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Human rights at heart of Merida Initiative debate

June 23, 2008 | 10:48 am

In anticipation of the scheduled debate around the controversial Merida Initiative aid package in the U.S. Senate this week, the British newspaper Financial Times urges President Felipe Calderon to accept the human rights conditions attached to the plan aimed at helping Mexico fight its drug barons:

"Mr Calderón should also accept the conditions. Co-responsibility is more than just sharing the financial and logistical burden of fighting the war against drugs. In its broadest expression, it encompasses many related spheres, including human rights. If he is to use the argument of co-responsibility as a way to get the US to pay more, he must also accept that it implies doing more to improve his country’s human-rights performance," writes the newspaper's Mexico correspondent, Adam Thompson.

The $1.6-billion Merida Initiative was approved by House lawmakers this month, and the Senate is expected to follow suit. You can read here about the controversial package, which is opposed by groups on both sides of the border and from all parts of the political spectrum, from Amnesty International and Friends of Brad Will (named for the journalist-activist who was shot dead in Oaxaca in 2006) to Republican groups.

The main worry is that the cash boost will place more arms and power in the hands of an already corrupt police and army in Mexico, and that the money should instead be spent on poverty-reduction programs or, as advocated by the Republicans, strengthening the border.

Meanwhile, as The Times' Ken Ellingwood reported this month, opposition is also coming from within Mexico. Senior Mexican officials have called the provisions a form of U.S. interference and threatened to turn down the first-year installment if the conditions survive in a final version yet to be worked out by the House and Senate. They want the human rights provisions on the initiative deleted.

The Minuteman border group already has a plan in case the Merida Initative doesn't pan out....

-- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City

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