When President Felipe Calderón of Mexico is received at the White House as part of his official state visit this week, he can expect President Barack Obama to reaffirm the United States’ full support for Mexico’s struggle against its violent drug cartels. So far, that has meant more than $1.3 billion in aid, much of it to the Mexican military. What it hasn’t included — and should — is pressure to uphold the human rights requirements to which both governments have agreed.
The Mexican army’s human rights record is very troubling. Soldiers deployed in counternarcotics operations have engaged in grave abuses, such as killings, torture, rape, and beatings. And if the abuses themselves aren’t worrisome enough for the Obama administration, their impact on the efficacy of the drug war should be. Each time that civilians are abused, Mexican soldiers contribute to the climate of violence and lawlessness in which the cartels thrive. Worse, the force’s abuses have cost it public trust and cooperation, both of which are vital to effective counternarcotics operations.
Understanding this, the United States and Mexico included human rights requirements in the Merida Initiative, a comprehensive plan begun in 2007 to confront organized crime. But rather than cracking down, the Calderón government has largely ignored the requirements and pretended its human rights problems don’t exist. Meeting Obama last year, Calderón publicly challenged human rights advocates to point to “any case, just one case, where the proper authority has not acted in a correct way.”
In fact, Mexico’s own National Human Rights Commission has done a comprehensive job of providing just those sorts of examples.
I’m sure Obama will speak in strongly-worded language fresh off the teleprompter between apologies for Arizona.