college students, allegedly at the hands of local police allied with a criminal gang.

Mexico’s attorney general’s office concluded after a six week investigation that the police had arrested the students and delivered them to the criminals, who killed them and cremated their bodies in an open-air fire.

But a team of experts dispatched by the Inter American Human Rights Commission said in a report last month that the government’s investigation was severely flawed, relying largely on the unsubstantiated claims in coerced confessions.

Human rights advocates have also raised red flags about the alleged execution by soldiers of some of 22 supposed criminals in another rural community in southern Mexico just three months before the students disappeared.

And they’ve called for investigations of the May killing by federal police of 42 alleged criminal gunmen in a battle at an isolated ranch in which just three men were arrested. Only one federal officer was killed and none wounded, in the assault at the ranch.

“No one can say with a straight face that Mexico is eliminating torture and solving the disappearances,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco,Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

The cut off of $5 million is largely a symbolic move unlikely to affect the broader bilateral security agenda, said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington, D.C. think tank.

“But it does send a clear message that Washington is worried and is aimed at prodding the Pena Nieto government to do more to address the country’s serious human rights situation,” Mr. Shifter said. “Whether the slight reduction in aid will have its intended effect is by no means clear.

Write to Dudley Althaus at Dudley.Althaus@wsj.com

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