Mexicans should take heart from a report last week by the Obama administration that shows America's neighbor is making progress in honoring human rights – despite a violent, internal war against powerful drug cartels.
Such reforms include removal of corrupt officials, punishment of soldiers who harm civilians, civilian oversight of federal police, and a broad education effort to raise respect for the rule of law.
The report was a requirement for the next release of US funds under the Merida Initiative, a $1.4 billion, three-year aid package for Mexico's campaign. Both the new money and the report should help Mexicans overcome their battle fatigue from a long war that has seen 45,000 Army soldiers deployed in narcotics-trading areas.
Mexicans are starting to lose faith that there will be any sort of victory. Ever since President Felipe Calderón began the war in 2006, more than 12,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence – most of them in fighting between competing cartels. Top leaders in Mr. Calderón's National Action Party (PAN) are questioning the strategy of using the military to do police work. The number of complaints of human-rights abuses by soldiers has risen, but so, too, has the capacity and willingness of the military to prosecute errant soldiers.
Progress is being made. The war has resulted in the arrests of more than 76,000 suspected traffickers. Nearly 200 cartel leaders have been sent to the US for trial. Most of all, the campaign allows for a cleansing of corrupt officials and police, which in turn allows communities to start to prosper and create jobs for idle youth who might be tempted to join the cartels.
The US has a big stake in Mexico's future. It has already contributed $1 billion of the promised $1.4 billion in aid, paying for special military equipment, police training, and better law enforcement. And that may not be the end of it. The US spent $6 billion in Colombia from 2000 to 2006 in an effort to break drug cartels in that smaller Latin American country. In the US, it took decades for the FBI and police to rid many cities of organized crime.
The Obama administration is also cooperating with Mexico to reduce the flow of arms and drug money across the border, but it still needs to stand up to the gun lobby and crack down on gun sales near the border.
President Obama should also be increasing – not decreasing – federal funding for US programs to reduce drug use among Americans (the "demand" side of Mexico's drug "supply" problem). The two countries have a "co-responsibility" in checking the cartels, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton puts it.
Calderón's current problem is meeting public expectations for an end to the war. The Army isn't fully trained in police work, and the sooner government can train better paid and less corruptible cops, the faster the military can return to the barracks. Calderón hopes to do that by 2012, when his time as president is up.
With more improvements in the Army's human rights record, more Mexicans will support its difficult work in rooting out the cartels' deep tentacles in society. Corruption runs deep in Mexico, and the military campaign marks just the beginning of long-needed reforms. Calderón's perseverance should inspire more Mexicans to keep supporting his efforts.
As long as they do, the US should be there with them.