Despite criticism that Mexico has not done enough to investigate the 2014 kidnapping and apparent murder of 43 college students by local authorities, and to curtail other human rights abuses, the United States announced on Thursday that it wants to restore financial aid to its southern neighbor.
Last October, the U.S. withheld $5 million out of the U.S.’s roughly $2.3 billion aid package to Mexico to combat drug cartels. The money covers such things as helicopters, border sensors and training programs.
It was a sign of the growing exasperation U.S. officials are said to be feeling over human rights problems involving Mexican security officials, including the disappearance of the 43 students.
The State Department also placed conditions on its aid package: Mexico must improve its human rights record or risk losing 15 percent of its aid. The U.S. said Mexico must enforce its laws against torture and step up prosecutions of people believed to be involved in disappearances.
In the year that has passed, however, experts say little has changed and are puzzled by why the State Department has notified Congress that it plans to restore the aid, even though by most accounts the abuses are as bad or worse.
“If you ask yourself, what has changed since last year, not very much,” Maureen Meyer, senior associate for Mexico at the Washington Office on Latin America, told the Los Angeles Times.
Congress still has the ability to block the State Department’s move and all eyes are on Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who has been a strong critic of the Mexican government’s abuses and drafted the provision in U.S. law that requires portions of aid to be suspended when there are unimpeded human rights abuses.
“We cannot ignore the failure of the Mexican government to take consistent and effective steps to end the impunity that has characterized a broken justice system,” he said in a statement.
Mexico “has allowed its own police and military officers to avoid punishment for committing and covering up heinous crimes," he added.
While the State Department acknowledged that Mexico faced “serious, ongoing challenges”, including widespread killings and kidnappings, torture, impunity and violence against journalists and human rights defenders in an assessment to Congress last month, State Department spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that Mexico has “launched an ambitious effort to modernize and reform its law enforcement and justice system.”