On February 25, the House of Representatives decided to expand the failed "war on drugs" model by committing $410 million more taxpayer dollars to the notorious Merida Initiative. (For background, click here.) The money was buried in a catch-all $410 billion spending bill for fiscal year 2009, representing just 0.1% of the total amount. Defying standard assumptions of democracy, the House's vote on 09's largest spending bill came within mere days of having publicly released the bill's text.
The bill now goes on to the Senate. If the hundreds of millions for Merida are not removed from the Senate version before passage, the U.S. will take another bullheaded leap down the militaristic path of the widely discredited "war on drugs."
Call your Senators today! Ask them to propose an amendment to the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act that would extract Merida Initiative funding from the bill. Use the talking points below. To reach your Senators' offices, call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Ask to be connected to your Senator (give your state if you're not sure who it is).
Merida Initiative supporters assert that the U.S. security assistance is desperately needed given that drug-related violence in Mexico is skyrocketing. There is no doubt that the crisis is real: execution-style murders in Mexico in 2008 totaled 5,630--more than twice that of 2007. The U.S. certainly needs to do something. But the crisis demands a new approach, not simply dusting off the tired "war on drugs" policies of the past. Merida, as a continuation of these policies, would prove tragically ineffective in diminishing the violence. Here's why:
- Drugs are a demand-driven business. After spending 7 years and over $5 billion in striving to curtail Colombia's coca production through Plan Colombia, the U.S. admitted last year that Colombians planted twice as much coca in 2007 as in 2000. This spectacular failure shows that attempts to stamp out drug supply abroad are doomed so long as drug demand remains high at home. The same would prove true for Merida's attempts to stamp out drug flow in Mexico. The RAND Corporation estimates that domestic drug treatment programs are 10 times more cost effective than drug interdiction efforts (i.e. Merida). Rather than wasting $410 million more taxpayer dollars on a solution that won't curb Mexico's drug-related violence, the U.S. should bolster drug treatment and rehabilitation efforts at home.
- A militarized interdiction approach could even exacerbate the violence. If military or police personnel, aided through the Merida Initiative, are successful in weakening one drug cartel, other cartels will inevitably compete to fill its place so long as U.S. demand keeps the business lucrative. Such competition often means a violent struggle for control in which many innocent civilians are killed in the crossfire.
- Merida does little to address another root cause of Mexico's violent drug trade: poverty. Mexico's economy is in shambles. Facing increasingly desperate socioeconomic realities, many of Mexico's unemployed are left with few options, including migration to the U.S. and employment in the illicit drug trade. A significant number inevitably opt for the latter, more profitable choice. The U.S. also needs to recognize that its own free trade policies have contributed to such crime-feeding poverty by displacing small-scale producers and forcing reliance on fickle export industries.
Beyond failing to curb Mexico's escalating violence, nearly doubling Merida Initiative funding would constitute a sincere threat to human rights and freedom of expression in Mexico.
- Merida would dangerously blur the line between military and police duties. The security assistance package finances increased military involvement in domestic efforts typically handled by police. In so doing, Merida dangerously puts the civilian populace at the discretion of military personnel who have been trained to eliminate foreign threats.
- Counter-narcotics operations in Mexico have a documented history of human rights abuses. As one example, in the past year Mexican soldiers in an anti-narcotics operation in the state of Michoacan beat, tortured, and sexually abused villagers who merely shared the same last name as a wanted drug-trafficker.
- U.S. training and equipment could be used to repress civil society's freedom of expression. Such repression has occurred as recently as Fall 2006 and Summer 2007, when federal and state security forces utilized arbitrary detention, torture, and the killing of civilians to suppress peaceful demonstrations in the state of Oaxaca.