U.S. considers boosting funds for Mexico drug war, but holds cash back over rights
The U.S. government is considering substantially increasing funding for Mexico's drug war beyond the $1.4-billion Merida Initiative, Paul Richter reports from our Washington bureau. Citing an unnamed source in the White House, Richter reports that the Obama administration sees its joint anti-drug effort with Mexico as a top priority.
At the same time, the administration separately announced that Mexico would receive $36 million in already-scheduled funds from the Merida Initiative but that another $26 million was being withheld until "additional progress can be made" on human rights issues in Mexico.
The State Department's report on Mexico was sent to Congress last week but has not been publicly released.
The administration wants Mexico to increase the authority of its National Human Rights Commission and for Mexican soldiers to be prosecuted on human rights charges in civilian courts rather than military tribunals. Soldiers and officers are rarely if ever convicted on such accusations in military courts, even as rights complaints have skyrocketed since President Felipe Calderon launched the army-led campaign against drug-trafficking groups in late 2006.
On Sunday, Mexican soldiers opened fire on a family's car at a highway checkpoint in the northern state of Nuevo Leon, killing a man and his teenage son and injuring five others. The Mexican army is implicated in the shooting deaths of two children in April. In March, a suspected drug gang member was photographed being hauled into the custody of marines one day, then showed up dead on a roadside the next.
Mexico's Interior Ministry said it would be paying the funeral expenses (link in Spanish) of Sunday's shooting victims, citing the military's "error" in the incident.
After last week's announcement about the withheld money, Mexico's Foreign Ministry responded with a measured critique. "Cooperation with the United States against transnational organized crime through the framework of the Merida Initiative is based on shared responsibility, mutual trust and respect for the jurisdiction of each country, not on unilateral plans for evaluating and conditions unacceptable to the government of Mexico," the statement said.
Meanwhile, as promised last year, the governments of the U.S. and Mexico opened a joint office -- the Merida Initiative Bilateral Implementation Office -- in Mexico City. Merida is a three-year program approved by the George W. Bush administration that designates $1.6 billion to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, with the lion's share, $1.4 billion, earmarked for Mexico.
-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City
Photo: A Mexican soldier stands guard at a crime scene in Tamaulipas state. Credit: Agence France-Presse