State Department Backing US Troops In Mexico
Contracts show School of the Americas, Special Ops Group, Working Inside The Country
Procurement data from the Federal Procurement Data System shows that in September the US Embassy in Mexico City paid Sheraton Hotels more than $15,000 for an event featuring the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC, formerly the School of the Americas), a Department of Defense school that specializes in training students from Latin America and has a notorious history of contributing to human rights abuses abroad.
The Joint Special Operations University (JSOU), a military school that teaches special operations tactics, is also listed as being involved. The State Department has not disclosed which Sheraton hotels were used, but the procurement data states the contract work was performed in Mexico. Sheraton lists hotel locations in the historic center of Mexico City, the city's wealthy suburb of Santa Fe, the beach resort city of Cancún, and city of Monterrey.
When asked about the procurement data, embassy spokesman Alexander Featherstone first stated that the US Northern Command (NORTHCOM), a military unit created in 2002 for homeland defense missions, is involved in training the Mexican military with help from the State Department.
“At the request of the Mexican government and in coordination with the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, USNORTHCOM conducts information exchanges and training across a number of broad areas and disciplines,” Featherstone said. “These trainings take place both in Mexico and the U.S.”
“These training opportunities and exchanges have helped the militaries of Mexico and the United States to build a relationship based on trust, confidence, mutual benefit and mutual respect for sovereignty,” Featherstone added.
Regarding the hotel payments, Featherstone then said that the Department of Defense, through the Office of Defense Coordination at the U.S. Embassy, uses meeting rooms for “seminars, conferences, and meeting venues,” including for events that focus on “counternarcotics efforts.”
When asked if the funds used by the embassy were part of the Mérida Initiative, a 2008 security pact in which the United States provides training and equipment to Mexican law enforcement and the armed forces to wage the drug war, Featherstone stated that they were not.
“While this military training is not funded with Merida Initiative funds, the expenditure is in the spirit of the Merida Initiative objectives and fully supports the U.S. whole-of-government effort to work closely with Mexico,” Featherstone said.
The School of Americas Mobile Training Teams and the Special Forces
The State Department has not answered questions seeking to know what exactly WHINSEC and JSOU were doing inside Mexico last month, and the Department of Defense referred inquiries to the Mexico City embassy. WHINSEC is based at the Fort Benning Army base in Georgia and the JSOU is in Hurlburt Field, Florida.
School of America's Watch, a nonprofit organization that has been monitoring WHINSEC before it changed its name in 2001, found that the school offers Mobile Training Teams (MTTs), which have been deployed to other countries in Latin America. According to a 2004 course list obtained by the nonprofit, the MTTs taught classes on issues like “military instruments of power” and “joint operations.”
At the beginning of the year, WHINSEC announced that it had deployed these teams to El Salvador, Colombia, Panama and the Dominican Republic for military trainings.
In the last 60 years, WHINSEC has gained a dark reputation as a place where human rights abuses are born. SOA Watch has documented numerous cases where “thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,' massacred, and forced into refugee” by by graduates of the school.
The JSOU teaches special forces training. A report published by the school in March, titled “U.S. Military Engagement with Mexico,” states that “Despite little public notice, U.S.-Mexican military relations have changed fundamentally in recent years.” While discussing the threat of “narcoguerrillas” in Mexico, the document says “Mexican Special Operations Forces (SOF) in particular—as well as selected law enforcement components—have received substantial U.S. military support.”
Other sources have previously told Narco News that a special operations task force under the command of the Pentagon is operating inside Mexico and taking “direct action” against narco-trafficking organizations.
“The level of communication and cooperation between U.S. and Mexican armed forces has increased dramatically over the past two years and represents an historic high,” Featherstone said.
More Human Rights Complaints in Mexico
In Mexico, the military has been plagued with complaints of human rights abuses and corruption with drug traffickers. There have been more human rights complaints against the military during Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s administration than ever before. Of the 4,035 complaints that have been reported since 2006, 56 members of the military have been disciplined.
In September, the State Department announced it was withholding $26 million in Merida Initiative funds due to concerns over abuses committed by the Mexican military. That same month, four soldiers were arrested in the northern state of Nuevo León after they shot and killed two civilians who they claimed failed to stop at a check point on the highway.
The Zetas, a relatively new drug trafficking group of ex-soldiers from the Mexican special forces, routinely make headlines in Mexico for clashes with the federal government and military. Since Calderón used the military to crack down on drug trafficking groups, violence has only increased in the country, with 28,000 people killed due to drug violence since 2007.
The questions remain as to what exactly the US military and State Department are training Mexican soldiers and special forces to do.