Tuesday, June 3, 2008

LASC Position on the Merida Initiative

As Congress enters the final stages to approve the Merida Initiative, an aid package to Mexico and Central America that seeks to further militarize the region under the guise of the U.S.’s “war on drugs/war on terror,” we find manifold reasons to stand in opposition:

1) Money for Central America through the Merida Initiative would mark a significant increase in funding for military/police equipment and training in the region at a time when the need is for anti-poverty and crime-prevention programs.

The Merida Initiative, also known as Plan Mexico, builds on the troubling model of Plan Colombia, which has poured billions of dollars into a failed military approach to combating drugs while doing little to address rural poverty and urban unemployment. Central America has already become a satellite for U.S. military and police training in Latin America, despite the poor human rights records of some governments in the region. With the opening of the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in 2005, El Salvador—already the second largest recipient of military training in the region—became the hub of police training. The ILEA has the capacity to train 1500 students per year, more than the current Western Hemisphere Institute for Security and Cooperation, also known as the SOA. U.S. officials refuse to acknowledge the corruption, misconduct and human rights violations committed by the Salvadoran police. To the contrary, the Merida Initiative now proposes to further support ILEA and further equip those police. Meanwhile, the Initiative wholly ignores the root problems that continue to compel regional involvement in drug trafficking—poverty and unemployment.

2) The Merida Initiative would further threaten human rights by supporting repression of the rights to free speech and protest. The money from the U.S. would be an open invitation for the Mexican and Central American governments to continue using “iron fist” and anti-terrorism laws to crack down on legitimate social movements.

Over the last decade, Mexican police and military personnel have repeatedly committed human rights violations in attempt to silence civil dissent. Taking the most recent example, in 2006 security forces responded to civil society protest in Oaxaca with hundreds of arbitrary detentions, acts of torture, and over 20 assassinations. Numerous Mexican and international human rights organizations have expressed concern that Merida Initiative aid for Mexico's military and police constitutes a recipe for unchecked human rights violations.

Meanwhile, an “anti-terrorism” law passed by the Salvadoran legislature in 2006 uses language that, like the Iron Fist laws implemented in other Latin American countries, is very vague, leaving them open to a wide variety of repressive applications. The Salvadoran government has already used these laws to further criminalize protest tactics commonly used by social movements. The US Ambassador to El Salvador has expressed explicit support for police crackdowns, condoning the use of police force in protecting US trade interests. Through funding the ILEA – in addition to other police training programs in Central America and the Caribbean – the Merida Initiative would legitimize and justify such crackdowns . Vague human rights provisions in the bill would not change this reality.

Finally, there is evidence that the countries receiving aid from the Merida Initiative are already working to militarize their police forces. The separation between police and military in El Salvador and Guatemala, the top two Central American recipients of Merida Initiative aid, has declined dramatically in the years since Peace Accords led to the demilitarization of police in those countries. There has also been a resurgence of death squad-style murders, some linked to the police, in both Guatemala and El Salvador.

3) The Initiative would not effectively combat drug-trafficking.

Military interdiction efforts have a "balloon" effect. In Colombia, U.S. military efforts to stop coca production and trafficking in key locations have simply shifted production and trafficking to new locations, causing the number of coca-producing states to jump from 8 to 24 over the course of Plan Colombia. The Merida Initiative would likely have a parallel effect on drug trafficking, simply diverting trafficking routes from one place to another and forcing cartels to become more sophisticated.

Military interdiction efforts fail because they ignore a root cause of the problem: U.S. demand. Widespread drug use in the U.S. makes drug trafficking a lucrative business. Colombia has taught us that so long as demand remains high, even a multi-billion dollar military solution will fail. Even the right-wing RAND Corporation has concluded that far-flung attempts to stop drugs at their source is 23 times less cost effective than domestic drug treatment at home. While Merida proposes another step down the failed supply-side path, no parallel funds are being destined to state-side drug demand reduction programs.

4) Programs like the Merida Initiative have a worrisome lack of oversight and transparency.

Congress has not been given sufficient information about how the Central American and Mexican police will utilize the funding included for the region in the Merida Initiative. The examples of the ILEA and the SOA are instructive, in that officials at these institutions have actually blocked availability to basic information. Human rights groups that have sought to monitor the SOA and the ILEA have been denied documentation, such as course descriptions and names of students and instructors. Though backers of these military and police training programs promise conditions will be placed on the funds, given the history of poor oversight of such programs there is no guarantee this will occur.

In addition, the process in Congress for assessing the Merida Initiative was rushed and unclear, preventing opposition voices from making themselves heard. By including the Merida Initiative in the Emergency Supplemental bill to fund the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, promoters of the initiative short-circuited the normal process of going first through authorization and then through appropriations, preventing all sides and viewpoints to be heard and considered.

5) US military and police training contributes to violence rather than diminishing it.

Ample evidence gathered by SOA Watch and other human rights groups demonstrates that US training increases the level of official and extrajudicial violence in Latin America. There is no reason to believe that any of the structural problems have been addressed when it comes to police training. Reports from Mexico indicate that over 200 soldiers and police trained and equipped by the US have used the skills they learned to join and prop up various drug cartels. The proliferation of repression tactics only perpetuates the cycles of violence. The governments of Latin America do not need more police and military equipment and training from the country whose training has only raised the level of violence in the hemisphere.

The Latin America Solidarity Coalition demands:

  1. No funding for the Merida Initiative.
  2. Close the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security and Cooperation (SOA).
  3. Close the International Law Enforcement Academy for Latin America.
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