Plan Mexico: US Congress Abandons Human Rights Posturing in Favor of Black Hawk Helicopters

Majority of Proposed Funds are for Military Aircraft; House Appropriations Axes Human Rights Conditions to Speed Delivery

The US House of Representatives is expected to vote this week on the 2009 Supplemental for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Pandemic Flu, which would more than double the US government's fiscal year 2009 funding for Mexico's drug war.  The majority of the $470 million in this proposed round of Plan Mexico funds would pay for military aircraft, all of which can be armed.  The House Appropriations Committee has completely removed the paltry human rights conditions that have thus far been attached to Merida Initiative funding for Mexico's drug war.  Instead of human rights conditions, the Appropriations Committee has ordered expedited delivery of military aircraft.

Less Human Rights, More Black Hawks

Whereas the first round of Merida Initiative funding in 2008 was marked by debate over Mexico's human rights record, in this third tranche Congress has abandoned all pretexts of being concerned for human rights in Mexico.  Congress attached a report to the first tranche that required the US government to report on the investigation into the murder of Brad Will, the US Indymedia reporter assassinated on the streets of Oaxaca in 2006.  That report also acknowledged that police sexually abused female detainees in San Salvador Atenco in May 2006, and that none of the police responsible for the abuses have been held responsible.  Less than 15% of the funds from the first two tranches were conditioned on the Mexican government meeting certain human rights benchmarks, including investigating and trying soldiers accused of human rights abuses in civilian courts (currently the military is in charge of investigating and punishing itself for human rights abuses), setting up a commission to review citizen complaints against police, the prohibition of the use of testimony obtained through torture, and consultations with civil society regarding the implementation of the Merida Initiative.

Predictably, those human rights conditions have proven to be useless.  The US government withheld less than 15% of the first round of funding because the Mexican government had not complied with the human rights conditions.  On the contrary, Mexican Defense Ministry officials have stated their outright refusal to try soldiers in civilian courts.  Then, not at all concerned that Mexico had not met four relatively simple human rights conditions, Congress approved the second round of funding, again withholding less than 15% for noncompliance with human rights conditions.

Now Congress has completely abandoned the pretext of being concerned for human rights in Mexico's war on drugs.  Congress' feigned concern regarding the mass rape of female protesters in Atenco has been replaced with statements such as, "The Committee supports the aggressive action that the Government of Mexico has taken and strongly supports Mexico in its war against organized crime and drug-traffcking along our shared border."  The omission of human rights conditions in this round of funding was no accident: the Appropriations Committee included language in the Mexico sections of the proposed bill (PDF file) explicitly exempting the $470 million in new funds from human rights conditions and reporting requirements in order to expedite the delivery of military aircraft to the Mexican government.

Appropriations Committee Ignores Mexican Human Rights Experts

This past May 6, 67 Mexican human rights organizations signed a letter to the US Congress requesting an immediate halt to all US military funding to Mexico.  They ask that instead of the military aid, the US search for a "holistic response to security problems."  They argue that Felipe Calderon is looking to expand military control over Mexican society, which is dangerous because human rights complaints against members of the military have increased six-fold during the current administration.  Despite the sharp increase in abuses, they say that not a single member of the military has been convicted for human rights violations during the Calderon administration. 

In Mexico, at least one human rights organization operates in nearly every state.  These organizations dedicate the majority of their time to receiving human rights complaints from local residents, investigating and documenting them, and helping the complainant seek justice, be it through a media campaign or filing charges with the government.  Through their work of documentation, these human rights organizations have a better grasp of the current human rights situation on the ground in Mexico than anyone else in the world.  Mexico City and 21 of Mexico's 31 states are represented on the letter to Congress.

Rather than heeding the Mexican human rights experts' request that military aid be immediately halted and that more holistic solutions be investigated and supported, the Appropriations Committee did just the opposite.

Previous rounds of Plan Mexico funds have included money for the Economic Support Fund.  A nominal amount of that money is earmarked for vague "development" programs--something that could be referred to as "peaceful aid" that seeks a more holistic response to address the root causes of drug violence such as poverty.  Again, Congress has dropped all pretexts of Plan Mexico being anything other than money for war.  The proposed supplemental funding does not include any money for the Economic Support Fund.  On the contrary, most money is for military aircraft that can be armed.

The Details

The 2009 Supplemental for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Pandemic Flu includes $470 million in non-cash resources for the Mexican government and an additional $350 million to the US Department of Defense "to address the growing violence along the US-Mexico border."  Further information on the $350 million for US-Mexico border militarization is not available at this time, but the Defense Department can use it to support other federal agencies that work along the border.

Of the $470 million that would go to Mexico, $310 million is under the US Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program.  This money would "expand aviation support for Mexico."  It includes the final three of the eight CASA 235 surveillance planes proposed by former president George W. Bush.  CASA 235 planes have the ability to use night vision equipment, two computers to transmit and receive information from a military base or control center, and room for 57 soldiers with all of their equipment or 48 parachutists.  CASA 235s can also carry six anti-ship missiles and two MK46 torpedoes or Exocet M-39 anti-ship missiles.

The FMF funds also include an unspecified number of HH-60 medium lift maritime transport helicopters.  The HH-60 is a variant of the Black Hawk helicopter.  It is designed for search and rescue missions in hostile environments, but it can also be armed with two 7.62 mm mini-guns or two .5 inch machine guns.

The proposed supplemental's other $160 million is for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) "to combat drug trafficking and related violence and organized crime, and for judicial reform, institution building, anti-corruption, and rule of law activities."  The $160 million also includes three UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, forensics and non-instrusive inspection equipment, computers, training, and fixed and rotary wing aircraft.  The report that accompanies the proposed supplemental funding bill (PDF file) does not specify the "fixed and rotary wing aircraft" that the INCLE funds will pay for. 

"Non-instrusive inspection equipment" is a misnomer: it is equipment that allows the government to spy on people without them realizing it.  This includes wiretapping equipment.  Mexican Congress recently voted to allow warrantless wiretapping of "organized crime" suspects.  Congress has obviously not learned from (or does not care about) recent revelations that the Colombian intelligence service was caught using US-provided counter-narcotics wiretapping equipment to tap the telephones of opposition politicians, social movement leaders, journalists, and Supreme Court officials who are investigating paramilitaries.

The inclusion of Black Hawk helicopters is also a slap in the face to Mexican human rights organizations.  Mexico's Proceso magazine reported that a Mexican official who was involved in Plan Mexico negotiations with the Bush administration told the magazine on condition of anonymity that Black Hawks had been struck from the original proposal "because this would have implied a direct intervention from the US Congress to certify that the Mexican Armed Forces are respecting human rights."  Fortunately for the Mexican Armed Forces, the Appropriations Committee has not only removed any mention of human rights from this latest round of funding, it has decided to expedite the shipment of Black Hawks and other military aircraft by dropping human rights conditions and slashing reporting requirements. 

Even Colombia must go through the dog and pony show of congressional human rights certification in order to receive its Black Hawks--even if it doesn't serve to actually protect human rights in Colombia.  Former Colombian paramilitary member Eduin Guzmán wrote in his memoirs about an incident in which his organization called the Colombian military with a request that it bomb a village it had determined to be a rebel stronghold. Within forty minutes of calling the military, "two [Brazilian-made] Tucano planes and four Harpy [modified Blackhawk] helicopters [arrived]. They started to bomb almost all of La Cooperativa. We saw fragmentation bombs, 500-pound bombs and rockets falling over this village, like nobody could have imagined."  After the raid, Guzman received a call from a fellow paramilitary on the ground who told him, "Thank God, we did it! We got rid of all of them, there’s no one left standing there, they’re all dead!”

In a separate incident, Miguel Ángel "The Twin" Mejía Múnera, a drug-trafficker-turned-paramilitary, testified to a Justice and Peace prosecutor about a time his organization requested Colombian military help.  "Two Kfir planes arrived. First they flew over the zone, and later they carried out a phased bombing, finally they carried out two more overflights and left. Next came the helicopters, which dedicated themselves to shooting up the zone that had been bombed.”

The US State Department's 2001 human rights report mentions an incident in which a Colombian military helicopter hovered overhead during the July 2000 paramilitary massacre that occurred in La Union, killing six people. 

While it is true that Colombia is not Mexico, these incidents make it very clear that the US Congress, which was responsible for certifying Colombia's military aid under Plan Colombia, is not concerned about human rights in countries that receive US military aid, even when that aid is clearly and undeniably used to commit atrocious crimes.

Black HawkWhile the 2009 supplemental calls Mexico's proposed Black Hawks "transport helicopters," the Black Hawk "can accomplish just about any battlefield-related task it is assigned." Make no mistake: Black Hawks can be and most often are armed.  The military hardware database site militaryfactory.com writes, "When armed, the Black Hawk can take on firepower in the form of 30mm chain guns, machine gun pods, heavy caliber and general purpose machine guns and miniguns. Additionally, optional wing stubs can provide for the use of external fuel tanks for increased operational ranges or Hellfire anti-tank missiles and 2.75" rocket pods for increased lethality."

Pork Spending: The Other Swine Pandemic

When President Barack Obama submitted his budget request for this supplemental, he requested $66 million for three Black Hawk helicopters.  The House Appropriations Committee decided to go above and beyond and allocated $404 million more to Mexico, mostly for military aircraft that can be armed.  This significant increase in military aircraft might be bad news for human rights in Mexico, but it's good news for the aerospace industry. 

Aerospace companies all over the world are suffering the effects of the economic crisis.  In the US, plane manufacturers are suffering due to buyers not having the cash to pay for orders they've placed.  United Technologies, which owns Sikorsky, the company that makes Black Hawk helicopters, is facing particularly hard times: it announced in March that it will lay off 11,600 workers.  The US government's proposed purchase of at least four Sikorsky helicopters (three Black Hawks and an unspecified number of HH-60s) is good news in dark times for that company.

Repressing Dissent

The Appropriations Committee had a sadly comical moment when it wrote in the report that accompanies the proposed supplemental, "The committee expects that none of these funds will be used to suppress the political opposition."  Either the committee is naive or it is lying.

Narco News and other organizations have thoroughly documented just a few instances in which the Mexican government has used the war on drugs to crack down on domestic dissent.  In the most recent incident, six Zapatista supporters, one Zapatista, and an eighth man remain in a Chiapas jail on fabricated organized crime charges.  The men's community has fought for land rights and has opposed mega-projects on its territory.  The operation that captured the men bore all the marks of a drug war operation, from the participation of state and federal police and the military, to the paid advertisements designed to look like newspaper articles that made the men look like high-ranking drug traffickers.  The six Zapatista supporters were tortured into confessing to organized crime charges--confessions they've since recanted.

The Americas Program documented how Chihuahua state officials took advantage of a joint military-police operation to sweep up movement leaders in that state.

Narco News documented how the state of Michoacan took advantage of the horrific Independence Day grenade attack in the city of Morelia to carry out warrantless raids of neighborhoods and communities that belong to the National Front for Socialist Struggle (FNLS).

Narco News also exposed how alleged "narco protests" have allowed the government to criminalize public protest in the state of Nuevo Leon.

If the Mexican government was unable or unwilling to meet the four flimsy human rights conditions that the US Congress had originally imposed on it (one of which--the ban on testimony obtained through torture--is already Mexican law) to the point where Congress felt the need to drop those conditions, what makes the House Appropriations Committee think that Mexico will magically stop using the war on drugs to repress dissent?

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