Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Secretary Clinton: Will Merida Initiative Aircraft Be Used in Extrajudicial Executions?

Yesterday, Milenio broke the story that a man arrested by the Mexican Navy appears to have shown up executed after being tortured.  The editors at El Sendero del Peje put together a photo montage that shows the Navy arresting the man following a shootout and then loading him onto a Navy helicopter.  The last picture shows a person who appears to the the same man in the same clothing--only in that picture his dead and tortured body is wrapped in a blanket.

An excerpt from Milenio:
Detained Man Turns Up Dead

Hours after an alleged drug dealer was captured in Santa Catarina [Nuevo Leon] by Municipal Police and transferred with help from the Navy, the body of a subject with very similar clothing and features was found in an abandoned lot in San Nicolas de los Garza.

The lifeless body, which all signs indicate was the drug dealer who was detained moments after a confrontation between an organized crime group and police, was found in a plot of land in the Palmas Diamante neighborhood.

Even though his identity has still not been officially confirmed, the deceased's clothing matches that of the man who was detained on Sunday, and who was transferred by Navy personnel in a helicopter.  His body was found wrapped in a blanket next to a tree on Orion Street, with obvious signs of torture.

The man was detained by the Santa Catarina Secretary of Security's body guards when they discovered him selling drugs on streets in the Fomerrey 29 neighborhood.

Navy Denies Responsibility

The Mexican Navy issued a communique in which it says that it does not take responsibility for the incident because it only participated in transporting the man to the University hospital:

"It is worth pointing out that the support that this institution [the Navy] provided consisted solely in transferring the wounded and detained, who were in the custody of Santa Catarina municipal police chief Eduardo Murrieta at all times, up until the arrival at University hospital for medical attention for the wounded and following up with the necessary paperwork for the detained man.  The Mexican Navy did not participate in this case in any other way."

However, there could have been a mistake in the communique, because Eduardo Murrieta was wounded in the confrontation.  The Santa Catarina police official [mentioned in the communique as having custody of the detained man at all times] must have been someone else.
There's two points that Milenio touches on that should be highlighted:

  1. The tortured dead man is a suspected drug dealer.  Not a kingpin, not a lieutenant, and not even one of their bodyguards.  He was caught selling drugs.
  2. The Navy's press release denying responsibility for the extra-judicial execution contains obviously incorrect information regarding custody of the dead man.  Despite the Navy's propensity for run-on sentences, it is clear that Navy personnel did paperwork for the detained man.  It should have documented in its paperwork exactly who on the Santa Catarina police force took custody of the man.  

This story broke just as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Mexico for talks about the Merida Initiative.  She was so fired up about the recent killing of a US Consulate staffer in Ciudad Juarez that she conveniently didn't notice that the Navy is somehow involved in the extrajudicial execution of a drug dealer.

However, the Navy's use of a helicopter in the incident should have caught her attention.

The helicopter in question is a Russian-built MI-17.  The Mexican military purchased it with Mexican taxpayer money, not US taxpayer money.  Nonetheless, it should make Congress, the State Department, and Embassy officials think twice about the aircraft they are preparing the hand over to the Mexican government as part of the Merida Initiative.

The Merida Initiative aircraft, which includes Black Hawk, Jay Hawk, and BH-412 EP helicopters and CASA 235 airplanes.  It will also refurbish surveillance aircraft that is already part of the federal government's fleet.  Only some of the Merida Initiative aircraft has been delivered.

The Merida Initiative aircraft is the US government's most recent contribution to the Mexican government's fleet, but it isn't the first.  The Mexican government was able to free up its own budget resources to purchase its newest MI-17 helicopters thanks to US aviation support aid that filled in gaps in other parts of the military aircraft.  The United States' Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs' (INL) Aviation Support program upgraded and repaired Mexico's existing fleet, provided new US-made helicopters to the Mexican government, and trained pilots from fiscal year 2004-2007--precisely the timeframe in which Mexico purchased its newest MI-17 helicopters.

The State Department is prepared to give the Mexican Navy two new CASA 235s as part of the Merida Initiative.  If the Mexican Navy refuses to accept responsibility for human rights abuses committed with its aircraft, will the US State Department assume responsibility?
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