The United States is slowing the pace of security aid to Mexico amid an ongoing human rights disaster that led the State Department to withhold some $5 million in aid earlier this year.
The budget Congress approved earlier this month awards roughly $146 million in security aid to Mexico. That figure is the lowest since 2011 and amounts to about three-quarters of the funding Congress authorized last year.
“For a close country like Mexico, if their aid for a program is cut off 25 percent, that’s a pretty huge deal,” said Robert Naiman, policy director of the membership organization Just Foreign Policy. “By Washington’s standards, that’s a pretty big slap on the wrist.”
Money from the Department of Defense to help fight drug trafficking appears to be dwindling, too. In 2014, the DOD doled out some $45 million in military assistance, down from $63 million the year before.
The Pentagon hasn’t publicized the complete figures for last year or the projections for this year. But a biannual DOD report that tracks counter-narcotics funds, published in April and posted online by the Washington Office on Latin America, showed that Mexico had only received $6.8 million midway through 2015. Although the bulk of the money usually gets distributed in the second half of the year, Mexico appeared on course to receive less money than it did in 2014.
It remains unclear what will happen in 2016, since the DOD reassigns its spending priorities every year, according to Frank Mora, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Western Hemisphere from 2009 to 2013.
“[The law] gives them broad authority to fund and to support Mexico in its counter-narcotics efforts,” Mora told The Huffington Post.
The State Department, Defense Department and White House did not reply to requests for comment from HuffPost. Yet experts on Mexico pointed to a number of reasons why aid to the country is petering out.
For one, the Mexican military has always been cautious about working too closely with the U.S., and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has shown less enthusiasm for collaboration than his predecessor, Felipe Calderón.
The diminishing importance of the Merida Initiative, a security pact launched in 2008 to bolster Mexico’s assault on its drug cartels, has also led to a drop in funding. Congress has authorized some $2.5 billion for Mexico since Merida went into effect. Yet while the initiative originally helped fund large purchases of equipment for Mexico's military and police, it has focused more on training and professionalizing Mexican security forces in recent years.
However, some experts also believe human rights concerns and a lack of faith in Mexico’s military have played at least some role in the budget cuts.
Human rights organizations have documented widespread abuses by Mexico’s military and police, including forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture. Abusers are rarely punished. More than 100,000 people have died since Calderón launched his assault on the cartels in 2006, often at the hands of Mexico’s military and police.
The Mexican government faced more criticism over its disastrous human rights record this year because Peña Nieto's administration has been accused of mishandling the investigation into the disappearance of 43 students at the hands of police in Iguala, Mexico.
Independent journalists, forensic experts and a panel of experts fielded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have all rejected the government’s account of what happened to the students, and government documents indicate that Mexican authorities tortured key witnesses in the case, including four people who prosecutors say confessed to killing the students.
The escape this summer of the country’s most notorious drug kingpin, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, in apparent collusion with prison authorities, also undermined confidence in the Mexican government.
American officials almost never criticize their Mexican counterparts publicly, partly out of concern for alienating a strategic ally with whom the U.S. shares a 2,000-mile border.
The drop in support to Mexico would almost certainly be more dramatic if it weren't for a sharp uptick in the number of Central American mothers and children crossing into the U.S. in recent years. Congress authorized an extra $79 million above the White House's request in 2014 to crack down on illegal crossings through Mexico’s borders with Guatemala and Belize. The 2016 budget once again tops the White House request -- this time, by some $24 million -- partly because it includes funds to secure Mexico’s southern border.
Yet the State Department declined to issue a report this year on the progress that Mexico has made on human rights, a requirement for disbursing 15 percent of the funding Mexico receives under the Merida Initiative. The decision only cost Mexico $5 million, according to The Washington Post, but came across as a rebuke.
Adam Isacson, an analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America who tracks foreign aid to Mexico, said human rights scandals this year have made U.S. officials more cautious about who receives the hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid to the country.
“The human rights issue is a shadow hanging over U.S. cooperation with Mexican police and military forces,” Isacson told HuffPost.
Shannon O’Neil, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who researches Mexico, offered a similar assessment. Yet she added that officials and legislators would continue to cooperate with the Peña Nieto government to maintain influence and pressure Mexico to keep cracking down on its southern border, an issue that has gained attention as the U.S. heads into a presidential election.
“I do think the challenges there have made it more difficult to support Mexico,” O’Neil told HuffPost. “Do you pull back all funding or do you see this as an opportunity to actually invest and create change?”
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