The Bush administration handed over its 2008 Merída Initiative spending plan to Congress on Monday, September 8—twenty-five days late. Congress has until Monday, September 22, to determine if the spending plan is satisfactory and to propose revisions or modifications. If Congress allows the fifteen-day period to lapse without responding, the spending plan goes into effect.
The Merída Initiative spending plan includes funds for Mexico, Central America, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. The 2008 spending plan is worth $465 million total. Mexico will receive $400 million, and Central America, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic will receive $65 million.
This article is part one in a series that analyzes the Merída Initiative spending plan.
Narco News has made the entire Merída Initiative spending plan available.
Part 1: Plan Mexico: Mexico under the Merída Initiative
The US State Department released the Plan Mexico spending plan just days before the Mexican government released its 2009 budget. The 2009 budget cuts money from agricultural development to increase funds for public security, dashing any hopes that Plan Mexico would allow the Mexican government to allocate funds that it would otherwise spend on public security to be used for domestic economic development. Instead, Plan Mexico should be seen as the latest in a series of disturbing moves to further militarize Mexican society at the expense of its citizens.
At the regional level, Plan Mexico is the latest in a series of carefully calculated moves designed to wrest back control of Latin America after years of neglect under the Bush administration.
Bush has focused nearly all of his foreign relations attention on conquering the Middle East, allowing big Latin American players like Venezuela and Brazil to form global South-South alliances that challenge the Washington Consensus. This has created what Latin America scholars refer to as a “multipolar moment” in which the US’ all-encompassing hegemonic and political control is challenged.
With Plan Mexico, Bush strengthens his relationship with one of his only two friends in Latin America, Felipe Calderón (the other one being Colombia’s Uribe). Through his war on organized crime, Calderón increasingly blurs the line between military and civil police in his drive to militarize Mexico. The Plan Mexico spending plan lauds this effort: “One of the most important benefits of the Merída Initiative is the partnerships that will be created among law enforcement and national defense officials.”
Plan Mexico also supports US-driven plans for the region. Plan Mexico’s funds for Central America include armament and resources to support the reactivation of the Fourth Fleet, a US-led “Latin American Navy” that will be discussed in detail in part two of this series. The package as a whole alludes to and contains resources to carry out Plan Puebla-Panama, now known as the Mesoamerica Project, and the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). Both are militarized spins on what were originally economic development projects.
Known as "NAFTA plus Homeland Security," the SPP is widely considered to be the militarization and expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). However, whereas NAFTA was ratified by the legislatures of all three participating nations (albeit, a one-party dictatorship ruled Mexico at the time), the SPP is an agreement between the executive branches and corporations that will never be presented to Congress for its approval. 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").
Plan Mexico’s immigration, military, intelligence, police training, and judicial reform aspects all bear the mark of the SPP. This shouldn’t be surprising since Leslie Bassett, Deputy Chief of the US Mission to Mexico, explicitly linked the SPP and Plan Mexico in her speech at the Border Security Conference in August.
Plan Puebla-Panama (PPP) was a series of linked development projects that spanned from Panama to Puebla, Mexico. According to the Center for Economic and Political Investigation for Community Action (CIEPAC) in Chiapas, the PPP consisted of “programs for infrastructure, investment, free movement of merchandise, an open border between countries, investigation for technology, agriculture and livestock development, development of the mining industry, biodiversity protection, development centers for people from the countryside, etc.” The PPP has suffered several setbacks due to widespread and militant resistance to the project amongst affected communities, including the Zapatistas. However, in May 2008 the PPP was reborn as the Mesoamerica Project. According to the International Service for Peace (SiPaz), “the new project eliminates some 95% of the development and infrastructure projects originally planned for in the Plan Puebla-Panama since its inception in 2001…. [During the announcement of the PPP’s rebirth as the Mesoamerica Project] leaders also reiterated their pledge to fight organized crime, noting that with the approval of the Mérida Initiative a foundation is now in place to start a Security Plan between Mexico and Central America that will include bilateral and multilateral strategies. It is estimated that there will be some USD $953 million slated for concrete measures within the plan.”
Indeed, Plan Mexico spending report says, “The Merída Initiative envisions strengthening and integrating security from the US Southwest border to Panama…. It is not enough for us to focus solely on the Southwest border of the United States. By supporting our southern neighbors’ efforts to secure their territory, we are able to create a much more secure area that extends to Panama….” It is becoming more and more clear that the Mesoamerica Project, announced during the debate over Plan Mexico, is a militarized version of Plan Puebla-Panama, and Plan Mexico will arm it.
The Specifics: The Devil’s in the Details
Unlike previous drafts of Plan Mexico, the spending plan omits any explicit funds for private contractors. This is most likely due to the scandal caused by videos showing a US-based contracting firm training Mexican police in torture tactics, which were leaked just one day after Bush signed Plan Mexico into law. However, the spending plan includes copious amounts of training provided by unspecified trainers, so private contractors—both foreign and Mexican—are not off the table.
The spending plan also does not mention the deployment of US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agents to Mexico, although it does say that the US will deploy at least one ATF agent to Central America and the Caribbean. However, like contractors, omission of any mention of ATF deployment to Mexico does not preclude the possibility. Previous versions of the Plan did explicitly call for the deployment of ATF agents to Mexico under Project Gunrunner. Project Gunrunner was slated to receive extra funding apart from Plan Mexico under a scrapped version of the Iraq Supplemental Funding bill in order to prepare the ATF for the deployment of its agents to Mexico to track and stem the flow of illegal firearms. Given that an estimated 90% of drug cartels’ weapons come from the US, it’s likely that the US government continues to consider Project Gunrunner to be a regional security priority.
Plan Mexico funding is broken down into four categories: Economic Support Fund; International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement; Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining & Related programs; and Foreign Military Financing. Mexico will not receive any money for Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining & Related programs.
Foreign Military Financing
Plan Mexico will provide the Mexican government with armament in order to support Felipe Calderón’s war on organized crime. This war has been a disastrous failure by every possible measure.
There are currently 40,000 federal soldiers and 5,000 federal police deployed to battle drug cartels in eleven states. Since Calderón declared open war on organized crime a year and a half ago, over 4,152 people have died drug-related deaths, 87 unresolved formal complaints of crimes against journalists have accumulated in the Mexican Attorney General’s office, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has documented 634 cases of military abuse, and the country’s homicide rate has increased by 47%. Contralínea magazine reports at least 223 disappearances during Calderón’s term so far: 23-30 political disappearances and approximately 200 cartel-related disappearances.
Despite the skyrocketing violence, the war on organized crime seems to have had minimal impact on drug trafficking. Jorge Luis Sierra, a specialist in defense economics and politics at Washington’s National Defense University, told Contralínea that drug seizure levels in Mexico have remained constant at about 10% of the estimated drug flow that passes through Mexico to the United States.
Bush and Calderón have ignored all evidence to the contrary and declared the war on organized crime an initial success. Plan Mexico is designed to support this war exactly as the Mexican government is currently carrying it out. In addition to the armored vehicles, bulletproof vests, and related “technical assistance” provided under Plan Mexico’s narcotics section, Foreign Military Financing (FMF) will give Mexico several aircraft.
Plan Mexico 2008 funding marks the first year in recent memory that Mexico will receive FMF funds. Up until now, Mexico was cut off from receiving US military assistance because it is a party to the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC). Countries who are party to the Rome Statute can only receive US military aid if they enter into an Article 98 agreement. According to Just the Facts, a joint project of the Center for International Policy, the Latin American Working Group Education Fund, and the Washington Office on Latin America: “An “Article 98” agreement is a bilateral pact wherein countries pledge not to seek the prosecution of U.S. citizens in the International Criminal Court.” However, Just the Facts notes, “The President is allowed to waive application of the law if he determines it to be in the U.S. national interest.” This is likely what happened in order to authorize military aid under Plan Mexico, because Mexico has thus far expressed no desire to enter into an Article 98 agreement with the United States.
The Defense Department’s Security Cooperation Agency, which administers the FMF program, defines Foreign Military Financing as “the U.S. government program for financing through grants or loans the acquisition of U.S. military articles, services, and training.”
Mexico will receive $116.5 million of the total $120.5 million Plan Mexico FMF funds for 2008.
FMF funding will provide up to two CASA 235 aircraft. “In addition to up to two aircraft, the package provided will include logistics support (primarily spare parts and limited technical support) for three years. Funding will also support transition training (training for experienced pilots to fly a new type of aircraft) for Mexican pilots.” The spending plan says that these aircraft “will enable SEMAR [the Mexican Navy] to conduct maritime surveillance over the eastern Pacific Ocean and the western Caribbean Sea thereby increasing the GOM’s [Government of Mexico’s] maritime domain awareness….. [the aircraft] will also provide SEMAR’s surveillance and coordination functions, increasing its ability to seize illicit cargo and deny the use of Mexican waters to transnational criminals and terrorists.” CASA 235 planes have the ability to use night vision equipment, two computers to transmit and receive information from a military base or control center, and room for 57 soldiers with all of their equipment or 48 parachutists. CASA 235s can also carry six anti-ship missiles and two MK46 torpedoes or Exocet M-39 anti-ship missiles.
Mexico will also receive up to five BH-412 EP (Bell Helicopter) medium-lift utility helicopters along with a logistics support package for two years for new aircraft and possibly four Mexico-owned helicopters already in service. This includes training for pilots. BH-412s are designed to rapidly deploy military forces, which, according to the spending plan, will “establish security needed for successful interdiction of arms, drugs, and persons.” BH-412s carry 1-2 crewmembers and 13-14 soldiers and are equipped for day and night flight.
FMF funding will also refurbish and completely equip two Cessna Citation II C-550 surveillance aircraft for the Mexican Office of the Attorney General (PGR). Cessna Citations have radar and cameras. They can be outfitted with weapons and often are when they’re used in the war on drugs. In 2001, Cessna Citations provided by the US government and piloted by Peruvian pilots under the direction of CIA agents killed a US missionary and her baby in Peru when they were mistaken for drug traffickers.
Plan Mexico will provide an undetermined number of ion scanners “to support the efforts of the Mexican Navy (SEMAR) and Mexican Army/Air Force (SEDENA) to control their national territory and the southern approach to the United States.” The ion scanners come with a standard maintenance package. The spending plan notes that they’re “capable of detecting both explosives and narcotics” and will be “used by SEDENA to help detect illicit drug and arms trafficking through remote areas of Mexico and will support the GOM’s [government of Mexico’s] effort to mount a robust interdiction system via land routes.”
Ion scanners analyze the size of molecules to test for the presence of drugs. They are widely used in US prisons and by the US Coast Guard to quickly scan bulk shipments. They produce many false positives, and are currently considered by prison scholars to be a way to harass and intimidate prison visitors by providing an excuse to refuse them prison access even if the visitor does not have drugs in their possession. Drug molecules can be picked up and stay on humans and their clothing even though the human with the positive result may have never had drugs in her or his possession. Furthermore, ion scanners cannot tell the difference between drug molecules and non-drug molecules that are the same size. As a result, a study by Kay Lumas found that 91% of ion scanner tests produce false positives. According to Lumas, false “positives can occur with baker's poppy seeds, herbal products, natural body enzymes (i.e. melanin, the natural skin pigment which causes the skin to turn dark can cause false positive for marijuana), and from common medications.” This means that people with higher levels of melanin, such as Blacks, indigenous people, and Hispanics, will show false positives. The US Department of Justice expands upon Lumas’ list of false positive-causing substances: “an innocuous substance such as prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, perfumes, lotions, herbal products, poppy seeds, chlorine baby wipes and gas[oline] fumes can be identified as an illegal narcotic substance.” Lumas also notes, “The equipment must be calibrated with actual drugs (cocaine, amphetamines, marijuana, opiates and PCP) at regular periods” and that “improper maintenance of the equipment can also cause false-positive readings.”
The spending plan says that the ion scanners will be used for “rapid, preliminary assessments of suspicious items that security forces could encounter while conducting routine or counternarcotics/counterterrorism operations.” We can only hope for the sake of Mexicans, especially those with darker skin, that ion scanners won’t be abused in Mexico like they are in the US.
Economic Support Fund
The Economic Support Fund (ESF) is “for job-creation programs, reductions in government control over domestic markets, development of transparent judicial systems that promote the rule of law, training of the media and public officials, and strengthening the efforts of local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to offer critical services to target communities,” according to Citizens for Global Solutions.
The ESF is usually administered through the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the US’ bilateral international development agency. USAID’s stated purpose is “furthering America's foreign policy interests.” USAID has its roots in the Marshall Plan, which laid the foundation for leveraged structural adjustment of sovereign economies in a decolonized world.
USAID is widely considered to be even more unaccountable to aid recipients than the IMF and the World Bank, even amongst the Washington Consensus institutions. When challenged on the World Bank’s track record on gender and post-conflict resolution in 2004, Ian Bannon, manager of the Conflict Prevention and Reconstruction Unit of the World Bank, said to a room full of NGO representatives in Washington DC, “At least we’re not as bad as a certain bilateral development agency whose offices are down the street.”
USAID will most likely administer Plan Mexico’s ESF funding, as all Mexican ESF funding falls under the heading “Governing Justly and Democratically,” a USAID objective. USAID’s website says that Governing Justly and Democratically (GJD) aims to “strengthen institutions of representative democracy, such as political parties, legislatures, executive agencies, media, and civil society.” While USAID has played an important role in reforming the Mexican judicial system over the years, in 2008 ESF funds to Mexico will jump to $20 million dollars under Plan Mexico—almost 13% of USAID’s total GJD funding in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2007 ESF funds to Mexico totaled $11.35 million, making 2008 a 76% increase over 2007 due to Plan Mexico.
According to the spending plan, ESF funds will support “implementation of Mexico’s new judicial reforms.” In this respect, Plan Mexico will fund exchanges between Mexican and US judges, as well as training for Mexican police, prosecutors, and other officials. Funds will also help law schools and bar associations develop curricula “regarding changes that will be required under the new justice reforms in Mexico.”
The spending plan makes no attempt to hide that the Mexican government undertook many of these new judicial reforms to pave the way for Plan Mexico: “In an unprecedented move, the Government of Mexico is devoting significant resources to this fight and continues to move forward on important judicial and law enforcement reforms designed to magnify the cooperation provided under the Merída Initiative.”
Plan Mexico’s ESF funds will also attempt to influence school children, the media, and NGOs. While it’s not specifically listed under the ESF heading—instead, it’s tucked away in the “Merída Initiative Strategic Goals, Objectives, and Indicators” section in the back of the spending plan—Plan Mexico funds will “expand the USG [US government]-funded National Strategy Information Center’s (NSIC) Culture of Lawfulness program (that partners with Mexican police and schools) to the media and NGOs to influence attitudes about the rule of law.” While it sounds innocent enough, the NSIC has a dark history that includes work with the CIA. Political Research Associates writes:
The National Strategy Information Center (NSIC), founded in 1962, was the first right-wing think tank to address such issues as national security strategy, low-intensity conflict, operations of intelligence agencies, political warfare, and the role of nongovernmental groups, especially labor unions, in furthering foreign and military policy goals. Over the past four decades, NSIC has worked with the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies in studies of political and psychological warfare and in their collaboration with conservative labor union operations, especially in Europe and Latin America. In addition to the support it has received directly or indirectly from the U.S. government, NSIC depends on grants from right-wing foundations. Launched with start-up funding from the Coors family, NSIC has in recent years depended on the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
The ESF will also provide “training to police, prosecutors, and other officials to implement internationally-accepted standards and Mexican law in human rights” and “training to human rights NGOs and civil society on the code of criminal procedure, as well as on international, regional, and national laws protecting human rights in order to build NGO capacity to properly monitor and document human rights violations…. The Mexico office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCHR) will be asked to work with the Mexican government and non-governmental entities to strengthen observance of human rights norms” [emphasis added].
US government-driven human rights training is particularly ironic to Mexican civil society. Mexican human rights organizations are often the only thing standing between human rights violators (who often work for or with the government) and impunity. Furthermore, as the editorial board of Mexico’s national daily La Jornada argues, “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.” Given the irrefutable proof of systematic human rights violations and torture in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, 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 US’ desire to train Mexican human rights NGOs in international human rights law and monitoring human rights abuses would be tragically comical if its true aim weren’t so obvious: “properly” monitoring human rights violations under Plan Mexico probably means monitoring them as the US and Mexican governments see fit.
International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement
Like its counterpart in Colombia, Plan Mexico is principally an anti-drug initiative on the surface. Felipe Calderón’s war on drug cartels and organized crime is the pretext for pumping hundreds of millions of dollars in armament, training, and US agents into Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. As such, the bulk of Plan Mexico funding is concentrated under International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE).
Just the Facts defines the Bureau for International Narcotics Law Enforcement Affairs, which oversees INCLE funds:
Within the Department of State, the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) designs and carries out international counternarcotics policy and programs, while advising and coordinating other U.S. agencies’ overseas anti-drug activities. INL provides aid and training to the governments and security forces of countries in which drugs are produced or transported. INL's program combines economic and security assistance, aiding civilian and military agencies with counternarcotics responsibilities. Types of aid include training, technical assistance, equipment and arms transfers, development assistance (particularly “alternative development” aid to encourage cultivation of legal crops), and aid to administration of justice and domestic drug demand-reduction programs. State Department INL officials themselves may manage assistance programs, or INL funds may be transferred to other government agencies like US Agency for International Development or the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The Plan Mexico spending plan says that INCLE funds will “support the development of the GOM’s [Government of Mexico’s] institutional capacity to detect and interdict illicit drugs, explosives and weapons, trafficked/smuggled persons and individuals seeking to enter the United States to conduct terrorist activities.”
Mexico will receive $263.5 million of Plan Mexico’s $293.3 million in INCLE funds. Mexico’s $263.5 million is a whopping 39.7% of INCLE funding for the entire Western Hemisphere, according to a FY2008 INCLE estimate provided by Just the Facts. In 2007, Mexico received $36.678 million in INCLE funding, making 2008’s $263.5 million a 618% increase over the previous year. Prior to Plan Mexico, Colombia was the INCLE powerhouse, receiving 68% of the Western Hemisphere’s INCLE funds in 2007. Mexico, on the other hand, received one tenth Colombia’s funding in 2007. Just the Facts estimates that Colombia will receive $247,097,704 in 2008 INCLE funding, meaning Mexico’s funding will rival or may even top Colombia’s funding.
Mexico’s INCLE funding falls under two headings: “Peace and Security” and “Governing Justly and Democratically.” Peace and Security funding amounts to $180 million, while Governing Justly and Democratically amounts to $59.5 million.
The erroneously-named Peace and Security funding will help Mexico increase its ability to spy on and track its citizens, employees, and visitors and then share this information with the United States government.
To draw Mexico into US politicians' politically popular yet economically unfeasible fight to stem immigration flows into the US, Plan Mexico’s Peace and Security funds “will build on existing programs to expand and modernize its [Mexico’s] immigration databases, document verification systems, and equip and train its border rescue/safety personnel.” The spending plan does not, however, specify what equipment it will provide to Mexican border rescue/safety personnel.
Plan Mexico will also enhance support to and cover “maintenance costs” for the joint Mexico/US “Operation Against Smugglers (and Traffickers) Initiative on Safety and Security” (OASISS) project, which targets human smuggling. In announcing the implementation of OASISS, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner said, “By exchanging critical information, coordinating enforcement operations and jointly targeting cross border criminal activity we will yield a more safe and secure border.”
OASISS was inaugurated in 2005 in the midst of an anti-immigrant frenzy in the United States. That year, the vigilante organization Minuteman Project captured national headlines with its armed patrols of the US’ southern border. Operation ICE Storm rounded up hundreds of undocumented immigrants in the US, and the US government expanded the border fence/wall along the Mexico/US border.
Plan Mexico will expand OASISS to cover the entire Southwest US border. The Plan will also “provide the Mexican National Migration Institute (INAMI) with the tools and training to help build a robust information technology network [and] implement biometrics standards.” Tracking immigrants’ biometric characteristics like fingerprints will help harmonize Mexico’s immigration standards to the much-criticized US standards, where all visitors are fingerprinted and photographed upon entry.
A large portion of Plan Mexico’s Peace and Security section focuses on increasing various Mexican agencies’ domestic spying capabilities. Plan Mexico will “provide the Mexican Office of the Attorney General's office (PGR) with training and technical assistance in developing forensic, electronic, and undercover evidence in complex cases involving organized crime, corruption, narcotics trafficking and financial crimes.” The Center for Analysis, Planning, and Intelligence Against Organized Crimes (CENAPI), the PGR’s intelligence unit, is specifically targeted for funding and support. Activists have strongly criticized the PGR for its involvement in military and police operations in Zapatista territory, its repeated attempts to charge activists from the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) with Brad Will’s murder, and its refusal to prosecute police who raped and tortured political prisoners in San Salvador Atenco in 2006. The US government seeks to encourage this repressive behavior by providing the PGR with undercover and electronic surveillance training and technical assistance.
Plan Mexico also seeks to “enhance data management and analysis capabilities of the Mexican intelligence service (CISEN).” To achieve this aim, it will “equip [CISEN] interview rooms with monitoring technology, a telecommunications network, support forensic computer analysis.” CISEN is a domestic spy agency that is notorious for its actions against activists, including coordinating or participating in military operations in Zapatista territory. In February 2008, a CISEN agent was detained in Zapatista territory while he was posing as a reporter, a practice that puts real journalists’ lives at risk because armed groups may falsely accuse them of being government agents.
Plan Mexico also seems to be setting up the Mexican Financial Intelligence Unit to implement a financial spying program similar to that of the Bush administration. Even though the Bush administration came under fire in 2006 for secretly monitoring wire transfers, its Plan Mexico spending report includes “both software and hardware to modernize its [Mexico’s] systems to process, analyze, and correlate money flowing through the financial systems looking for anomalies to investigate.” Keeping in mind that one of the INCLE funding’s stated goals is to “facilitate the bilateral sharing of strategic and tactical information relating to on-going investigations,” this section of the spending plan will not only increase Mexico’s spying capabilities; it will also expand the US government’s intelligence reach.
Plan Mexico also includes money for mobile non-intrusive inspective equipment to the Department of Public Security (SPP in its Spanish initials), the Department of National Defense (SEDENA), and Mexican Customs. This includes the establishment of a K-9 training academy for all Mexican civilian law enforcement agencies that would train both dogs and their handlers.
The bulk of the Governing Justly and Democratically section of the INCLE funds are dedicated the Mexican judicial system. The most troubling funding falls under “technical assistance in prison management.” This funding will “provide training to all levels of management, corrections officers and support personnel at Mexican prisons on developing a new maximum security prison, programs to reduce overcrowding, improvements to security, enhancements to offender rehabilitation, and a dedicated corrections training academy.”
One stated objective of Plan Mexico prison initiatives is to “sever the influence of incarcerated criminals with outside criminal organizations.” The proposed maximum security prison, along with the harmonization of Mexican prison norms with those of the United States, are not likely to sever incarcerated drug cartel members’ ties to and communication with their counterparts on the outside due to the pervasive influence of the cartels throughout all levels of the Mexican government. The Mexican intelligence agency CISEN has stated that the drug cartels’ control likely extends from local police forces and legislatures up to the federal Congress. However, these prison reform measures could have an impact on common criminals’ and political prisoners’ contacts with the outside world, as they wield practically no power within the police or government.
Narco News has documented the numerous successful movements to free Mexican political prisoners. Political prisoner solidarity in Mexico is dependent upon communication with and the leadership of political prisoners themselves. Activists and human rights observers visit political prisoners. During these visits, groups or delegations are often permitted to visit with political prisoners as a group, instead of the one-on-one visits that are common in higher security prisons in the US. Political prisoners also legally raise money for their prisoner organizations and families by passing hand-made crafts such as hammocks and purses to activists during prison visits so that the activists can sell them. Many of these central tenets of successful political prisoner solidarity in Mexico are impossible in US prisons, and as a result the US political prisoner solidarity movement is noticeably less vibrant and successful.
The Plan Mexico spending report includes an unspecified amount of money for drug treatment in Mexico, but it most likely won’t be much. Even though studies have found that drug treatment is much more cost-effective than enforcement, earlier Plan Mexico proposals only dedicated $15.2 million, or 3.8% of total Merída Initiative funds for Mexico, to drug treatment.
Defeating Plan Mexico
By focusing on enforcement strategies that have clearly increased violence in Mexico and on the border rather than treatment programs that are proven to be more effective, the United States and Mexican governments further their militarization aims at the expense of their citizens. Rather than investing in its own economy during a period of economic crisis, the US government has chosen to fund yet another endless war that only benefits defense contractors. Similarly, despite massive marches in protest of the food crisis, Mexico continues to divert funds from the countryside to a deadly war that has thus far only succeeded in driving up drug prices.
However, all is not lost. There is still a limited amount of time for the US Congress to remove or change the most destructive aspects of Plan Mexico. Furthermore, funding has to be renewed every year, giving activists another chance to defeat Plan Mexico in the next round of funding. While conservative forces’ attempts to militarize Mexico would likely continue with or without Plan Mexico, defeating Plan Mexico would deal a significant blow to the most aggressive project within the Security and Prosperity Partnership and would therefore hamper the militarization of the continent.