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U.S. finalizing aid for Mexico's drug war

But Mexican concerns about the plan's human rights conditions could scuttle it.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 6, 2008


Congress is poised to approve a multibillion-dollar antinarcotics-assistance program for Mexico – but with human rights conditions attached that could ultimately lead the Mexican government to reject the whole package.

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The House and Senate this week began the process of reconciling their two versions of a White House plan to provide $1.4 billion over three years in military hardware, surveillance equipment, training, and judicial assistance to further Mexico's intensifying war with its notorious drug cartels. The proposal also includes antidrug funding for some Central American countries, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti.

Both houses trimmed the White House request a bit, though leaving it largely intact while adding human rights conditions – such as a Senate insistence on civilian judicial oversight of cases of abuse perpetrated by the military.

Yet while human rights and judicial-transparency advocates say that the strings Congress has so far attached are the bare minimum for such a large new commitment, some Mexican officials are suggesting their country might prefer to continue a violent war alone rather than accept American conditions.

The brouhaha is conjuring up Mexico's long-held sensitivities over US intervention and interference in what it considers its sovereign affairs.

But many experts say Mexico could not have been surprised by what are by now typical conditions for such aid programs.

"The Mexican government can't expect a major military program is going to be approved without some kind of human rights conditions on it," says Lisa Haugaard, executive director of the Latin America Working Group, a policy advocate organization based in Washington.

Defending the conditions during Senate debate of the program, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont quipped that the new assistance – a more-than fivefold increase in aid to Mexico – is "a partnership, not a giveaway."

But Mexico's interior secretary, Juan Camilo Mourino, this week said that the conditions were "unacceptable." The White House, meanwhile, sided with the government of Mexican President Felipe Calderón: White House drug czar John Walters on Tuesday accused Congress of "sabotaging" the counternarcotics initiative, saying that it was "misguided" to "ask another country in order to be a partner to do things that are unconstitutional in a democratic regime."