Guest Editorial: Mexico’s record draws scrutiny
Mexico has failed to clean up its human rights record and, finally, the State Department is calling our southern neighbor out. For far too long, America’s allies in the global fight against terrorism and drug trafficking have been granted exceptions to sanctions when they engage in egregious human rights violations at home.
Mexico, like other special-status nations such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, has been regarded as too important an ally to risk offending with sanctions when their governments violate basic human rights norms. The State Department finally put a halt to Mexico’s pattern by withholding $5 million in counter-narcotics aid.
When standards haven’t been met, U.S. law requires the State Department to withhold 15 percent of the counter-narcotics aid under the Mérida Initiative, which has dispensed $2.3 billion worth of equipment and training since 2008. Central American nations participate, as well, but Mexico receives the bulk of aid.
The crowning blow for Mexico came last year when 43 students disappeared while in police custody in Iguala, a town southwest of Mexico City. The Mexican government’s investigation fell far short of explaining what happened and who was responsible.
The government asserted that police handed the students over to drug traffickers, who killed them, tossed the corpses into a dump site and set them ablaze. Forensics experts and human rights groups, including the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, raised justifiable skepticism about the government’s assertion that the bodies were so thoroughly incinerated that no remains could be identified.
It remains unclear why President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government seems unwilling or unable to get to the bottom of what happened. But until credible answers are forthcoming, U.S. taxpayers have no business aiding a counter-narcotics policing effort that includes the kinds of bad actors Peña Nieto’s government seems to be protecting.
The Iguala case is far from the only example. On June 30, 2014, government troops engaged in a shootout with suspected criminals in the state of Mexico. Twenty-two of the suspects died, including some who allegedly were killed after surrendering, the State Department says. It also cites the case of a university student who was arrested and killed in a severe beating by police in Guanajuato.
Government security forces also are implicated in hundreds of complaints about “forced disappearances,” which effectively are murders or kidnappings in which the victims are never found. Mexican law doesn’t uniformly treat forced disappearance as a crime.
Mexico remains a valued ally and trading partner whose cooperation is essential to stemming the flow of drugs and unauthorized migrants across our southern border. But Peña Nieto’s government must understand that a desire to maintain progress on those fronts doesn’t mean relegating human rights to lowest-tier status. Enough’s enough.