Tuesday, September 29, 2009

US State Department's Merida Initiative Human Rights Report: Unconvincing Whitewash

US Likely to Release Millions in Training and Military Hardware to Mexico Despite Failure to Comply with Human Rights Conditions

originally published in Narco News

This past August, the US State Department issued a report entitled "Mexico--Merida Initiative Report." The report is in response to two Congressional Appropriations bills, one signed into law in 2008 and the other in 2009, which form part of the funding of the Merida Initiative. The Merida Initiative provides training, equipment, and armament to Mexico's military and federal police for that country's increasingly violent but consistently ineffective war on drugs. With the report, the State Department hopes to release tens of millions of dollars in Merida Initiative funding that, up until now, has been held up due to Mexico's non-compliance with certain conditions attached to the bill.

The US Congress included so-called human rights conditions in two tranches of Merida Initiative (alternatively known as Plan Merida or Plan Mexico) funding. The conditions apply to between $85 million and $100 million, or less than 15%, of Merida Initiative funding. The Merida Initiative as a whole has cost US taxpayers over one billion dollars so far. In order for the Mexico portion of the funds to be released, the US State Department had to certify that Mexico is:

  1. improving the transparency and accountability of federal police forces and working with state and municipal authorities to improve the transparency and accountability of state and municipal police forces through mechanisms including establishing police complaints commissions with authority and independence to receive complaints and carry out effective investigations;
  2. establishing a mechanism for regular consultations among relevant Mexican Government authorities, Mexican human rights organizations and other relevant Mexican civil society organizations, to make recommendations concerning implementation of the Merida Initiative in accordance with Mexican and international law;
  3. ensuring that civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities are investigating and prosecuting, in accordance with Mexican and international law, members of the federal police and military forces who have been credibly alleged to have committed violations of human rights, and the federal police and military forces are fully cooperating with the investigations; and
  4. enforcing the prohibition, in accordance with Mexican and international law, on the use of testimony obtained through torture or other ill-treatment.

The State Department's recently released "Mexico--Merida Initiative Report" aims to demonstrate that Mexico has complied with the above conditions in order to justify the release of $100 million in withheld funds. Sen. Patrick Leahy blocked the release of an earlier version of the report because Mexico had obviously not complied with the conditions, but he has not commented on the State Department's new attempt to push the report through. It is currently unclear if the report will lead to the release of the conditioned funds, but an anonymous State Department official told Bloomberg that the conditioned funds will be released as soon as the State Department decides how to allocate the money.

Due to the uncertainty of whether the report will lead to the release of the funds, international and Mexican human rights organizations are now focusing their energies on convincing Sen. Leahy, an influential member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Chairman of the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, to reject the new report.

The human rights organizations have focused their criticism on the most glaring omission in the report: civilian officials are still not investigating and prosecuting allegations of human rights abuses committed by members of the military. The military investigates and (rarely) prosecutes these cases under the legal rubric of "military jurisdiction." This Narco News report will explain in-depth the problems with military jurisdiction and the Mexican government's stubborn refusal to remedy its severe shortcomings. However, this report will also demonstrate that the State Department has failed to prove that Mexico has complied with any of the four human rights conditions laid out in the Merida Initiative.

Military Human Rights Abuse Cases

As previously stated, the State Department must prove that the Mexican government is "ensuring that civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities are investigating and prosecuting, in accordance with Mexican and international law, members of the federal police and military forces who have been credibly alleged to have committed violations of human rights, and the federal police and military forces are fully cooperating with the investigations."

The condition requires that civilian officials investigate and prosecute alleged human rights abuses committed by members of the military, but the Mexican military has stated its outright refusal to allow civilians to prosecute members of the military for any alleged crime, including human rights abuses. The State Department report acknowledges that the military continues to police itself when its members commit human rights abuses: "There have been cases in which civil authorities prosecuted crimes committed by members of the armed forces, but this is uncommon given that Mexican law generally allows for military investigation/prosecution in these cases as discussed above."

According to the State Department report:

According to Articles 103, Section i and 107, Section v ( a) of the Federal Constitution, once the military court issues a final sentence, the defendant can file an "amparo" to a civil court for review. After reviewing the case, the civil court makes a determination to either reject the request or accept and revoke or reduce the military court's sentencing. If the request is rejected, the defendant can appeal up to the Supreme Court. Victims and their relatives have no legal recourse to request prosecution or appeal the outcome of a military court.

This means that a soldier that has been accused of human rights violations has legal recourse in a civilian court if he believes justice has not been served in a military tribunal, but that a civilian victim has no such right. If a civilian victim of human rights abuse does not obtain justice in a military tribunal, there is absolutely no possibility of appealing to the civilian justice system.

The State Department Report continues:

Some Mexican and international human rights organizations argue that the military's assertion of near universal jurisdiction over its personnel is unconstitutional and effectively undermines the transparency and impartiality of the investigation and prosecution of military criminal human rights violations. In addition, some international human rights bodies and rapporteurs have maintained that Mexico's use of military jurisdiction in human rights cases conflicts with international law.

"Some" Mexican and international human rights organizations have criticized military jurisdiction? This reporter challenges the State Department to find one respected human rights organization--Mexican or international--that hasn't criticized Mexico's military jurisdiction. Case in point: in May, 72 Mexican civil society organizations (over sixty of them human rights organizations) and a Mexican Brigadier General wrote to the US Congress: “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.” Furthermore, both the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have called for an end to military jurisdiction over human rights abuse cases.

The State Department's implied argument that alleged human rights abuses are sufficiently investigated and prosecuted is belied by its own statistics. The Merida Initiative Report states, "During President Calderon's administration (through early May 2009), CNDH [Mexico's National Human Rights Commission] has received a total of 2,050 complaints involving military personnel." But not every human rights abuse results in an official complaint: three of Mexico's most well-known human rights organizations argued in a joint press release that "the reports filed with Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission or the cases reported in the media represent only a percentage of actual human rights violations, since many victims do not report abuses for fear of retaliation from the military."

So of these 2,050 complaints filed with the CNDH during Calderon's term, how many have resulted in successful prosecutions? The State Department report states:

Since December 2006, only two cases have been handed over to civilian prosecutors for crimes allegedly involving members of the military against civilians. The first time soldiers were convicted in a civilian trial was October 2007. Three soldiers were found guilty of rape, a fourth soldier was convicted of lesser crimes; four others acquitted. [NN note: The State Department report does not provide details regarding the second case in which soldiers were supposedly prosecuted in a civilian court.]
[...]
In a press conference on July 23,2009, the Director of the [Mexican Military’s] Human Rights Directorate announced that since 2006 military courts had convicted 12 soldiers and were investigating an additional 52 military personnel for a variety of offenses, including homicide, torture, kidnapping, and extortion. We are seeking clarification and will expand upon this information in the next report to Congress.

While the State Department could find no further "clarification" regarding the twelve supposed convictions in military court, Human Rights Watch (HRW) clarified the Director's claims as soon as the report was released. According to HRW, of the twelve alleged convictions:

  • 4 soldiers were charged with committing crimes that do not constitute human rights abuses.
  • Only one conviction stems from an investigation that started during the Calderon administration (in 2007). In eight of the 12 convictions, the cases have file numbers dating from the late 1990s, so presumably the crimes were then as well (one case file is from 1996, six are from 1997, and one is from 1998).
  • One conviction has been appealed, so it could be reversed.
  • There is no available information on whether other members of the military have been acquitted in the same case. This information is relevant to determine to what extent the convictions amount to justice in a specific case. (For example, if 10 soldiers attack a civilian but only one is convicted, this person could be just a scapegoat and it is thus not a good example of the military justice system providing victims with access to justice).
  • This information contradicts information that the Mexican government provided previously. In June, the Mexican government officials stated that it had "9 registered convictions against 14 members of the military." To date, the government has been unwilling or unable to provide additional information on these cases.

To further complicate the convictions number game, La Jornada recently publisheded that it found a recent Military Human Rights Directorate report that claims that between December 2006 (when Calderon took office) and July 2009, military tribunals concluded seven (not twelve) cases against members of the military for various crimes (not just human rights abuses). It does not say how many of those seven cases resulted in convictions. However, it does say that the most recent case was initiated in 2004--that is, two years before Calderon took office. If La Jornada's Human Rights Directorate report is to be believed (it's hard to believe any of them since every time the Human Rights Directorate makes a statement on conviction rates it changes the numbers and the dates), this means that military courts have not convicted a single soldier for crimes committed during Calderon's term.

In other words, of at least 2,050 alleged cases of human rights abuses committed by soldiers during Calderon's term, a military court has not sentenced a single soldier. Of those 2,050 or more alleged cases of human rights abuses committed by the military, only one has resulted in a conviction: in a civilian court. This means that President Calderon's military enjoys a .05% conviction rate when it comes to alleged human rights violations.

Even in the extremely unlikely scenario that a military tribunal convicts a soldier, the military justice system doles out significantly less severe punishments than if a civilian commits the same crime. La Jornada notes two examples: in some states' civilian justice systems, kidnapping is punishable by up to 50 years in prison. Homicide is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. In the military justice system, both crimes carry a maximum penalty of 13.5 years.

As for the incorrect and contradicting statements and reports issued by the Military's Human Rights Directorate regarding exactly how many military tribunal cases have resulted in convictions during the Calderon administration, the Directorate could have intentionally lied. Or it could have simply made a mistake. The Human Rights Directorate is likely to make many mistakes: Mexican Congress left that office with zero funding in 2009, leaving much room for doubt as to how well the Human Rights Directorate can carry out its extremely limited responsibilities. When the Mexican Congress was determining the 2009 federal budget, the PAN and PRI political parties voted down a proposal to give the military's Human Rights Directorate $20 million pesos for its day-to-day operations. In that same budget, Congress decreased the National Human Rights Commission's funding by $40 million pesos over the previous year.

Even though the following was not a Merida Initiative condition, the State Department attempts to bolster its case by writing, "In addition, SEDENA [Mexico's National Defense Department] and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) have consulted on how the military can upgrade its human rights training, develop performance indicators, monitor cases and trends, and follow up on the recommendations of international human rights bodies." Here's what the report doesn't mention about the collaboration between SEDENA and the UNHCHR: the Merida Initiative paid the UNHCHR $1 million in 2008 so that it would conduct these "consultations" with the SEDENA. However, the federal government has completely ignored the UNHCHR's recommendations when it comes to the military.

In a joint press release dated June 12, 2009, multiple Mexican human rights organizations decried that the federal government chose to ignore the UNHCHR's recommendations to the military regarding human rights abuses. The UNHCHR recommended that the Mexican government create a specialized office to investigate past abuses. The Mexican government stated that past abuses committed by the military were "irrelevant" and rejected the recommendation.

The UNHCHR also recommended that cases of human rights abuses committed by soldiers be investigated and tried in civilian courts, not in military tribunals. The Mexican government responded that this was not necessary because victims have the option to appeal a military tribunal decision to civilian courts, which both the human rights organizations' press release and the US State Department's own Merida Initiative human rights report state is simply untrue: victims cannot appeal an unfavorable decision to civilian courts if their case has been tried in a military court.

Consultation with Civil Society

According to the Merida Initiative conditions, the Mexican government must establish “a mechanism for regular consultations among relevant Mexican Government authorities, Mexican human rights organizations and other relevant Mexican civil society organizations, to make recommendations concerning implementation of the Merida Initiative in accordance with Mexican and international law.”

The State Department Merida Initiative Report notes that the Mexican government has launched what it refers to as a “consultative mechanism regarding the Merida Initiative” in order to satisfy this requirement of the aid package. Representatives of both the US and Mexican governments attend these “consultations.” According to the Merida Initiative Report:

Mexican government representatives affirmed the mechanism seeks to create "agile communication" and "efficient exchange" of ideas by providing a forum for the Mexican government to provide information regarding the Merida Initiative, while receiving the suggestions, concerns, critiques, and experiences of the representatives of civil society.

The State Department consulted the Mexican government regarding how it views the consultation mechanism, but it obviously did not ask Mexican civil society organizations for their opinion. Narco News spoke to representatives of a Mexican civil society organization that participated in some of the consultations. They wish to remain anonymous.

“This is not a consultation mechanism,” one of the civil society representatives told Narco News. In a true consultation, “the government is supposed to ask you your opinion and incorporate your feedback into its plans in some manner. Consultation doesn't necessarily mean you need to get our consent, but it does mean that there has to be a level of dialogue in which the goal is to take into account what all sides say and then work towards a better solution. The government representatives did not resent this [mechanism] as a consultation. It is one-way information sharing: the government gives information to civil society as to how the Merida Initiative is being implemented. Civil society can raise their hands and talk, but those observations or suggestions are not taken into account. There is no commitment to implement the feedback or suggestions of civil society.”

“This mechanism is not a dialogue; it’s more like a monologue,” another civil society representative said. “It serves to legitimize this point in the [Merida Initiative] human rights conditions. They want the organizations to attend so that they are present, instead of actually taking their ideas into account.”

Indeed. Despite the fact that civil society organizations appear to be extremely disappointed in the so-called consultation mechanism’s structure, the State Department report notes: “On March 12,2009, the Government of Mexico convoked a meeting attended by over 100 individuals and representatives of NGOs, universities, think tanks, business, labor and the media to launch a consultative mechanism regarding the Merida Initiative.” In other words, in satisfying this Merida Initiative condition, civil society’s opinion about the mechanism or the Merida Initiative itself isn’t nearly as important as the fact that over one hundred of them were there.

The civil society representatives who spoke to Narco News also expressed disappointment that pertinent government agencies were not present at the consultations. “We asked why SEDENA [Mexico’s National Defense Department] and Seguridad Publica [Mexico’s Department of Public Security] weren’t participating if they're the ones actually carrying out the fight against crime. They said this consultation is with Segob [Mexico’s Department of the Interior] and the Department of External Relations because they are contacts for civil society, and that they can take comments and pass them on to the relevant bodies. There is very little commitment to take suggestions into account and properly make changes.”

The civil society representatives also expressed doubt that the government representatives took their comments seriously: “Government representatives tried to respond to civil society’s doubts or comments with justifications as to why their ideas cannot be incorporated into the Merida Initiative program.”

Government representatives were especially determined to shut down any discussion of human rights, which has been one of the principal concerns about the Merida Initiative. “During the first meeting about establishing the mechanism, several civil society organizations asked if this would be a space to raise human rights concerns. Their response was along the lines of, ‘You already have the Governmental Political Commission on Human Rights in which human rights are dealt with. We don’t want to conflate the issues and we don’t want to mix themes. You’re allowed to say whatever you want, but we really don’t see this as a space to enter into an analysis of human rights.’” The Governmental Political Commission on Human Rights is a commission that has existed for years prior to the Merida Initiative, and human rights organizations criticize it as ineffective.

Prohibiting Torture

Another Merida Initiative human rights condition states that before the withheld funds are released, the Mexican government must be "enforcing the prohibition, in accordance with Mexican and international law, on the use of testimony obtained through torture or other ill-treatment."

The State Department writes:

A confession must be formally recorded before a prosecutor with the acknowledgement that it is being made voluntarily in order to be admissible. This provides for a substantially more transparent judicial process than existed in past years and should result in a diminished reliance on confessions in general and coerced confessions in particular as the new oral trial procedures and due process provisions are fully implemented nationwide in the coming years.

Mexican law—both current laws and the legal reform that will be implemented in the future—allows for arraigo in organized crime cases. Arraigo is a form of pre-charge detention that has been widely criticized by national and international human rights organizations. As Narco News has repeatedly documented, Mexican authorities--including prosecutors--abuse arraigo in order to obtain confessions.

Fray Bartolome de las Casas Human Rights Center director Diego Cadenas Gordillo told Narco News that detainees held under arraigo are “isolated from their families, isolated from their lawyers, surrounded by police. We have testimony from people who say they were physically and psychologically tortured during arraigo. They’re under constant pressure in order to break their spirit. Many confessions have come out after long periods of detention under arraigo.”

In April, Narco News documented how Chiapan state police detained and tortured eight indigenous Zapatista sympathizers so that they would sign confessions presented by the prosecutor even though they did not understand the papers they were signing because Spanish was not the detainees' native language. Two of those detainees are still in prison.

Similarly, in June Narco News reported that political prisoners from the Loxicha region of Oaxaca remain imprisoned after having been tortured into signing, in some cases, up to 200 blank pieces of paper which the prosecutor later filled with a confession the tortured prisoners never read.

In other words, the fact that a confession must be formally recorded before a prosecutor instead of being taken by a police officer does nothing to prevent torture, because prosecutors and police are often in collusion in order to obtain coerced confessions through torture. Furthermore, the fact that a detainee signs a statement that the confession was voluntarily made does not mean that it was actually voluntarily made: if police and prosecutors can torture an innocent person into confessing to a murder, they can certainly also torture that person into signing an acknowledgment that their statement is being made voluntarily.

The requirement that confessions be obtained by prosecutors instead of police is not new; it existed even before the Merida Initiative was conceived. Therefore, if prosecutors obtaining confessions instead of police did not prevent torture before Congress passed the Merida Initiative, and if nothing has changed since, then the State Department cannot logically argue that this practice in and of itself prevents torture.

The torture section of the report also focuses heavily on 2008 constitutional reforms that will overhaul Mexico's justice system, allegedly making judicial procedures more transparent and respectful of due process rights. The report's mention of the constitutional reforms is problematic for two reasons:

  1. The report fails to mention that the 2008 reforms further entrench Mexico's two-track justice system, which distinguishes between "regular" crimes and "organized crime." Criminals who fall into the "regular" track will see increased rights under the new reforms. Criminals who fall into the "organized crime" track will see further diminishment of their rights and protections, which will leave them at increased risk of torture. Mexican authorities railroad people who are completely unrelated to organized crime into the organized crime judicial track precisely because people accused of organized crime have fewer legal protections. Narco News has written about the shortcomings and failings of the legal reforms at length.
  2. These legal reforms have not yet been implemented, and the State Department conveniently forgot to mention that the legal reforms will take 8-10 years to fully implement.

In reference to protections against torture in Mexico, the State Department has offered absolutely no evidence that anything has changed. On the contrary, the State Department acknowledges that torture is on the rise: "In 2008, the CNDH received 580 complaints of cruel and/or degrading treatment and 21 torture complaints, compared with 395 complaints of cruel and/or degrading treatment and four torture complaints in 2007. Since 2007, we are not aware that any official has ever been convicted of torture, giving rise to concern about impunity. Despite the law's provisions to the contrary, police and prosecutors have attempted to justify an arrest by forcibly securing a confession to a crime." That is not a very convincing argument that the Mexican government is enforcing its existing prohibitions on torture.

Commissions to Receive and Investigate Complaints Against Police

The Merida Initiative states that in order to receive the conditioned funds, the Mexican government must also be "improving the transparency and accountability of federal police forces and working with state and municipal authorities to improve the transparency and accountability of state and municipal police forces through mechanisms including establishing police complaints commissions with authority and independence to receive complaints and carry out effective investigations."

The State Department report mentions three distinct commissions that allegedly receive complaints:

The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH): The CNDH and state human rights commissions receive human rights complaints and make non-binding recommendations. The CNDH receives many complaints, issues very few recommendations, and even fewer of those recommendations are actually accepted and implemented by the security forces in question. Human Rights Watch reports, "Of the 354 recomendaciones [recommendations] that the CNDH issued on specific cases between 2000 and 2006, 70 (or 20 percent) were rejected by the government authorities who received them." HRW reports that in the event that a government rejects a CNDH recommendation, the CNDH drops the case immediately. In other words, the CNDH's recommendations are completely unenforceable.

As for the overwhelming majority of complaints that do not result in recommendations, "The CNDH resolves 90 percent of the abuse cases it documents by signing 'conciliation' agreements with the government institutions responsible for the abuses. But the commission does not publicly disclose the contents of these agreements, which include both the findings of its investigations and the remedies that the responsible state authorities have agreed to implement. Nor does it publicize at any time afterward the extent to which these authorities comply with the terms of the agreements.... The commission excludes victims from the ‘conciliation’ process, signing agreements directly with government institutions without involving the petitioners in the drafting of the terms, or even seeking their consent to close cases in this fashion."

The CNDH has done nothing to improve its practices since the US Congress approved the Merida Initiative and the human rights conditions that came with it.

The Public Security Secretariat's (SSP's) Citizen Public Security Council (CPSC): The State Department reports that the "CPSC is chaired by the Secretary of Public Security. There are also State Public Security Councils that are linked to local governments and NGOs; however, they do not have a formal structure linked with SSP." The State Department writes that unlike the CNDH's recommendations, "Implementation by SSP of the CPSC's recommendations is compulsory." It is true that several states do have Citizen Public Security Councils. However, as the State Department notes, they do not have a formal structure linked to the SSP, and therefore each functions differently and implementation of their recommendations are not necessarily mandatory. In many of the states that do have these council, government officials handpick members, calling into question their independence. Regardless of how the state Citizen Public Security Councils function, the State Department does not evaluate their policies and effectiveness in its report.

As for the national CPSC, the State Department says that the SSP must implement the CPSC's recommendations, but this reporter can find no evidence that the CPSC was ever actually created, making it very difficult for the SSP to implement its recommendations. A 2007 law mandated the federal Secretary of Public Security to create the CPSC, but there is no evidence that Public Security Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna ever actually created the CPSC. The State Department, however, reports that the CPSC "was established in November 2007."

Citizen Participation Council of the Federal Attorney General's Office: Unlike the CPSC, the Citizen Participation Council does actually exist, and it does accept complaints. However, the State Department report does not specify if it has "the authority to carry out effective investigations" into specific complaints, nor does it specify if it has any power to oblige the Attorney General's Office to implement its recommendations. The Citizen Participation Council's members are "successful businessmen" according to the State Department, meaning that it is not representative of the Mexican population in general.

The Citizen Participation Council was created in 2002, the CNDH was founded in 1990, and the SSP's Citizen Public Security Council does not appear to exist. The State Department does not report that the Citizen Participation Council and the CNDH have made any significant changes to their policies since the Merida Initiative was passed in 2008, meaning that the State Department has not demonstrated any improvement in that area. The Merida Initiative mandates "improvement," not proof that existing practices continue unchanged. Furthermore, it does not demonstrate that the Mexican government has established "police complaints commissions with authority and independence to receive complaints and carry out effective investigations" as mandated by the Merida Initiative.

Human Rights: Not a Merida Initiative Priority

The Merida Initiative legislation specifically states that 15% of anti-narcotics and military funding will not be released to Mexico “until the Secretary of State reports in writing to the Committees on Appropriations that the Government of Mexico is” complying with the four conditions.

Nowhere in the Merida Initiative Report does the State Department write that Mexico is complying with the four conditions—or even some of them, for that matter. In the case of soldiers accused of human rights abuses being investigated and tried in civilian courts, the State Department report describes how Mexico continues to violate that condition.

One Mexican civil society representative told Narco News, “The United States is violating the law by releasing these funds. The report does not certify that Mexico is complying with these conditions.”

From the beginning, Narco News has criticized both the US Congress and international human rights organizations for their insistence on conditioning a very small portion of the Merida Initiative funds on Mexico's compliance with human rights benchmarks. In conditioning less than 15% of the overall funds and allowing the delivery of armament such as Black Hawks and other combat aircraft regardless of Mexico's ability to improve its dismal human rights record, the US Congress demonstrated its complete lack of disregard for human rights in Mexico.

Major international and US-based human rights organizations have focused an amount of energy on the inclusion of human rights conditions that is disproportionate to the human rights conditions' overall value. The Merida Initiative fundamentally and unquestioningly supports the drug war in Mexico, which has undeniably caused further deterioration of both the human rights and security situation in that country. The Merida Initiative follows a model that failed to reduce drug production in Colombia. In Mexico, Calderon's war on drugs has resulted in skyrocketing execution rates and human rights abuses. In insisting that human rights conditions be included in the Merida Initiative, and then later celebrating "the final bill [as] an important first step to prevent military and police abuses, including torture," massive international human rights organizations participated in the whitewashing of a bill that experts, namely Mexican human rights organizations, warned would contribute to what is already amounting to a human rights and security crisis.

A far better approach to the Merida Initiative is suggested by 72 Mexican civil society organizations and a Mexican Brigadier General in a letter to US Congress: “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.” The Mexican human rights organizations who made that request are the experts in their country's human rights situation, not Washington- or New York-based international powerhouses. So why has no one listened to them?

The possible release of the conditioned Merida Initiative funds is certainly disturbing and should be condemned, but not because the human rights conditions, if properly enforced, could have improved human rights in Mexico as their proponents claimed. Rather, the proposed release of the conditioned funds is troubling because, as the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center, Fundar, and the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center noted in a press release responding to the State Department report, "The Obama administration’s announced release of the Merida funds promotes a climate of tolerance for human rights violations against Mexicans in the name of a militarized drug war that has not succeeded in reducing insecurity, much less in addressing the causes of drug trafficking from Mexico to the US or in solidifying respect for the fundamental freedoms of the population of either country."

It's time to listen to Mexican human rights organizations. The drug war does not work, and the Merida Initiative will not work. Mexico needs a new drug control strategy that addresses the root causes of its security problems.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

The Dictatorship Unmasked

"The Real Goal of the 45-Day Curfew is to Torpedo November's Electoral Process"

El Tiempo Staff Editorial translated by Kristin Bricker

With Executive Decree PCM-M-016-2009, the dictatorial government has taken off its mask and really outdone itself by keeping Honduras and the Honduras people kidnapped through its use and abuse of the State's weapons and its desire to manipulate the Constitution and the laws of the Republic.

This executive decree, signed by the de facto head of state Micheletti in a meeting with his equally de facto cabinet, establishes a curfew for 45 consecutive days, during which practically all rights and individual freedoms are annulled, leaving the Honduran people completely defenseless before the usurpers.

From the moment this dictatorial edict went into effect, inalienable rights such as personal freedom, the right to free thought, the right to organize and meet, the right to free movement, rights to privacy in one's own home, and protections against arbitrary detentions ceased to exist in Honduras.

Honduras is at the mercy of a dictatorship that has tried to enthrone itself against the will of an entire people. Honduras is an international pariah and a State that has been kidnapped by a group of unscrupulous and adventurous politicians, military officials, businessmen, and religious kingpins who have no consciences. They maintain omnipotent power over the government in order to enjoy absolute impunity, privileges, and canonry.

As for freedom of expression, which is fundamental to human coexistence and democracy, article 73 of the Constitution of the Republic states:

Printing presses, radio and television stations, and whichever other means of emitting and broadcasting thought, as well as their components, cannot be confiscated, nor closed, nor can their work be interrupted on the grounds that they are committing a crime in transmitting their thoughts, their responsibilities under the law notwithstanding.

We cite that constitutional article for informational purposes. We know that for a dictatorial, totalitarian government, like that which holds power in Honduras, "the Constitution is pure drivel" and "can be violated as much as is necessary," according to the subculture of the political "class" that has brought our country to the point of complete political, economic, and social disaster.

Article 3.3 of executive decree PCM-M-016-2009 prohibits: "Publication in any media, spoken, written or televised, of information that offends human dignity, public officials, or criticizes the law and the government resolutions, or any style of attack against the public order and peace." All of this, naturally, is according to the dictatorial regime's criteria and in no way according to democratic mentality.

It is obvious, therefore, that with the 45-day curfew--that is, for the duration of the election campaigns--the real goal is to torpedo November's electoral process through a plan to consolidate the dictatorship's power, unmasking the de facto regime's faked determination to support the general elections at the end of the year.

This is because there cannot be an electoral campaign without individual freedoms, without the freedom of expression or transmission of thought, without the freedom of association and the freedom to hold meetings, without free transit and the right to privacy in one's own home, and without protections against arbitrary detentions. That is very clear.

Translated for Narco News on Sept. 28.

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Merida Initiative Police Screenings "Inefficient" and "Ineffective"

Lauded Polygraph Tests Have Failed to Reduce Corruption

One of the Merida Initiative's stated goals in Mexico is to help the Mexican government "root out corruption" in its police forces. The Merida Initiative funds two efforts that are aimed at combatting police corruption: a National Police Registry and screenings of all police officers. A report by the Mexican daily El Universal argues that police screenings are ineffective, inefficient, and useless as they are currently being carried out.


The National Police Registry was proposed under the Merida Initiative because US lawmakers felt uneasy about dumping hundreds of millions of dollars in equipment and training into infamously corrupt Mexican police forces. According to the US State Department, the National Police Registry will eventually contain photos, biographical data, 10 fingerprints, DNA samples, voice samples, and personnel data (all employment related information, to include date of hire, education, training, disciplinary actions, and terminations) of all active Mexican police officers (federal, state, and local), auxiliary police officers, and private security companies in Mexico. The US has thus far spent $3 million on the creation of Mexico's National Police Registry.

Likewise, the Merida Initiative provides an unknown amount of funds for the creation of a National Vetting Center, which screens police officers in order to "root out corruption." The screenings entail polygraph tests, audits of officers' personal finances to detect possible "illicit enrichment," investigations of their socio-economic backgrounds, psychological evaluations, and drug tests. Mexican law requires that all police officers be screened every six months. According to the Mexican government, the Merida Initiative funds that pay for these screenings and the National Police Registry come from a $26 million pot of money for "strengthening police professionalization programs and the National Police Registry."

According to the US State Department, since President Felipe Calderon took office over 11,000 federal and about 25,000 state and local public officials and police have been vetted through the rigorous screening process. Approximately 87% of Mexico's state and federal police have been entered into the National Police Registry.

The State Department uses these statistics in its "Mexico--Merida Initiative Report" in order to demonstrate that Mexico's police are now more "transparent" and "accountable." With the report, the State Department hopes to release the 15% of Merida Initiative funds that have been held up pending Mexico's compliance with certain conditions. In the report, the State Department implies that the firing of 284 federal police commanders and the arrest of 204 federal, state, and local public servants during the Calderon administration means that the Registry and screenings are effective tools to reduce corruption. The State Department argues that these programs constitute "concrete steps to... address issues of corruption."

The State Department report does not, however, evaluate if these measures actually have led to reduced police corruption. Mexico's daily El Universal consulted several public security experts and published their opinions on how well the Merida Initiative-funded anti-corruption vetting has worked. Their conclusion: it hasn't worked at all.

"Useless"


El Universal reports that President Calderon's anti-corruption campaign has put over one thousand police officers in jail since it began. "According to official information," writes El Universal, "almost every week a group of police, or at least a police force employee, is detained, brought before the authorities, or put in pre-charge detention for having links to organized crime or for operating a criminal cell."

The paper consulted imprisoned officers' families and lawyers and discovered that that majority of these detentions are due to anonymous tips or protected state's witnesses--not police screenings. It says that such is the case with 226 police who have been arrested this month for their ties to drug trafficking--screenings did not lead to single one of those arrests.

The experts consulted by El Universal explain the various shortcomings in the vetting process.

One of the most pressing issues is the high turnover on Mexican police forces--30% on average, according to National Public Security Council Executive Secretary Jorge Tello Peon. Even without such high turnover, registering and screening Mexico's 400,000 police officers is a daunting task. The 30% turnover aggravates Mexico's already limited capacity to register all of its police officers. Screening 400,000 police two times per year has thus far proven to be impossible, even without taking the turnover rate into account.

Arturo Arango, an independent consultant that helps the Federal Public Security Secretariat screen and train Federal Police, told El Universal that the screenings have thus far failed because they are "incomplete. On the one hand, they are getting rid of some bad elements. But they're leaving others who corrupt new [police]. It's like putting clean apples in a basket with bad apples."

Arango's argument against a piecemeal screening strategy alludes to a larger issue in the war on drugs as it is currently fought: as corrupt or criminal elements--even criminal masterminds--are arrested, more step up to take their place. The names and faces change, but the drug trafficking industry continues unaffected. Drug trafficking organizations' extensive criminal networks have been painstakingly documented--particularly in Ricardo Ravelo's seminal work Los Capos--and include recruiters who work in nearly every major public security agency in the country. Decades of piecemeal strategy has failed to dismantle these networks, namely because drug trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar industry that props up the Mexican economy (not to mention its public servants' bank accounts). On the contrary, drug traffickers' influence over Mexico has steadily increased.

Arango and public security expert Elena Azaola told El Universal that the police screening strategy needs to be completely reevaluated because the Mexican government can't handle screening all 400,000 police once, let alone twice per year as mandated by the law. "In Morelos, for example, it took us nearly four months to evaluate 2,500 police. If we wanted to screen 400,000, we'd need a school with twenty lecture halls, a thousand mobile polygraphs, and a way to get all of the police together at once, which is impossible."

The result of ongoing pervasive corruption in Mexico's police forces at all levels of government is that Mexican citizens continue to have little faith in public servants. A recent survey conducted by the Citizen Studies Institute (Icesi in its Spanish abbreviation) found that the majority of Mexicans feel unsafe in their cities and do not trust police nor the district attorney's office. The Icesi poll is more bad news for the Merida Initiative: one of its stated performance measures is the "percentage of polled Mexicans that a) have confidence in the Mexican federal police to protect them and serve the law; and b) have confidence in the Mexican federal system of justice to administer rule of law in a timely manner."

Originally published on Sept. 27 in Narco News.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Why No New Updates?

Some of you have noticed that I haven't been updating this blog very frequently over the past two months. This is because when a coup ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, it took the Narco News team all we had to provide up-to-the-minute coverage. Since I often published multiple articles every day following the coup, I didn't have time to post them to Narco News and this blog. Narco News is my priority: multiple contributors means that Narco News provides more complete and varied coverage than a single person's blog. This blog, rather than being a news source, has always been simply a place where I compile everything I've published in Narco News and elsewhere. Think if it as a running portfolio. The tags make My Word is My Weapon easily searchable, which is a feature I find particularly useful. But for the most up-to-date news and analysis regarding this country called America, you need to go to Narco News (you might have noticed that my articles often get posted to this blog a day after they've gone out on Narco News).

Since this is a place where I compile my work, soon I will retroactively post my articles on the Honduras coup so that they're archived here. They're all already on Narco News, along with Al Giordano's coverage from inside Honduras.
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