Thursday, May 22, 2008

US Congress Approves Plan Mexico

The US Congress approved Plan Mexico, also known as the Merida Initiative, last week, dealing a potentially deadly blow to activists and indigenous communities in Mexico. In the House, 244 Democrats and 32 Republicans voted for the bill and 7 democrats and 159 Republicans voted against it. The Senate approved a slightly different version, with Democrats unanimous in their approval and Republicans split evenly for and against. The House and Senate versions of the bill, which is an amendment to the Iraq supplemental funding bill, still must be reconciled and sent to George Bush for approval, who has threatened to veto the entire Iraq supplemental.

While Bush requested $500 million in funding for Plan Mexico in 2008, the House approved $400 million over the next two years, and the Senate approved $350 million. Analysts expected deeper cuts to Bush's proposal, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Mexican Ambassador to the US Arturo Sarukhan rallied at the last minute, using the recent murder of Edgar Eusebio Millán Gómez, chief of Mexico's national police force, the infamous Federal Preventive Police, as a pretext to argue for more funding for Mexico's War on Drugs. The Sinaloa drug cartel is rumored to be responsible for Millán's murder.

Plan Mexico will provide resources, equipment, and training--but not money--to the Mexican government, police, and military. It is yet another bill designed to line the pockets of the military industrial complex. The US military, government agencies such as USAID and the ATF, and US defense contractors such as mercenary firms and weapons manufacturers will receive funding to carry out Plan Mexico.

As passed by the House, Plan Mexico will provide $116.5 million over the next two years for training and equipment for the Mexican military, and for "strengthening of military-to-military cooperation between the United States and Mexico." Bush's request included eight helicopters and two airplanes for the Mexico military.

While Plan Mexico specifically targets drug trafficking, the initiative's South American counterpart, Plan Colombia, demonstrates that drug war equipment and training will inevitably be used against activists and insurgent organizations. Mexico has already demonstrated its propensity to use deadly drug war equipment donated by the US against insurgents and civilians. Following the Zapatista uprising in 1994, the Mexican military strafed Chiapan indigenous communities using helicopters donated by the US to combat drug trafficking and production.

Plan Mexico also includes $210 million over two years to expand the US's draconian anti-immigrant policy to Mexico's side of the border. Mexico is a portal to the US for undocumented Central American immigrants. The hope is that Mexico will detect and stop undocumented immigrants in Mexico before they reach the US. The $210 million will be used to modernize and expand Mexico's immigration database and document verification system, establish secure communications for Mexican national security agencies, procure "non-intrusive" inspection equipment, and support interdiction efforts as well as institution building. $5 million of this money will be used to deploy US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agents to Mexico. Most alarmingly, at least $168 million of this funding is unspecified, meaning that the Democrat-controlled Congress waived its right to determine legislative policy in favor of giving Bush a free hand in Mexico's immigration policies and police procedures.

Democrats' overwhelming support for Plan Mexico in the face of overwhelming Republican opposition is yet another example of Democrats' refusal to stand up to George Bush, despite their mandate to do so as a result of the 2006 elections.

George Bush proposed Plan Mexico at the end of 2007 for two very apparent reasons:
  1. Plan Mexico is an indispensable component of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). Known as "NAFTA on steroids" or "NAFTA plus Homeland Security," the SPP "calls for maximization of North American economic competitiveness in the face of growing exports from India and China; expedited means of resource (oil, natural gas, water, forest products) extraction; secure borders against 'organized crime, international terrorism, and illegal migration;' standardized regulatory regimes for health, food safety, and the environment; integrated energy supply through a comprehensive resource security pact (primarily about ensuring that the US receives guaranteed flows of the oil in light of 'Middle East insecurity and hostile Latin American regimes'); and coordination amongst defense forces.

    "Over 300 policies and agreements have been scheduled and/or implemented to realize these corporate priorities. Some examples of these agreements are the integration of military and police training exercises, cooperation on law enforcement, and the expansion of the North American Aerospace Defense Command into a joint naval and land defense command. This also includes redesign of armed forces for combat overseas and greater cooperation in global wars as part of the 'external' defense strategy of the security perimeter" (Harsha Walia and Cynthia Oka, "The Security and Prosperity Partnership Agreement: NAFTA Plus Homeland Security").

    The SPP is not a legislative proposal; it is a plan hatched by a board of corporate CEO's and endorsed by the executive branches of Canada, the US, and Mexico. As such, the legislative branches of these three countries will never vote on the SPP as a policy.

    Mexican civil society organizations such as the Center for Economic and Political Investigation for Community Action (CIEPAC) in Chiapas oppose the SPP because they believe that "The United States is making it possible to force Mexico and Canada to change their laws, rules, and regulations in order to secure the economic ("prosperity") and political ("security") interests of its government and businesses... in order to appropriate our natural resources for themselves and to increase their profits."

  2. Plan Mexico reflects the effort of one weak president, George Bush, to support another weak president, Felipe Calderon. George Bush can sympathize with Felipe Calderon. He knows what it's like to steal an election and then have to rule a country with an iron fist while faced with enormous unpopularity. Seeing as though Calderon is one of only two friends George Bush has in Latin America (the other being Colombia's President Uribe, also the recipient of mind-boggling military funding), George Bush had to act.

    When Felipe Calderon took office in 2006 despite massive protests against the electoral fraud that brought him to power, one of the first things he did was deploy the military to drug cartel-dominated states in the north, militarizing a large portion of Mexico without legislative approval. Mexicans and US organizations have argued that this strategy is Calderon's attempt to bolster a weak president with a strong military alliance and warn that it could signal a return to the "dirty war" era. Plan Mexico represents the further militarization of Mexican society without legislative controls because it will provide US resources and training to the Calderon-controlled military without Mexican congressional approval.

Friends of Brad Will, the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy, and Witness for Peace have criticized Plan Mexico for dumping more resources and controversial US training into the Mexican military and police. The Mexican military has a history of utilizing paramilitaries to terrorize leftists and communities in resistance. Paramilitaries in Chiapas are currently experiencing a renaissance unseen since the 1997 Acteal massacre that resulted in the violent deaths of 47 civilians, most of them women and children. The police's report card is no better: in May 2006 police raped and sexually assaulted dozens of women they detained without charge during a protest in San Salvador Atenco against, ironically, police repression of the community. While some police were charged with "lewd conduct," even these light convictions were overturned. US journalist Brad Will was murdered in October 2006 while working in Oaxaca City. He filmed his own assassination, and photographic evidence clearly shows that the shooters are off-duty police and government officials. After a "thorough" investigation, the Mexican government blamed his murder on Oaxacan activists.

While Friends of Brad Will and their allies argue that no human rights safeguards will be adequate to justify US funding for Mexican military and police under current circumstances, Amnesty International and other major human rights organizations fought for human rights safeguards to be included in the bill rather than opposing it outright. Their reward for this stance is a seat at the table: the Senate version of Plan Mexico mandates that the Secretary of the State “consult” with “internationally recognized human rights organizations on progress in meeting the requirements.”

The so-called “safeguards” will do nothing to advance human rights in Mexico. They require that none other than Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice certify that the Mexican military and police have initiated reforms, that serious investigations into the rape of prisoners in San Salvador Atenco and Brad Will's murder are undertaken by the US and Mexican governments, and that statements obtained through torture not be used in a court of law. The bill also states that no police or military unit that is corrupt or engages in human rights abuses will receive aid under Plan Mexico, a laughable and unenforceable standard. If Rice is unable to certify progress in human rights and anti-corruption, a mere 25% of military and police funding will be withheld, meaning that Congress believes it's acceptable to give 75% funding to military and police forces even if Condoleezza Rice believes they are corrupt and brutal.

But the problem with human rights safeguards in Plan Mexico isn't that they're inadequate. Legislators included safeguards to make military aid from one brutal right-wing government, the United States, to another brutal right-wing government, Mexico, palatable to the US public. Despite irrefutable proof of systematic human rights violations and torture in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the CIA's use of "extraordinary rendition" to disappear and torture suspects in "black sites," and ICE's drugging of deportees with overdoses of dangerous psychotropic drugs, the United States still likes to think of itself as the principal defender of human rights globally. The rest of the world, however, does not share the same rosy view of the US. In an editorial criticizing the human rights safeguards in Plan Mexico as a pretext for further US-mandated structural adjustment in the form of mandatory "judicial and legal reforms," Mexico's La Jornada also notes the irony of the US promoting human rights in other countries: "The United States' demand to verify respect for human rights in other nations constitutes a grotesque and absurd pretension, taking into account that, on a global scale, the superpower is the principal violator of such rights."

But Plan Mexico's human rights safeguards were never meant to be taken seriously. They're an excuse to slip in a few US-mandated judicial reforms without Mexican Congress' initiative nor approval, and more importantly, they allow US lawmakers to sleep soundly at night despite the fact that they've just unleashed a nightmare on Mexican citizens.


More information on Plan Mexico and the Security and Prosperity Partnership:
The Security and Prosperity Partnership Agreement: NAFTA Plus Homeland Security by Harsha Walia and Cynthia Oka
A Primer on Plan Mexico by Laura Carlsen
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