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


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