World

U.S. cuts $5 million in aid to Mexico over 43 missing students

The U.S. State Department said it will cut part of its drug aid to Mexico because its southern neighbor has failed to address serious human rights concerns.

The cut is expected to be a small part – $5 million – of the U.S.’s roughly $2.3 billion aid package to Mexico to combat the drug cartels, according to the Washington Post. The money covers such things as helicopters, border sensors and training programs, the Post said.

It is a sign of the growing exasperation U.S. officials are said to be feeling over human rights problems involving Mexican security officials, among those problems being the disappearance of 43 students last year, the newspaper said.

The State Department is placing conditions on its aid package: Mexico must improve its human rights record or risk losing 15 percent of its aid. The U.S. say Mexico must enforce its laws against torture and step up prosecutions of people believed to be involved in disappearances.

The portion that was withheld from Mexico instead was sent to Peru for coca eradication, the Post said.

“It’s a big decision for them to have made,” said Maureen Meyer, of the Washington Office on Latin America, to the Post. “I think they basically decided we cannot honestly or in good faith say there’s been enough progress made in Mexico. It shows how concerned the U.S. is about the human rights situation in the country.”

It’s not the first time the U.S. has held back funds from Mexico over human rights, but it eventually would release them once Mexico addressed U.S. complaints. The difference now, the Post noted, is that Mexico is not getting the money this year.

“From time to time, countries are unable to meet the reporting criteria as required by Congress,” the State Department said in a statement to the Post. “This year, we were unable to certify that Mexico fully meets the criteria.”

The U.S. made the funding decision quietly, evidently because Mexico is still an important diplomatic partner and ally in fighting the drug war.

“They’ve handled this more with tweezers than with sledgehammers,” said Eric L. Olson, a Latin America expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, in Washington. “But it undeniably sends a signal that the U.S. is not entirely pleased.”

State Department annual reports on Mexico describe allegations implicating Mexico security forces in “arbitrary or unlawful killings, often with impunity” as well involvement in torture and disappearances.

Mexico downplayed U.S.’ apparent threat, saying it was “an obligation imposed by the U.S. Congress on the government. It is not an obligation Mexico has to meet.”

In the last two years, the international spotlight shined on the missing 43 students from a teacher’s college in Mexico.

The Mexican government had said that local police where the students disappeared turned the students over to drug traffickers who murdered them and burned their bodies.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights investigators, however, said that based on their research, it seemed unlikely that the students died in the way the Mexican government had claimed.

The commission investigators said they had come across allegations of soldiers having seen the torture and killings and not doing anything. The commission’s report also said that government investigators had poorly handled evidence, and that witnesses to what occurred had been tortured.

“Everyone knew that the spotlight was on this case,” said Tim Rieser, a foreign policy aide to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Rieser, according to the Post. “And yet even still, they tried to whitewash it and cover up what happened. It shows the amount of impunity that exists there and the belief that you can get away with anything.”

“Despite…the efforts the United States has made to work with the Mexican government to improve justice and accountability,” Rieser added, “there has been little progress.”

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