Sunday, May 31, 2009

Persecution of Monterrey Community Radio "Tierra y Libertad"

Mexican Government Used the Drug War to Raid a Rebelious Poor Neighborhood's Radio; Radio Magnates Rejoice

This past March 12, Monterrey community leader Dr. Hector Camero arrived at the Mexican Federal Attorney General's Office (PGR) to provide witness testimony regarding a June 2008 raid on his organization's radio station, Radio Tierra y Libertad. When he arrived, government officials informed him that he was no longer considered a witness in the case; he was the main suspect, accused of "use of national assets without prior permission."

Within the next few days, the government is expected to issue a federal warrant for Camero's arrest because the Federal Prosecutor's Office has announced that it has enough evidence to charge him. Camero faces 2-12 years in prison and up to MX$500,000 (USD$37,920) in fines.

Camero's legal problems stem from the June 6, 2008, nighttime raid on Radio Tierra y Libertad, located in the lower-income neighborhood of Tierra y Libertad on the outskirts of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. Approximately 120 heavily armed Federal Preventive Police participated in the raid. The police ran up three streets in the neighborhood, reportedly yelling, "No one go outside! This is an anti-drug operation!"

The police arrived unimpeded at the station and broke down the building's steel door, interrupting a live transmission. When Dr. Camero heard the police attempting to break down the door, he managed to issue a call for help over the radio before police cut the transmission and stole the radio's equipment.

In addition to seizing the equipment, the police attempted to arrest Dr. Camero. However, approximately 300 neighbors heard Camero's call for help broadcasted over the radio and ran to his aid. They managed to prevent the detention of Camero and two other people who were with him in the radio station during the raid, but they couldn't save the radio equipment.

The neighbors' failure to mobilize enough people in time to prevent the raid and loss of equipment can't be written off as indifference. Camero told Narco News that since the radio doesn't have a history of police raids, and since Monterrey is a known haven for drug traffickers, many people who would have otherwise come out to stop the police did not do so because of the heavily-armed cops' claims that they were carrying out a raid on drug traffickers. These bogus claims "confused and delayed the support of the community," says Camero.

The Tierra y Libertad neighborood ("Land and Liberty" in English) is certainly no stranger to political struggle, and most likely would have mobilized to stop the invasion had the police not lied to them. Tierra y Libertad residents have fought hard for land rights in Monterrey for over thirty years, ever since the neighborhood's founders expropriated the land it sits on in the 1970s. Thanks to decades of organizing and struggle, the neighborhood now was all of the basic municipal services such as running water and electricity, and residents are the legal owners of the land.

Radio Tierra y Libertad has served the Tierra y Libertad neighborhood without a government license since 2001 and serves approximately 10,000 families. In November 2002, Radio Tierra y Libertad filed a formal request for a permit from the federal Ministry of Communication and Transportation's Monterrey office. The government never responded to the request--neither positively nor negatively--meaning that since late 2002 Radio Tierra y Libertad has operated in a state of legal limbo.

Since Radio Tierra y Libertad filed its request for a permit, other radios have done the same. In 2003, the Secretary of Communication and Transportation under former President Vicente Fox reportedly invited pirate radio stations to file for permits. Three community radio stations filed the necessary paperwork: La Voladora in Mexico State, Radio Calenda in Oaxaca, and Radio Bemba in Sonora. The Ministry of Communication and Transportation rejected their requests, justifying the rejection with the circular argument that the radios were operating without a permit.

Radio Tierra y Libertad's request was never rejected, and for nearly eight years it has broadcasted educational programs, children's programs, "poor people's news" programs, programs about labor rights, and cultural programs featuring traditional music. Then the Federal Preventive Police raided the station out of the blue. But why now?

Dr. Camero can't say for sure why the police chose the night of June 6 to raid their station, particularly because his station's request for a permit went six years without any response at all from the government.

What is known is that US lawmakers were scheduled to arrive in Monterrey on June 7--less than 24 hours before the raid on Radio Tierra y Libertad--for a two-day Interparliamentary meeting with Mexican lawmakers that included the Merida Initiative at the top of its agenda. It was at that meeting that US and Mexican legislators ironed out their differences over the Merida Initiative's controversial human rights conditions.

El Universal reported that heavily-armed agents from the Federal Preventive Police (PFP)--the same force that raided the radio in overwhelming numbers--were called in to guard the hotel where the lawmakers would meet. While it is not confirmed, it is possible that the federal government chose June 6 to raid the station in order to take advantage of the increased number of PFP officers who were in town for the Interparliamentary meeting. The press anticipation of the meeting may have also provided the cover of distraction.

This wouldn't be the first time that the Mexican government has taken advantage of increased militarization related to the drug war in order to carry out raids on local organizers. Victor M. Quintana, writing for the Americas Program, notes that the federal government used Operation Chihuahua to crack down on local organizers in that state. Under the auspices of Operation Chihuahua, the federal government sent 2000 soldiers and 400 federal police to Chihuahua. While the federal troops were officially there to combat organized crime in that state, during the first week of the operation they arrested six local organizers: five men from an organization that fights against the North American Free Trade Agreement, and one a woman who assists the families of femicide victims. Three of the five men were organization leaders.

Federal police and the military have been deployed to Nuevo Leon (where Monterrey is located) and the neighboring state of Tamaulipas since 2007 as part of those states' own joint anti-drug trafficking operation.

The timing of the PGR's notification to Dr. Camero that it was investigating him as a suspect due to his involvement in Radio Tierra y Libertad is also interesting, to say the least. The notification came about a month after he gave an interview to Radio Bemba regarding Monterrey's infamous (and highly suspicious) "narco protests." That interview was picked up by other media outlets--including Narco News--and made international headlines.

War on Community Radios

The raid on Radio Tierra y Libertad comes at a time of increased repression against community radios in Mexico. In addition to multiple raids and closures (107 closures during the Calderon administration as of March), community radios have lost a number of collaborators to suspicious murders.

In April 2008, just two months before the raid on Radio Tierra y Libertad, unknown gunmen assassinated indigenous Triqui radio broadcasters Teresa Bautista Merino and Felicitas Martinez Sanchez in the state of Oaxaca. The two young women worked at Radio Copala, "The Voice that Breaks the Silence." They were murdered on their way to a radio workshop in Oaxaca City, and they were the only ones killed out of the six people traveling in their car. The Mexican government, in addition to resorting to the racist argument that the two women were killed as a result of cultural conflicts (often used to write off the murders off indigenous people) instead of as a result of their media work, also refused to investigate their case. The government didn't even interview the surviving riders during its "investigation." (More detailed information on the Radio Copala assassinations can be found in John Gibler's book Mexico Unconquered.)

On June 10, 2008--just days after the Radio Tierra y Libertad raid, 40 federal agents attempted to raid Guerrero's Radio Ñomndaa, but the community there stopped them. Then, a month later, professor Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila of the Autonomous University of Guerrero was beaten to death on his way back from visiting the Suljaa' y Cozoyoapan community. He was there filming a documentary and investigating the government aggression against Radio Ñomndaa.

While Dr. Camero and Radio Tierra y Libertad are fortunate to not have suffered deadly attacks, they still feel the increased government pressure on unlicensed community radios. While in the past the government has charged non-profit pirate radio operators under the Federal Radio and Television Law, it has decided to charge Camero under the Federal Law of National Assets. The Federal Radio and Television Law contains provisions that allow for administrative penalties against operators of unlicensed radios, such as a fine and the seizure of equipment. The Federal Law of National Assets, on the other hand, is a criminal law that mandates 2-12 years in prison and up to $500,000 pesos in fines for those that use government assets without proper permission.

The government's use of the Federal Law of National Assets against Rario Tierra y Libertad is an escalation of the Calderon administration's offensive against non-profit community radios. Camero told Narco News, "This law [the Federal Law of National Assets] is applied to stations that use the electromagnetic space for profit, which has never been the case at Radio Tierra y Libertad. However, the Ministry of the Interior is trying to apply this law in our case, undoubtedly to teach a lesson to the over 200 other radios that have, particularly in the southern and central parts of the country, been looking for their own space."

The "national asset" in question in the Federal Law of National Assets is the radio spectrum. The radio spectrum is a range of frequencies with defined channels for different transmission technologies--that is, that is, something that is not produced by the government or anyone else and something that cannot be touched, a lot like air. Many governments, like Mexico, have decided that they not only have the right to regulate the radio spectrum, but that they own it. As such, the government grants licenses to radios to occupy their own little part of the radio spectrum.

These licenses don't come easy; the government reportedly charges radios over $100,000 dollars to file for a permit. IPS reports that of all of the community radio permit requests filed over the past thirty years, the government has granted only one license. Due to government restriction, 13 companies control 90% of Mexico's airwaves.

Those 13 companies are doing everything in their power to see to it that Mexico's airwaves continue under their control. The National Chamber of the Radio and Television Industry (CIRT in its Spanish initials) successfully lobbies the Mexican government for laws to protCIRT statueect and expand their monopoly over the means of communication. They pull out all the stops to push independent radios off the air. CIRT has pressured the government to close community radio stations, and it has even gone so far as to accuse the World Association of Community Radios (AMARC) of "fomenting clandestine, pirate and insurgent radio."

On June 12--just days after the police attack on Radio Tierra y Libertad--the CIRT unveiled a statue of its organization's logo in a public park in Monterrey "as a thank-you for the hospitality the city has shown."

Originally published in Narco News:

Plan Mexico Reality Check in US Senate

All Eyes on Conference Committee to Resolve $404 Million Difference Between Senate and House Versions of New Plan Mexico Funding

The Senate Appropriations Committee has released the proposed 2009 Supplemental for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Pandemic Flu, which includes more funding for the Merida Initiative, also known as Plan Mexico, in 2009. The proposed new funding would be in addition to the $410 million in fiscal year 2009 funding that Congress approved for the Merida Initiative in February as part of the Omnibus spending bill. The additional funding comes at the request of President Barack Obama, who included three Black Hawk helicopters at a total value of $66 million in his 2009 supplemental funding request (PDF file).

There are several significant differences between the version of new funding for Mexico's drug war passed in the House on Thursday and the version that the Senate will consider this week. The House version appropriates $470 million in additional funding for Mexico's drug war, which is $404 million above the request President Obama submitted to Congress. At least 80% of the House funds are for aircraft that can be armed, such as Black Hawk helicopters and CASA 235 planes. The House version also includes "non-intrusive inspection equipment" such as wiretapping equipment. The version the Senate will consider only includes $66 million for the three Black Hawks President Obama requested.

Human Rights

Another significant difference between the House and Senate versions of the bill are the human rights conditions that up until now have been attached to less than 15% of Plan Mexico funds. The House version explicitly strikes the human rights conditions in order to expedite delivery of the aircraft. It also slashes reporting requirements. In the Senate version, the human rights conditions laid out in the February 2009 Omnibus bill apply to the newly proposed funds.

Regarding the human rights conditions, the Senate writes in the report the Appropriations Committee submitted with the proposed bill, "The Committee notes that the Government of Mexico has not yet met the requirements for obligation of 15 percent of the assistance previously appropriated for Mexico under the Merida Initiative for fiscal years 2008 and 2009, relating to transparency, accountability and human rights." Non-compliance with human rights conditions notwithstanding, the Senate rubber-stamped Obama's request for three Black Hawks, which are quite deadly when armed.

The lack of human rights conditions in the House version of the bill is not significant in terms of their impact on on Merida Initiative funding or human rights in Mexico. On the contrary, the human rights conditions were designed to be easily ignored. The conditions state that the Mexican government investigate and try soldiers accused of human rights abuses in civilian courts (currently the military is in charge of investigating and punishing itself for human rights abuses), set up a commission to review citizen complaints against police, enforce the prohibition of the use of testimony obtained through torture, and hold consultations with civil society regarding the implementation of the Merida Initiative. These four conditions are apply to less than 15% of overall Merida Initiative funds, and some of them, such as the prohibition on torture, are already laws on the books in Mexico--they're just not enforced.

When Congress first considered the Merida Initiative, the Mexican government fiercely opposed the human rights conditions. The original conditions were cut in half, and a deal was struck between the US and Mexican governments. Because the conditions only apply to less than 15% of the overall funding, and because Congress set a precedent with the February Omnibus bill to further fund Plan Mexico despite non-compliance with the previous year's human rights conditions, funding gaps left by the missing 15% are easily filled with the next year's funding.

Therefore, the House's removal of the human rights conditions in its bill isn't likely to lead to more human rights abuses as opposed to previous funding tranches that included conditions. However, the House version of the bill makes it very clear that the House has no regard for human rights in Mexico and never has. By taking away the flimsy conditions on a bill that is at least 80% military hardware, the House is rewarding the Mexican government for its flagrant disregard for human rights. For example, the Mexican defense department has made clear its refusal to allow soldiers accused of human rights abuses to be investigated and tried in civilian courts. Despite an outcry from Mexican NGOs, the US government has not commented on the matter.

The Senate proposal does mandate that the Secretary of State deliver a report to the Appropriations Committees "detailing actions taken by the Government of Mexico since June 30, 2008, to investigate and prosecute violations of internationally recognized human rights by members of the Mexican Federal police and military forces, and to support a thorough, independent, and credible investigation of the murder of American citizen Bradley Roland Will." Previous reports on the Will murder investigation mandated under the Merida Initiative have done little or nothing to resolve the case. On the contrary, the Mexican government's human rights ombudsman, the head of the National Human Rights Commission, stated that Plan Mexico was the driving force behind the government's issuing of arrest warrants for witnesses in the Will murder case who claim that government officials murdered the US Indymedia journalist.

However, the Senate's request for information on "actions taken by the Government of Mexico since June 30, 2008, [the day the first tranche of Plan Mexico funding was signed into law] to investigate and prosecute violations of internationally recognized human rights by members of the Mexican Federal police and military forces" could result in an interesting report. According to a letter to the US Congress from Mexican human rights organizations, despite over 2,000 human rights complaints filed against the military during the Calderon administration thus far, not a single soldier has been convicted of a human rights crime.

Stopping Plan Mexico

The Senate Appropriations Committee's report that accompanies its version of the Plan Mexico supplemental funding states, "The Committee remains concerned that the Merida Initiative represents a one-dimensional approach to drug-trafficking and gang violence in Mexico and Central America, and that a more comprehensive strategy is needed that also addresses the underlying causes." The Committee does not elaborate on what "a more comprehensive strategy" would look like, and the bill it is sending to the whole Senate does not reflect these concerns--the bill would pay for Black Hawk helicopters and nothing else.

However, this statement reflects an evolving understanding of the drug war, at the very least within the Senate Appropriations Committee. In future fiscal years, the Senate will have an opportunity to act on its concern and craft legislation that could better respond to drug trafficking-related violence. The very nature of a supplemental funding bill limits Congress' ability to craft informed legislation. David Glaudemans from the Henry L. Stimson Center writes, "Because supplemental appropriations are requested and funded outside the normal budget process, Congress is less able to conduct rigorous oversight and evaluation of the request. The normal budget process is a continuum of hearings, negotiations, and deliberative debate in Congress. Yet supplementals are often whisked through Committee without the extensive ‘scrubbing’ process that is Congress’ prerogative."

That was the case with the House version of the supplemental. When the House Appropriations Committee released its proposal for the supplemental funding bill, the US-based organization Witness for Peace issued an Action Alert calling for US voters to e-mail their Representatives in Congress, urging them to introduce an amendment to extract Merida Initiative funds from the supplemental. Representatives were never given the chance to do so; the House Rules Committee sent the proposed supplemental to the full House with a one-hour time limit on debate and a ban on amendments. Because the text of the proposed supplemental wasn't made available to the public until it had already left the Appropriations Committee, US voters were never given an opportunity to comment on or effectively influence the legislation.

Due to the nature of supplementals and the vast difference between the Senate and House versions, it will be the Conference Committee that decides the fate of 2009's supplemental Plan Mexico funds. Unlike other congressional committees, the Conference Committee is an ad-hoc committee. The Conference Committee for the 2009 Supplemental is likely to include the Chair and Ranking Member of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee from both the Senate and the House. They are: Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH).

Witness for Peace has issued an Action Alert urging concerned voters to e-mail the Conference Committee through their website, requesting that the Conference Committee extract Merida Initiative funding from the 2009 supplemental.

May 31 update: The Senate passed the bill as expected a week ago. It's in conference committee.

Originally published in Narco News:

Indigenous Chiapans Insist They Are in Prison For Belonging to the EZLN

  • When they gave their statements they said they were tortured by plainclothes police
  • They oppose neo-liberal projects that try to turn their lands into a new Cancun

by Hermann Bellinghausen, La Jornada
Translated by Kristin Bricker

El Amate, Chiapas. May 6 - "I have been detained because I belong to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation" (EZLN), Miguel Vazquez Moreno declared today when he gave his testimony in the second criminal court in the State Center for Social Rehabilitation of Convicts (CERSS in its Spanish initials) number 14, El Amate, where none of the officials and employees, of course, are wearing face masks. Nor do they seem aware that there is a national and state health emergency.

In contrast to his first "statement" given under coercion in pre-charge detention, Vazquez Moreno is assisted by an interpreter who speaks his language, or at least a variation of his dialect (the interpreter the authorities have provided is from Cancuc, while the eight detained men from San Sebastian Bachajon speak the tzeltal dialect of Chilon). But, at least they understand each other, and that is enough.

From behind the railing he declares himself innocent of the charges against him, and requests that he be freed for lack of evidence to proceed with a trial. And he introduces himself in this manner: "I am from the ejido San Sebastian Bachajon and I belong to the support bases of the EZLN, an organization that defends its right to exercise autonomy and self-determination as indigenous peoples, its right to territory and natural resources."

The state and federal governments "want to impose neo-liberal economic projects in our autonomous territory; as indigenous people, the land is our life, from her we eat, we work, our children grow up there, and it is something holy. This is why we believe that the land cannot be sold, rather, it is worked and looked after," he adds.

"Our territory is rich in water, animals, natural resources." The state government, led by Gov. Juan Sabines Guerrero, and the federal government led by President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa have publicly said "that they want to make a 'Chiapan Cancun,' but stripping us of our life, which is the land, just so that foreign and national companies can make themselves richer, as well as the government officials who benefit from these projects."

Amongst said economic projects, he says, is the Palenque Integrally Planned Highway (CIPP), "which they want to cross our autonomous territory without respecting our rights; they want to impose these projects on the indigenous peoples without caring about what we have to say about it, and with discrimination they want to take away our lands for tourist purposes and only to benefit the business owners and the state and federal government, pushing us aside because to them we make those eco-tourism centers look bad. We are natives, descendants of the peoples who have lived in these lands since before any 'official government' existed."

He says he was detained this past April 18 in the Agua Azul crossing, together with two other companions, without any justification, by various agents from the State Preventive Police, who later transferred him to Tuxtla Gutierrez, "where a couple of plainclothes police told me that I was a robber and that I had to sign some papers. I didn't know what the papers said."

Said "papers" are a ministerial statement that the Special Prosecutor Against Organized Crime has exhibited as evidence against him before the judge, which is why Vazquez Moreno refuses to ratify any part of the ministerial statement, given that he never had a clear understanding of their contents.

The other six detainees, all adherents to the Zapatistas' Other Campaign, all gave similar statements before the judge. In some cases they were subjected to torture in order to incriminate themselves.

Translator's note: Despite the men's insistence that they did not understand the confessions that they had signed and that some of them had been forced to sign the confessions under torture, the judge charged the men with organized crime and other related charges. Seven of the men are now being held in the infamous El Amate prison awaiting trial. Miguel Vazquez Moreno, the Zapatista, has been released.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Plan Mexico: US Congress Abandons Human Rights Posturing in Favor of Black Hawk Helicopters

Majority of Proposed Funds are for Military Aircraft; House Appropriations Axes Human Rights Conditions to Speed Delivery
The US House of Representatives is expected to vote this week on the 2009 Supplemental for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Pandemic Flu, which would more than double the US government's fiscal year 2009 funding for Mexico's drug war. The majority of the $470 million in this proposed round of Plan Mexico funds would pay for military aircraft, all of which can be armed. The House Appropriations Committee has completely removed the paltry human rights conditions that have thus far been attached to Merida Initiative funding for Mexico's drug war. Instead of human rights conditions, the Appropriations Committee has ordered expedited delivery of military aircraft.

Less Human Rights, More Black Hawks

Whereas the first round of Merida Initiative funding in 2008 was marked by debate over Mexico's human rights record, in this third tranche Congress has abandoned all pretexts of being concerned for human rights in Mexico. Congress attached a report to the first tranche that required the US government to report on the investigation into the murder of Brad Will, the US Indymedia reporter assassinated on the streets of Oaxaca in 2006. That report also acknowledged that police sexually abused female detainees in San Salvador Atenco in May 2006, and that none of the police responsible for the abuses have been held responsible. Less than 15% of the funds from the first two tranches were conditioned on the Mexican government meeting certain human rights benchmarks, including investigating and trying soldiers accused of human rights abuses in civilian courts (currently the military is in charge of investigating and punishing itself for human rights abuses), setting up a commission to review citizen complaints against police, the prohibition of the use of testimony obtained through torture, and consultations with civil society regarding the implementation of the Merida Initiative.

Predictably, those human rights conditions have proven to be useless. The US government withheld less than 15% of the first round of funding because the Mexican government had not complied with the human rights conditions. On the contrary, Mexican Defense Ministry officials have stated their outright refusal to try soldiers in civilian courts. Then, not at all concerned that Mexico had not met four relatively simple human rights conditions, Congress approved the second round of funding, again withholding less than 15% for noncompliance with human rights conditions.

Now Congress has completely abandoned the pretext of being concerned for human rights in Mexico's war on drugs. Congress' feigned concern regarding the mass rape of female protesters in Atenco has been replaced with statements such as, "The Committee supports the aggressive action that the Government of Mexico has taken and strongly supports Mexico in its war against organized crime and drug-traffcking along our shared border." The omission of human rights conditions in this round of funding was no accident: the Appropriations Committee included language in the Mexico sections of the proposed bill (PDF file) explicitly exempting the $470 million in new funds from human rights conditions and reporting requirements in order to expedite the delivery of military aircraft to the Mexican government.

Appropriations Committee Ignores Mexican Human Rights Experts

This past May 6, 67 Mexican human rights organizations signed a letter to the US Congress requesting an immediate halt to all US military funding to Mexico. They ask that instead of the military aid, the US search for a "holistic response to security problems." They argue that Felipe Calderon is looking to expand military control over Mexican society, which is dangerous because human rights complaints against members of the military have increased six-fold during the current administration. Despite the sharp increase in abuses, they say that not a single member of the military has been convicted for human rights violations during the Calderon administration.

In Mexico, at least one human rights organization operates in nearly every state. These organizations dedicate the majority of their time to receiving human rights complaints from local residents, investigating and documenting them, and helping the complainant seek justice, be it through a media campaign or filing charges with the government. Through their work of documentation, these human rights organizations have a better grasp of the current human rights situation on the ground in Mexico than anyone else in the world. Mexico City and 21 of Mexico's 31 states are represented on the letter to Congress.

Rather than heeding the Mexican human rights experts' request that military aid be immediately halted and that more holistic solutions be investigated and supported, the Appropriations Committee did just the opposite.

Previous rounds of Plan Mexico funds have included money for the Economic Support Fund. A nominal amount of that money is earmarked for vague "development" programs--something that could be referred to as "peaceful aid" that seeks a more holistic response to address the root causes of drug violence such as poverty. Again, Congress has dropped all pretexts of Plan Mexico being anything other than money for war. The proposed supplemental funding does not include any money for the Economic Support Fund. On the contrary, most money is for military aircraft that can be armed.

The Details

The 2009 Supplemental for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Pandemic Flu includes $470 million in non-cash resources for the Mexican government and an additional $350 million to the US Department of Defense "to address the growing violence along the US-Mexico border." Further information on the $350 million for US-Mexico border militarization is not available at this time, but the Defense Department can use it to support other federal agencies that work along the border.

Of the $470 million that would go to Mexico, $310 million is under the US Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program. This money would "expand aviation support for Mexico." It includes the final three of the eight CASA 235 surveillance planes proposed by former president George W. Bush. 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.

The FMF funds also include an unspecified number of HH-60 medium lift maritime transport helicopters. The HH-60 is a variant of the Black Hawk helicopter. It is designed for search and rescue missions in hostile environments, but it can also be armed with two 7.62 mm mini-guns or two .5 inch machine guns.

The proposed supplemental's other $160 million is for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) "to combat drug trafficking and related violence and organized crime, and for judicial reform, institution building, anti-corruption, and rule of law activities." The $160 million also includes three UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, forensics and non-instrusive inspection equipment, computers, training, and fixed and rotary wing aircraft. The report that accompanies the proposed supplemental funding bill (PDF file) does not specify the "fixed and rotary wing aircraft" that the INCLE funds will pay for.

"Non-instrusive inspection equipment" is a misnomer: it is equipment that allows the government to spy on people without them realizing it. This includes wiretapping equipment. Mexican Congress recently voted to allow warrantless wiretapping of "organized crime" suspects. Congress has obviously not learned from (or does not care about) recent revelations that the Colombian intelligence service was caught using US-provided counter-narcotics wiretapping equipment to tap the telephones of opposition politicians, social movement leaders, journalists, and Supreme Court officials who are investigating paramilitaries.

The inclusion of Black Hawk helicopters is also a slap in the face to Mexican human rights organizations. Mexico's Proceso magazine reported that a Mexican official who was involved in Plan Mexico negotiations with the Bush administration told the magazine on condition of anonymity that Black Hawks had been struck from the original proposal "because this would have implied a direct intervention from the US Congress to certify that the Mexican Armed Forces are respecting human rights." Fortunately for the Mexican Armed Forces, the Appropriations Committee has not only removed any mention of human rights from this latest round of funding, it has decided to expedite the shipment of Black Hawks and other military aircraft by dropping human rights conditions and slashing reporting requirements.

Even Colombia must go through the dog and pony show of congressional human rights certification in order to receive its Black Hawks--even if it doesn't serve to actually protect human rights in Colombia. Former Colombian paramilitary member Eduin Guzmán wrote in his memoirs about an incident in which his organization called the Colombian military with a request that it bomb a vill

age it had determined to be a rebel stronghold. Within forty minutes of calling the military, "two [Brazilian-made] Tucano planes and four Harpy [modified Blackhawk] helicopters [arrived]. They started to bomb almost all of La Cooperativa. We saw fragmentation bombs, 500-pound bombs and rockets falling over this village, like nobody could have imagined." After the raid, Guzman received a call from a fellow paramilitary on the ground who told him, "Thank God, we did it! We got rid of all of them, there’s no one left standing there, they’re all dead!”

In a separate incident, Miguel Ángel "The Twin" Mejía Múnera, a drug-trafficker-turned-paramilitary, testified to a Justice and Peace prosecutor about a time his organization requested Colombian military help. "Two Kfir planes arrived. First they flew over the zone, and later they carried out a phased bombing, finally they carried out two more overflights and left. Next came the helicopters, which dedicated themselves to shooting up the zone that had been bombed.”

The US State Department's 2001 human rights report mentions an incident in which a Colombian military helicopter hovered overhead during the July 2000 paramilitary massacre that occurred in La Union, killing six people.

While it is true that Colombia is not Mexico, these incidents make it very clear that the US Congress, which was responsible for certifying Colombia's military aid under Plan Colombia, is not concerned about human rights in countries that receive US military aid, even when that aid is clearly and undeniably used to commit atrocious crimes.

Black HawkWhile the 2009 supplemental calls Mexico's proposed Black Hawks "transport helicopters," the Black Hawk "can accomplish just about any battlefield-related task it is assigned." Make no mistake: Black Hawks can be and most often are armed. The military hardware database site writes, "When armed, the Black Hawk can take on firepower in the form of 30mm chain guns, machine gun pods, heavy caliber and general purpose machine guns and miniguns. Additionally, optional wing stubs can provide for the use of external fuel tanks for increased operational ranges or Hellfire anti-tank missiles and 2.75" rocket pods for increased lethality."

Pork Spending: The Other Swine Pandemic

When President Barack Obama submitted his budget request for this supplemental, he requested $66 million for three Black Hawk helicopters. The House Appropriations Committee decided to go above and beyond and allocated $404 million more to Mexico, mostly for military aircraft that can be armed. This significant increase in military aircraft might be bad news for human rights in Mexico, but it's good news for the aerospace industry.

Aerospace companies all over the world are suffering the effects of the economic crisis. In the US, plane manufacturers are suffering due to buyers not having the cash to pay for orders they've placed. United Technologies, which owns Sikorsky, the company that makes Black Hawk helicopters, is facing particularly hard times: it announced in March that it will lay off 11,600 workers. The US government's proposed purchase of at least four Sikorsky helicopters (three Black Hawks and an unspecified number of HH-60s) is good news in dark times for that company.

Repressing Dissent

The Appropriations Committee had a sadly comical moment when it wrote in the report that accompanies the proposed supplemental, "The committee expects that none of these funds will be used to suppress the political opposition." Either the committee is naive or it is lying.

Narco News and other organizations have thoroughly documented just a few instances in which the Mexican government has used the war on drugs to crack down on domestic dissent. In the most recent incident, six Zapatista supporters, one Zapatista, and an eighth man remain in a Chiapas jail on fabricated organized crime charges. The men's community has fought for land rights and has opposed mega-projects on its territory. The operation that captured the men bore all the marks of a drug war operation, from the participation of state and federal police and the military, to the paid advertisements designed to look like newspaper articles that made the men look like high-ranking drug traffickers. The six Zapatista supporters were tortured into confessing to organized crime charges--confessions they've since recanted.

The Americas Program documented how Chihuahua state officials took advantage of a joint military-police operation to sweep up movement leaders in that state.

Narco News documented how the state of Michoacan took advantage of the horrific Independence Day grenade attack in the city of Morelia to carry out warrantless raids of neighborhoods and communities that belong to the National Front for Socialist Struggle (FNLS).

Narco News also exposed how alleged "narco protests" have allowed the government to criminalize public protest in the state of Nuevo Leon.

If the Mexican government was unable or unwilling to meet the four flimsy human rights conditions that the US Congress had originally imposed on it (one of which--the ban on testimony obtained through torture--is already Mexican law) to the point where Congress felt the need to drop those conditions, what makes the House Appropriations Committee think that Mexico will magically stop using the war on drugs to repress dissent?

Originally published in Narco News:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mexico Decriminalizes Simple Possession, Cracks Down on Everything Else

New Laws Strike a Symbolic Blow to Prohibition, But Net Result is Increased Law Enforcement Powers

On April 23, Mexican Congress' last day in normal session and the same day President Felipe Calderon announced the swine flu pandemic, federal legislators voted to decriminalize simple drug possession in Mexico. They passed the new drug law, along with about sixty other bills, with very little debate despite their controversial nature.

President Felipe Calderon has not yet signed the bill, but he is expected to. Former President Vicente Fox proposed similar legislation in 2006, and the Mexican Congress approved it. However, when it came time to sign the bill into law, Fox vetoed it, allegedly due to pressure from Washington. The Obama administration as thus far not commented on the Mexican decriminalization initiative.

The new drug law contains a table of drugs and corresponding maximum quantities. Simple possession under those quantities will not result in prosecution. However, if someone is caught with an amount of drugs that falls within the boundaries of simple possession, the authorities will record the person's name and personal information and pass it on to health authorities, who will contact the person and inform them of drug rehabilitation options in their area. The person may be required to present himself or herself before relevant Health Department officials in order to receive information on treatment options.

If the district attorney determines that the person in question is "drug dependent," (that is, if the person "presents some sign or symptom of being dependent on drugs"), then drug rehabilitation is mandatory in order to avoid prison. Rehabilitation is also mandatory the third time a person is caught with an allowable amount of drugs.

The law also allows for ceremonial and traditional use of peyote and hallucinogenic mushrooms in indigenous communities, as long as the use is recognized by indigenous authorities. However, the law in this respect is very vague, and does not set up an authorization system such as the one that exists in the United States, meaning that the law runs the risk of being arbitrarily applied.

Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentences--Sound Familiar?

Erich Moncada, writing for El Sendero del Peje, argues that the decriminalized quantities of drugs are arbitrary. The allowable quantities of marijuana (5 grams) and heroin (50 mg) constitute multiple doses. The allowable quantity of cocaine is a half a gram, or about three lines--not nearly the quantity an established user would consume in a single session. Regarding the .5 gram cocaine limit, the Mexican Collective for Integrated Drug Policy stated, "These amounts are not realistic in terms of the drug market (for example, the initiative allows a consumer to have .5 grams of coke, when coke is sold on the streets by the gram)." In the case of marijuana, even though 5 grams is a multi-dose quantity, it is still less than most Mexican consumers purchase at once, because marijuana is significantly cheaper in Mexico than in the United States, and purchasing in larger quantities means a significant reduction in price.

If a user is caught with more than the allowable quantity in his or her possession, strict penalties have been introduced. Prior to the reform, the General Health Law (the federal law that includes drug crimes) did not contain set prison sentences for drug infractions. It merely instructed judges to base sentencing on the following criteria: damage to society as a result of the crime, the severity of the crime, the defendant's socio-economic conditions, the likeliness of recidivism, and how much the defendant benefited from committing the crime.

Under the new law, however, the penalties are in many cases on par with or more severe than the strictest penalties in the United States. When considering penalties for possession of quantities that exceed the allowable amounts, the new Mexican law does not differentiate between drugs. The penalty for possessing marijuana is the same as that for possession of heroin. The law states that people who are in possession of up to 1,000 times the allowable amounts should be sentenced to 10 months-3 years in prison and a fine if the government can not prove they intended to sell said drugs.

In the case of crack or cocaine, the new law does not differentiate between the two, thus avoiding the racial and class discrimination that has plagued the US judicial system due to its different treatment of crack cocaine and powdered cocaine. As previously stated, the maximum allowable amount for cocaine is a half a gram. Possession of between a half a gram and 500 grams results in a 10 month - 3 year prison sentence and a fine. In the United States, a suspect must possess at least 500 grams of powder cocaine in order to trigger a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence.

In the case of marijuana, Mexico will now punish possession of 5 grams - 5,000 grams (or about 11 pounds) of marijuana with ten months to three years in prison and a fine. In the United States, federal law states that possession of any amount is punishable by one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. However, at the state level in the US, punishments vary by state. The punishment for the higher end of Mexico's 5g-11lb. range is on par with or less than the strictest state drug laws in the US. However, the Mexican penalty for the lower end of the range is far more severe than many state laws in the US. Many states don't give prison time to people caught with 1 oz. (28.5 grams) or less of marijuana. Even those that do (Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, and Washington DC amongst others) don't punish possession of 6 grams with up to three years in prison (the penalty in those states that do mandate jail time for simple possession is generally no more than one year).

Under Mexico's new law, decriminalization only applies to personal use in the strictest sense. The law provides stiff penalties for those who "supply (even for free)" other people with drugs, even if the "supplied" amount falls within the allowable amounts. Someone who "supplies (even for free)" someone with up to one thousand times the allowable amount of drugs is subject to 4-8 years in prison and a fine. As El Sendero del Peje's Moncada points out, a person who is in possession of a single joint (under 5 grams) of marijuana can't be thrown in jail thanks to the new law. But if that person passes that joint to another person to take a hit, that can be considered supplying the second person with drugs, and the person who passed the marijuana cigarette will be subject to 4-8 years in prison and a fine. That loophole means this aspect of Mexico's new drug sentencing rules are far more severe than any found in the United States: in Mexico the federal minimum for smoking a joint and passing it to another person is four years in prison. If the person on the receiving end of the joint (or any other drug, for that matter) is a juvenile, the sentence is raised to 7-15 years in prison.

Crackdown on Street Dealers

The Collective for Integrated Drug Policy, while recognizing that decriminalization of small quantities of drugs and drug use in traditional ceremonies is a significant step forward, strongly criticizes the new reform for focusing on street-level dealers:
The law will criminalize a vast group of people who make a living off the small time dealing of drugs, but who in reality do not consciously form part of organized crime, but rather whose principal reason for dealing is that it is way out of unemployment. Imprisoning them will not diminish the supply of drugs on the street, nor will it improve public security; yet it will justify the war on drugs, since the government will be able to boast the number of people incarcerated with this policy.
The law cracks down on street-level dealers by imposing 4-8 year sentences on them. It also allows for the first time undercover police operations where police can purchase drugs from dealers. This law is obviously designed for street-level dealers and not for the drug barons who are responsible for Mexico's record homicide rate. Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance told the Drug War Chronicle, "The risk here is that the new law will give police all the more opportunity to go after low-level distributors and addicts who sell drugs to support their habits, while diverting attention from serious violent criminals."

Dr. Humberto Brocca, a member of the Collective for Integrated Drug Policy, told the Drug War Chronicle, "They will sweep up mostly small-timers so the party in power can look good, but it will probably have no impact whatsoever on the prohibition-related violence."

Ana Paula Hernandez, a Mexico City-based consultant on drug policy and human rights, agreed. She told the Drug War Chronicle, "I don't think this is going to have any impact on the government's war against the cartels."

The "Gestaopo Law" is Back

On April 23, the same day Mexican Congress passed the drug reform, Congress also passed a sweeping federal police reform. The draconian police reform sends a clear message that Mexcio's decriminalization of simple drug possession does not signal an end to the deadly war on drugs.

Mexico currently has several different federal police departments, amongst them the Federal Investigation Agency (AFI, which is under the command of the Federal Attorney General's Office) and the Federal Preventive Police (PFP, which is currently under the Public Security Ministry's command). The new law would replace one or both of these police forces with a new Federal Police force under the command of the federal Ministerio Publico (MP - public prosecutor or district attorney's office). This police force will be allowed to carry out undercover operations.

In the case of organized crime, Federal Police will be able to monitor internet communications, written correspondence, and tap telephones for up to six months. Mexico's lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, approved a version of the bill that allowed the head of the Federal Police to approve warrantless wiretapping and warrantless spying on other forms of communication. The Senate argued that the move was unconstitutional, and changed the bill to allow the head of the federal public prosecutor's office to approve warrantless spying. Mexico's Congress will have to reconcile different versions of the bill before it goes to President Calderon for approval.

Narco News has documented widespread and systematic abuse of organized crime laws to persecute social organizations and organizers in Michoacan, Nuevo Leon, and Chiapas. The Americas Program has documented similar abuse in Chihuahua.

The new Federal Police law also sets up a system for law enforcement to secretly request and receive access to confidential information from telephone providers in order to locate suspects.

A Baby Step

Mexico's decriminalization of simple possession is a symbolic step towards a thoughtful solution to the ever-increasing problem of drug trafficking violence. The decriminalization aspect of the law sets an important example for the United States, though it does little else. Mexico is not primarily a drug consuming country; the United States remains the largest drug market in the country. As such, Mexico's decriminalization of simple possession will do nothing to stem the violence that is tearing the country apart as long as US prohibition continues. However, if the Obama administration allows Calderon to sign the drug reform into law without interference, it will signal a significant departure from the Bush administration, which quashed this bill the last time it passed Mexican Congress. The US government, for its part, should take note of its neighbor's example. Mexico, as a country that is far more directly affected by the consequences of illegal drug trafficking than the US, has signaled that it is ready to try a new path in tackling the problem of drug trafficking-related violence.

As for the sections of the drug reform that move towards further criminalization, as well as the Federal Police law and other laws passed on April 23 that further militarize Mexican society and bring it ever closer to becoming a police state, El Sendero del Peje's Erich Moncada put it best:
Instead of emulating the failed policies of the United States, a country that has the largest prison population on the planet due to drug-related crimes, Mexico should turn to other, less repressive experiences in order to solve the drug trafficking problem. There is the case of Portugal, which five years after decriminalizing drug possession has experienced a considerable reduction in infections due to intravenous drug use, in new AIDS cases, and in lethal overdoses, amongst other undesirable effects caused by prohibitionist policies.

Article originally posted in Narco News:

April 12, 2010 Update: The Senate and Chamber of Deputies versions of the bill have been reconciled. Wiretapping will have to be approved by "control judges."  The relatively new control judge system is designed to make the court system's response to organized crime faster and more agile.  Control judges work around the clock and can electronically receive evidence and requests for warrants for wiretapping and home raids.  Control judges are only used in organized crime cases, meaning they are part of Mexico's two-track justice system.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Letter from FPDT in Atenco to the EZLN

San Salvador Atenco, May 3, 2009.



When everything began, a lot of people said, “You can’t beat the government.” Back in 2001, when they condemned us to extermination and to the loss of our history and identity for the sake of building an airport, we knew things shouldn’t be the way they were. We knew we had to struggle to overcome the mentality that tells us “that’s the way things are and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Back then, we looked all around us in search of others who were struggling just like we were. We wanted to join forces with them because we knew we weren’t the only ones out there. We must say that everywhere we looked, you appeared. There was a big star full of dignity and hope that announced your presence. We didn’t need to ask who you were. Those bright eyes and soft hands of resistance were ever present, the eyes and hands of small women and men who showed us the road towards building justice and freedom. As you moved on along, the warmth and solidarity of your hugs stayed with us and sheltered us. So that’s the way we met, on the same road, side by side, and your happy, rebellious smiles reflected in our machetes lit our way. Since you had come a long way when we met and were well along on your journey, we had no doubts about joining with you. We decided to follow in your footsteps and open up other roads for those who would come after us.

Read the rest of the letter at Angry White Kid.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Tell Congress: No More for the Drug War

Action Alert from Witness for Peace

Mexico Needs Less Demand,
Not More Helicopters

Swine flu, an earthquake, and spiraling drug violence--things are not going well for Mexico. Headlines aside, the most disastrous of this succession of calamities remains by far the latter. Last year Mexico was wracked by over 6,000 drug-related executions. No one can deny Mexico's drug crisis is grave, that the U.S. needs to do something. So far doing something has meant giving $875 million in helicopters, surveillance equipment, and other security assistance to prop up the floundering "war on drugs" through the Merida Initiative (a.k.a. Plan Mexico). With no indication that such funds have helped stem the swelling violence in Mexico, and plenty of indication that a similar approach has roundly failed in Colombia, is Congress considering alternative approaches?

No. Not two months after doling out $410 million more of Merida money, Congress is now considering just doing it again. Despite the recession, today Congress is contemplating throwing an additional 470 million taxpayer dollars at Merida as part of a fast-approaching supplemental funding bill. Send a quick email to your representative now: click here.

Why is Congress so keen on spending increasingly frequent installments of our money on a failed strategy in Mexico? In March Secretary of State Clinton offered hope that the U.S. would abandon the intransigent course of Merida by telling reporters, "our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade," later adding that U.S. demand translates into "a responsibility to assist the Mexican government and people." Just after acknowledging the crucial role of U.S. demand, did Clinton announce new, badly needed funding for proven domestic demand reduction programs? No. Instead she offered Mexico $80 million of Black Hawk helicopters.

When will the U.S. finally discard this discredited supply-side, militarized approach to fighting drugs? We indeed need to assist Mexico-extending a track record of failure does not constitute assistance. Funding programs to actually reduce our "insatiable demand" would.

Email your representatives now! Tell your representatives that more Merida Initiative funding is not the assistance that Mexico needs. Click here to easily email a letter to your reps that asks them to oppose the inclusion of Merida funds in the supplemental appropriations bill. (All you need to do is enter your address and hit send.) See the sample letter below.

Sample Letter to Your Representatives
(Click here to send)

I am writing you today to ask that you oppose the inclusion of Merida Initiative funds in the upcoming supplemental appropriations bill. Specifically, I ask that you propose an amendment to the bill that would extract any Merida funding.

Additional Merida funding is a heedless waste of my taxpayer dollars. Not even two months ago, Congress approved $410 million for Merida, bringing the total of Merida's approved funds to $875 million. Now, before that installment has even been fully dispersed, the House Appropriations Committee is considering tacking on an additional $470 million-over seven times the amount that President Obama even requested for Merida funds. In the midst of a recession, is it really a prudent usage of limited funds to send additional hundreds of millions to something that has yet to produce any positive results?

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 numbered over 6,000. 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. In March Secretary of State Clinton correctly stated, "our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade." 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 $470 million more taxpayer dollars on a solution that won't curb Mexico's drug-related violence, the U.S. should bolster proven 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 how NAFTA has contributed to such crime-feeding poverty by displacing small-scale producers and forcing reliance on fickle export industries. Renegotiation of NAFTA, a campaign promise of President Obama, is long overdue.

Beyond failing to curb Mexico's escalating violence, expanding 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.

Please do not let Congress cast us further down the dead-end path of Merida. I would appreciate a response from you that names how you have worked against the inclusion of further Merida funds in this supplemental appropriations bill.

Your Name

Mexican NGOs, Brigadier General, Unite in Letter Against Plan Mexico

by Kristin Bricker
May 7, 2009

Yesterday, 72 Mexican civil society organizations and a Brigadier General of the Mexican Army sent the following letter to US Congress demanding that all military aid to Mexico be immediately halted. The letter comes as the US House of Representative is considering more than doubling 2009 funding for the war on drugs in Mexico.

Human rights organizations from Mexico City and 21 of Mexico’s 31 states signed the letter.

The signatories express their serious concern that Mexican President Felipe Calderon seeks to further militarize Mexican society. They write, “President Felipe Calderón has introduced a package of proposed legislative reforms to our Congress which contemplate declaring states of emergency that would justify the takeover and control of the Mexican Army over civilian institutions…”

The signatories tell Congress, “The number of complaints for human rights violations committed by members of the armed forces registered by the National Human Rights Commission has increased six-fold during the last two years, reaching 1,230 in 2008.” They note that human rights crimes committed by soldiers are almost never punished: “There is an almost complete absence of transparency in cases of human rights violations committed by soldiers, due to the use of military jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute members of the armed forces responsible for such actions… To date we have no knowledge of any conviction or sentence in a case of human rights violations committed by the armed forces during the current presidential administration.”

Given the sharp increase in human rights abuses and the blanket impunity the military enjoys, the signatories write: “We respectfully request that the U.S. Congress and Department of State, in both the Merida Initiative as in other programs to support public security in Mexico, does not allocate funds or direct programs to the armed forces…. In particular, we urge the United States to consider ways to support a holistic response to security problems; based on tackling the root causes of violence and ensuring the full respect of human rights; not on the logic of combat.”

May 6, 2009
To: The Honorable Congress of the United States of America
Hon. Patrick Leahy, Chairman, Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Hon. Nita M. Lowey, Chair, Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs
Committee on Appropriations
United States House of Representatives
Hon. Judd Greg, Ranking Member, Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Hon. Kay Granger, Ranking Member, Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs
Committee on Appropriations
United States House of Representatives

Honorable Members of Congress:

The signatory organizations listed below address you, honorable representatives of the Congress of the United States of America, following President Barack Obama’s visit to Mexico on April 16 and 17, as well as the visits by high level public officials from the Obama administration in previous weeks; all of which represent a significant step forward in relations between our countries. In particular, in this letter we outline our concrete concerns regarding military assistance from the United States to Mexico.

We have closely monitored the impact of public security policies implemented by the current presidential administrations in both Mexico and the United States as well as bilateral assistance in this area. In this respect we make special mention of recent statements, such as those made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in which high level officials of the President Obama administration have recognized the United States’ responsibility in the problem of drug trafficking- related violence in Mexico owing to factors such as the high demand for drugs in the United States.

Furthermore, we welcome recent comments by the Secretary for Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, which affirm that strengthening civil institutions, not increasing militarization, is the answer to combating high levels of violence along the United States-Mexico border. We hope that this perspective is shared by the U.S. Congress when determining how to allocate funds for public security and to support Mexico.

We wish to emphasize the current reality in Mexico where President Felipe Calderón has introduced a package of proposed legislative reforms to our Congress which contemplate declaring states of emergency that would justify the takeover and control of the Mexican Army over civilian institutions when these are considered inadequate or inefficient and when such a measure is considered strategic for national security. These proposed reforms are concerning because of the abuses that can arise from the militarization of public security.

Taking this into account, we express our serious concerns and reservations regarding the military aid provided by the United States to Mexico. Instead, we urge for an approach that is more comprehensive and respectful of the human and civil rights of the Mexican population.

We take this opportunity to highlight the following points:

  • Through the Merida Initiative, the U.S. Congress has approved the expenditure of 700 million dollars directed to Mexico during its first two years. The package includes a significant portion of foreign military financing; especially in the first year of funding.
  • In 2008, the United States Department of Defense stated that it had designated almost 13 million dollars in assistance to Mexico under Section 1206 to strengthen the capacity of Mexican armed forces to carry out anti-terrorist operations.
  • Recent statements by the Obama Administration and congressional leaders indicate that Congress will soon be contemplating sizeable increases in funding for “the war against drugs” in Mexico as part of the FY09 Appropriations Supplemental Request, including $350 million dollars for the Department of Defense for anti-drug operations and other security-related activities on the United States-Mexico border and over $400 million dollars in assistance for counternarcotics efforts in Mexico that will be channeled through the Department of State. We are concerned about the lack of clear information on the specific designation of these funds and the possibility that they will be utilized to support further military assistance inside Mexico or militarization of the border region.
  • Funding for the Merida Initiative in the 2010 budget will soon be under discussion.

In light of the previous points, it is critical to contextualize the problems implicit in foreign military funding in the current circumstances in Mexico:

  • The deployment of the Mexican Army to carry out public security tasks that legally correspond to the civilian police has brought with it a significant increase in human rights violations in the last two years, including extrajudicial executions, torture, arbitrary detentions and rape. In fact, the number of complaints for human rights violations committed by members of the armed forces registered by the National Human Rights Commission has increased six-fold during the last two years, reaching 1,230 in 2008.
  • This situation owes itself in large part to considerations such as:
    • The Army is not trained to carry out tasks that legally correspond to civilian institutions. On the contrary, the mentality of the armed forces is to confront an enemy force and not to protect the rights of the civilian population in the context of normal policing tasks.
    • There is an almost complete absence of transparency in cases of human rights violations committed by soldiers, due to the use of military jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute members of the armed forces responsible for such actions. According to information obtained through freedom of information mechanisms, in the first two years of the presidential term of Felipe Calderón, military authorities opened 170 investigations under military jurisdiction in which the victims were civilians; in this same period only 10 of these investigations resulted in indictments. To date we have no knowledge of any conviction or sentence in a case of human rights violations committed by the armed forces during the current presidential administration. 
The involvement of the armed forces in policing tasks is not an effective response to combat drug trafficking and violence associated with organized crime. Military presence can at times result in an increase in the number of arrests; however, as an overall strategy it has not proven to be effective as it fails to address the factors that cause and perpetuate violence. An approach that takes the social factors that contribute to crime into account is urgently needed; instead of attacking crime with short-term approaches that respond only to situational contingencies.

We respectfully request that the U.S. Congress and Department of State, in both the Merida Initiative as in other programs to support public security in Mexico, does not allocate funds or direct programs to the armed forces. We believe that a change of paradigm is needed in order to combat the factors that cause drug trafficking and violence; instead of only combating their symptoms.

Any response to violence caused by drug trafficking must include measures to:

  • Improve the access to drug treatment in the United States and implement other measures to reduce the demand for drugs in both countries.
  • Reduce the flow of arms from the United States to Mexico.
  • In terms of the possibility of providing funds to Mexico to improve the public security situation, any funding considered should take into account: 
    • Programs that address the root causes of insecurity such as poverty, inequality and the lack of access to educational and employment opportunities that allow the population to live a life of dignity.
    • The strengthening of civil institutions, with civil and not military control; including the positive aspects of the judicial reform in Mexico such as the implementation of oral trials and an adversarial justice system.

Given the current considerations for the Merida Initiative 2010 budget and the possibility of more military financing to Mexico being channeled through the Department of Defense, we hope that the U.S. government takes into account the concerns and suggestions outlined in this letter in order to re-design assistance programs to Mexico. In particular, we urge the United States to consider ways to support a holistic response to security problems; based on tackling the root causes of violence and ensuring the full respect of human rights; not on the logic of combat.

Signatory organizations (all Mexican non-governmental human rights organizations):

The National Network of Human Rights Civil Organizations “Todos los Derechos para Todas y Todos”
Agenda LGBT
Asistencia Legal por los Derechos Humanos, A.C. (Distrito Federal)
Asociación Jalisciense de Apoyo a los Grupos Indígenas, A.C. (Guadalajara, Jalisco)
Asociación para la Defensa de los Derechos Ciudadanos “Miguel Hidalgo”, A.C. (Jacala, Hidalgo)
Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir, A.C. (Distrito Federal)
Centro “Fray Julián Garcés” Derechos Humanos y Desarrollo Local, A. C. (Tlaxcala, Tlaxcala)
Centro de Apoyo al Trabajador, A.C. (Puebla, Puebla)
Centro de Derechos Humanos “Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas”, A. C. (San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas)
Centro de Derechos Humanos “Fray Francisco de Vitoria O.P.”, A. C. (CDHFV) (Distrito Federal)
Centro de Derechos Humanos “Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez”, A. C. (PRODH) (Distrito Federal)
Centro de Derechos Humanos “Don Sergio” (Jiutepec, Morelos)
Centro de Derechos Humanos “Fray Matías de Córdova”. A.C. (Tapachula, Chiapas)
Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña, Tlachinollan, A. C. (Tlapa, Guerrero)
Centro de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres, A.C. (Chihuahua)
Centro de Derechos Humanos, “Juan Gerardi”, A. C. (Torreón, Coahuila)
Centro de Derechos Humanos Ñu’u Ji Kandií, A. C. (Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca)
Centro de Derechos Humanos Paso del Norte (Cd. Juárez)
Centro de Derechos Humanos Solidaridad Popular, A.C. (Monterrey, Nuevo Leon)
Centro de Derechos Humanos Tepeyac del Istmo de Tehuantepec, A. C. (Tehuantepec, Oaxaca)
Centro de Derechos Humanos Victoria Diez, A.C. (León, Guanajuato)
Centro de Derechos Indígenas “Flor y Canto”, A. C. (Oaxaca, Oaxaca)
Centro de Derechos Indígenas A. C. (Bachajón, Chiapas)
Centro de Estudios Fronterizos y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, A. C. (Reynosa, Tamaulipas)
Centro de Justicia para la Paz y el Desarrollo, A. C. (CEPAD) (Guadalajara, Jalisco)
Centro de Reflexión y Acción Laboral (CEREAL-DF) (Distrito Federal)
Centro de Reflexión y Acción Laboral (CEREAL-Guadalajara) (Guadalajara, Jalisco)
Centro Diocesano para los Derechos Humanos “Fray Juan de Larios”,A.C. (Saltillo, Coahuila)
Centro Hermanas Mirabal de Derechos Humanos (León, Guanajuato)
Centro Mujeres (La Paz, Baja California)
Centro Regional de Defensa de DDHH José María Morelos y Pavón, A. C. (Chilapa, Guerrero)
Centro Regional de Derechos Humanos “Bartolomé Carrasco”, A. C. (Oaxaca, Oaxaca)
Ciencia Social Alternativa, A.C. – KOOKAY (Mérida, Yucatan)
Ciudadanía Lagunera por los Derechos Humanos, A. C. (CILADHAC) (Torreón, Coahuila)
Ciudadanos en Apoyo a los Derechos Humanos, A. C. (CADHAC) (Monterrey, Nuevo Leon)
Colectivo Educación para la Paz y los Derechos Humanos, A.C. (CEPAZDH) (San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas)
Colectivo contra la Tortura (Distrito Federal)
Comisión de Derechos Humanos “La Voz de los sin voz” (Coyuca de Benítez, Guerrero)
Comisión de Derechos Humanos y Laborales del Valle de Tehuacan, A.C. (Tehuacan, Puebla.)
Comisión de Solidaridad y Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, A. C. (Chihuahua, Chihuahua)
Comisión Independiente de Derechos Humanos de Morelos, A. C. (CIDHMOR) (Cuernavaca, Morelos)
Comisión Intercongregacional “Justicia, Paz y Vida” (Distrito Federal)
Comisión Parroquial de Derechos Humanos “Martín de Tours”, A.C. (Texmelucan, Puebla)
Comisión Regional de Derechos Humanos “Mahatma Gandhi”, A. C. (Tuxtepec, Oaxaca)
Comité de Defensa de las Libertades Indígenas (CDLI) (Palenque, Chiapas)
Comité de Derechos Humanos Ajusco (Distrito Federal)
Comité de Derechos Humanos “Fr. Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada”, A. C. (Ocosingo, Chiapas)
Comité de Derechos Humanos “Sembrador de la Esperanza”. A. C. (Acapulco, Guerrero)
Comité de Derechos Humanos “Sierra Norte de Veracruz”, AC. (Huayacocotla, Verarcruz)
Comité de Derechos Humanos de Colima, No gubernamental, A. C. (Colima, Colima)
Comité de Derechos Humanos de Comalcalco, A. C. (CODEHUCO) (Comalcalco, Tabasco)
Comité de Derechos Humanos de Tabasco, A. C. (CODEHUTAB) (Villahermosa, Tabasco)
Comité de Derechos Humanos y Orientación Miguel Hidalgo, A. C. (Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato)
Comité Sergio Méndez Arceo Pro Derechos Humanos de Tulancingo, Hgo AC (Tulancingo, Hidalgo)
Frente Cívico Sinaloense. Secretaría de Derechos Humanos. (Culiacán, Sinaloa)
Indignación, A. C. Promoción y Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (Chablekal, comisaría del municipio de Mérida, Yucatan)
Instituto Guerrerense de Derechos Humanos, A. C. (Chilpancingo, Guerrero)
Instituto Mexicano para el Desarrollo Comunitario, A. C. (IMDEC), (Guadalajara, Jalisco)
Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, – Programa Institucional de Derechos Humanos y Paz. (Guadalajara, Jalisco)
Programa de Derechos Humanos. Universidad Iberoamericana-Puebla (Puebla, Puebla)
Programa Universitario de Derechos Humanos. UIA –León (León, Guanajuato)
Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales Y Culturales (PRODESC) (Distrito Federal)
Respuesta Alternativa, A. C. Servicio de Derechos Humanos y Desarrollo Comunitario (San Luis Potosí)
Servicio, Paz y Justicia de Tabasco, A.C. (Villahermosa, Tabasco)
Servicio, Paz y Justicia, México (SERPAJ-México) (Comalcalco, Tabasco)
Taller Universitario de Derechos Humanos, A. C. (TUDH) (Distrito Federal)
Red Guerrerense de Organizaciones Civiles de Derechos Humanos: Network of Civil human Rights organizations of Guerrero

Other signatory organizations:
Otros Mundos, AC/Campaña por la Desmilitarización de las Américas (CADA)
Red Mesa de Mujeres de Ciudad Juárez
Mujeres por México en Chihuahua, A. C
Instituto Mexicano de Derechos Humanos y Democracia A.C. (The Mexican Institute for Human Rights and Democracy)
La Red Mexicana de Accion frente al Libre Comercio (RMALC)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

US Congress Seeks to Double 2009 Funding for Mexico Drug War

Updated on May 11 to include new information about the inclusion of Blackhawk helicopters in the proposed supplemental.

Confusion and Lack of Transparency Prevail in 2009 Supplemental's Mexico Funds

Yesterday Rep. Dave Obey (D-WI), Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, released a statement and a summary of the 2009 Supplemental Appropriations for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Pandemic Flu. The supplemental includes $470 million "to address growing violence along the United States-Mexico border by supporting the Government of Mexico’s war against organized crime and drug-trafficking." This supplemental is in addition to the February 2009 Omnibus bill, a domestic supplemental funding bill that included $410 million for the Merida Initiative, also known as Plan Mexico.

The supplemental is scheduled to be considered by the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday, and is likely to come before the House of Representatives in a vote sometime next week.

What is unclear from the summary of the supplemental (PDF file), Rep. Obey's statement, and President Obama's proposal for the supplemental is exactly what that $470 million will pay for. A call to the House Committee on Appropriations spokesperson provided no clarification; Narco News was told that more information on the proposal won't be available until Thursday, when the Committee considers the bill. This means that unless the Appropriations Committee decides to release more details before then, constituents will not have the information they need to effectively lobby Appropriations Committee members before they consider the $94.2 billion supplemental.

Obama's proposal, submitted to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on April 9, requests $66 million under International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement "for Mexico to combat drug trafficking and organized crime." A fact sheet released by the White House says that Obama requested the $66 million for the Blackhawk helicopters that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged to the Mexican government during her recent visit to that country. While Clinton reportedly pledged two Blackhawk helicopters, USAID's justification for Obama's supplemental budget request (PDF file) says the money will be used to purchase three Blackhawks.

Obama also requested half a billion dollars under International Affairs and Stabilization Activities "for other priorities such as economic and development assistance for the people of Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Burma; security assistance for Lebanon; funding for heavy fuel oil assistance and to support nuclear dismantlement in North Korea; counterdrug/anti-crime assistance for Mexico." Obama's proposal does not specify how much of that half billion he wants earmarked for Mexico.

Upon releasing the summary of the supplemental, Obey stated, “The supplemental request the committee will consider on Thursday is fairly close to the Administration’s request. The bill totals $94.2 billion, $9.3 billion above the White House request.”

Obey's statement (PDF file) and the summary of the supplemental do not give concrete details as to what the $470 million will pay for, or even what side of the border it will be used. The summary only states that the supplemental will provide "$470 million to address growing violence along the United States-Mexico border by supporting the Government of Mexico’s war against organized crime and drug-trafficking."

Meanwhile, Obey's statement says, “In Mexico we are providing $400 million above the President for surveillance planes, helicopters, and other efforts in the war against drugs.” "Above the President" means that the Appropriations Committee says that it has alloted $400 million more than the President requested in his proposal. Obama's only concrete Mexico-specific request was the $66 million for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, which does not provide planes or helicopters.

Nowhere in the summary, the President's supplemental appropriations request, nor Obey's statement is the Merida Initiative mentioned. It is unclear if this money will be considered part of the Merida Initiative, or in addition to it. If this new money for surveillance planes and helicopters is not part of the Merida Initiative, the money will not be subject to the same Congressional oversight and paltry human rights conditions that the Merida Initiative funds are subject to.

This new money, along with February's $410 million for the Merida Initiative ($300 million of which is destined for Mexico), is being pledged despite the fact that Mexico has failed to meet the human rights conditions laid out in the Merida Initiative. Less than 15% of overall Merida Initiative funds are subject to human rights conditions. While the US government is withholding the required 15%, it seems to be more than making up for this loss by appropriating new money to Mexico's war on drugs.

If the Appropriations Committee's new supplemental really does appropriate $400 million more to Mexico than Obama requested, and if it is all destined for the Mexican government, then this supplemental would bring fiscal year 2009 funding for Mexico's war on drugs to $770 million--that is, nearly double last year's funding and over 50% more than former President George W. Bush had originally requested when he proposed the Merida Initiative.

However, again, the lack of details in the available information leave some doubt as to whether all of this money is actually for Mexico. Obama's supplemental appropriations request included $350 million for increased border militarization on the US side of the Mexico-US border. The supplemental summary states that the $470 million will be used to "address growing violence along the United States-Mexico border." This could mean could mean that at least $350 million of the $470 million will be destined for the US military on the US side of the border. At the time of publication, the House Appropriations Committee spokesperson was unable to clarify this confusion regarding on which side of the border the $470 million will fall.

Such vague language could be intentionally confusing in order to appease the Mexican government's complaints that Merida Initiative money is too little and too slow in coming. An article that ran in Mexican daily El Universal, for example, has published that Obey's statement on the supplemental specifies that all of the $470 million is destined for the Mexican government to purchase planes and helicopters, and to support other anti-drug efforts. Obey's statement never specified that all $470 million is destined for the Mexican government--though it didn't rule out the possibility, either.

However, from the little information that the US government has made public regarding its stated plans to more than double Mexico drug war funding for this year, it appears as though the $350 million is most likely (though not definitely) in addition to the $470 million mentioned in the summary of the supplemental. This is because, as Witness for Peace pointed out to Narco News, the supplemental summary states that the $470 million for Mexico will be allocated through the State Department and USAID. Obama requested that the $350 million for US-Mexico border militarization be allocated through the Defense Department.

Given the lack of clarity and transparency regarding exactly how the $470 million in Mexico drug war funding will be spent, Laura Carlsen of the Center for International Policy's Mexico City-based Americas Program is call on Congress to convert the Mexico drug war funds into social aid. "Mexico doesn't need more military equipment or a strongman president--it needs peaceful aid that will help create jobs, put the economy back on its feet, and provide quality health care to prevent and confront crises."