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Washington and Mexico's Human Rights Crisis

Mexico's armed forces have dozens of Bell Helicopters through aid packages and sales.

By John Lindsay-Poland

Sixty-nine Members of Congress expressed concern for the ongoing human rights crisis in Mexico and urged Secretary of State John Kerry to make human rights a priority in the U.S. policy toward Mexico. The letter comes at a time when the State Department is reviewing whether the Mexican government has met the human rights conditions tied to the Merida Initiative, the U.S. aid package begun in 2008. Fifteen percent of some funds are conditioned on a State Department certification that the Mexican government is making substantive progress in respect for human rights.

The letter emphasized that Members of Congress “remain troubled by the 27,000 unresolved cases of people who have disappeared in Mexico since 2007, and the slow pace of reform in the military, law enforcement, and justice sectors,” and add that “Mexico’s persistent use of torture in criminal investigations is particularly disturbing.” They highlighted not only the unresolved disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers school in September 2014, but other prominent cases, including the massacre in June of at least nine unarmed participants in a teachers protest in Nochixtlan, Oaxaca.

Regarding the 43 students, the letter noted, “Despite the high level international scrutiny that the case has garnered, the Government of Mexico has made little progress in securing justice for these families, calling into question its commitment to uphold human rights.” AFSC's U.S.-Mexico Border Program urged San Diego-area Members to sign the letter, and three of them did so.

AFSC organized a 16-member fact-finding delegation to Mexico in June, which will issue a report next month.

The Congressional letter stopped short of urging reduced military and police assistance to Mexico, or even withholding the funds conditioned on human rights advances. In contrast, a solid block of Congressional Members favor cutting military and police aid to Honduras - also in a human rights crisis - as reflected in Congressional letters and the proposed Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act.

The 2017 proposed foreign aid package, not yet signed into law, includes continued military and police aid to Mexico, although slightly reduced from last year. The package includes $80 million in counter-drug funds, much of which is for Mexican police, and $4.5 million in military financing and training, down from $6.15 million in 2015. Only a portion of the military financing and training would be subject to human rights conditions in 2017. Moreover, in the last two years the bulk of U.S. military and police aid to Mexico has come from the Pentagon - $43 million last year - which does not disclose country amounts in advance and is not subject to human rights conditions. 

U.S. official arms sales to to Mexico's military and police, in any case, are much greater than aid appropriated by Congress, amounting to more than a billion dollars of equipment and arms last year. The 69 Members of Congress who expressed concern about human rights in Mexico should take the next step by focusing their attention on U.S. aid and sales that contribute to the crisis there.