Plan Mexico is Back in Congress
Yesterday the House Passed 2009 Plan Mexico Funding Despite Mexico's Failure to Comply with the 2008 Funding's Human Rights Conditions
The US House of Representatives passed the "omnibus" spending bill yesterday, which reportedly increases federal domestic spending by 8%. Democrats celebrated the bill as having "reversed the Bush cuts on domestic priorities." The bill will now head to the Senate.
However, $410 million was tucked away in the bill to provide 2009 funding for the military and law enforcement aid package known as the Merida Initiative or Plan Mexico. The House version constitutes a 25% decrease from former president George W. Bush's original proposal of $550 million for 2009.
Under the House version, Mexico would receive $300 million in Plan Mexico funds, which is $100 million less than last year. Central America would receive $105 million, which is a significant increase over the $60 million it received last year. Haiti and the Dominican Republic's funding remains the same at $2.5 million each.
Of Mexico's proposed $300 million, $15 million falls under the Economic Support Fund (ESF) for "economic assistance and civil society institution building." Last year Mexico received $20 million under the ESF, which in large part when to help the Mexican government implement its new judicial reforms, many of which were undertaken in response to the US government's leveraged encouragement. 2008 ESF funds were also used to expand a program operated by a CIA-affiliated NGO that will attempt to "influence attitudes about the rule of law" through media and NGOs. It also included funds to train Mexican human rights organizations to "properly" monitor human rights.
Mexico would receive $246 million in International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) funding under the House bill, a slight decrease from the $263.5 million it received last year. While the House bill does not specify what exactly 2009 INCLE funds would pay for (the spending plan that is due 45 days after the president signs the bill into law would go into more detail), the 2008 funds paid to expand Mexico's ability to track and detect undocumented immigrants in Mexico, effectively conflating undocumented immigrants with drug traffickers. 2008 INCLE funds also paid to expand various Mexican agencies' domestic spying capabilities. They also provided "technical assistance in prison management" and an unspecified amount of money for drug treatment in Mexico.
The House version of Plan Mexico also proposes $39 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF), which will pay for three Bell-412 helicopters. Mexico was slated to receive $116.5 million in FMF last year under Plan Mexico, which were supposed to pay for up to five Bell-412 helicopters and other other armament. However, 15% of the funds were withheld because Mexico has failed to comply with human rights conditions included in Plan Mexico. FY 2009 funding appears to attempt to fill the gap left by Mexico's disregard of the human rights conditions and purchase the remaining helicopters.
Human Rights Conditions
The House passed 2009 funding for Plan Mexico despite the fact that the US government is still withholding 15% of the 2008 funds because Mexico has still not complied with Plan Mexico's human rights conditions. The other 85% of the funds are unconditional.
In the House version of the 2009 bill, the human rights conditions remain the same. The Mexican government must:
- improve the transparency of police forces by establishing a commission or commissions to receive complaints regarding the police and carry out investigations,
- consult regularly with Mexican civil society organizations regarding the implementation of the Merida Initiative,
- assure that federal police and soldiers accused of human rights violations be tried in civil courts with the full cooperation of military and police officials,
- and enforce the prohibition on the use of testimony obtained through torture or other ill-treatment.
However, the FY 2009 bill that funds Plan Mexico contains one potentially significant difference from the 2008 bill: whereas the 2008 bill says that 15% of funds will be withheld "until the Secretary of State reports in writing to the Committees on Appropriations that the Government of Mexico is" complying with the human rights conditions, the 2009 bill says that 15% of the funds will be withheld "until the Secretary of State reports in writing to the Committees on Appropriations that the Government of Mexico is continuing to" comply with the human rights conditions. The addition of the two words "continuing to" seems to give the Mexican government a pass on the 2008 conditions, which, as previously stated, the Secretary of State has not determined it has fulfilled. The Mexican government cannot possibly "continue to" comply with human rights conditions it never complied with in the first place.
The Mexican government seems to have significant difficulties with the last two human rights conditions: that military and federal police be tried in civilian courts and that testimony obtained under torture not be used in criminal cases. In November, Narco News published a translation of a Proceso article that documented that the three suspects arrested in the Morelia Independence Day grenade attack were tortured, either by a drug cartel or by the Mexican government. The men claim they were tortured into confessing to throwing the fragmentation grenades into a crowd of civilians. The government has not explained how the men were injured.
Narco News has also published military authorities' outspoken opposition to trying soldiers accused of human rights violations in civilian courts. Mexican Secretary of Defense Guillermo Galván Galván used his Military Day address to argue against "those who demand that Military Jurisdiction be abolished," claiming that military trials are "never a cover for impunity." Aside from increased debate over the issue, the Mexican government has taken no steps to begin trying members of the military in civilian courts if they are accused of human rights violations.