Human and Labor Rights Must Be Protected before Mexican Government Given Blank Check to Allegedly Fight Drug War
November 13th, 2007: PITTSBURGH–(BUSINESS WIRE)–News from USW: The United Steelworkers union announced today that it opposes handing Mexico what amounts to a blank check for $500 million for border enforcement of drug trafficking because it’s likely the American tax dollars will instead end up further undermining human and labor rights in Mexico.
USW International President Leo W. Gerard notified the chairmen of Congressional committees and subcommittees handling the Bush Administration’s request for the money that, at the very least, hearings should be conducted before votes are taken so human rights activists and trade unionists may testify to the violations that have occurred under the administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his predecessor.
“Without fundamental institutional reforms in Mexico, and concrete commitments on the part of the Mexican government to cease its violations of labor and human rights, we believe that the money requested by the Administration will serve to reinforce a pattern of impunity,” Mr. Gerard wrote in his letter to the Congressional leaders.
The letter outlines violations of human and labor rights documented by organizations such as Human Rights Watch. These include soldiers in Coahuila state beating municipal policemen and sexually abusing 14 women and the refusal of the government to hold any company official responsible for the deaths of 65 miners in the explosion at the Pasta de Conchos mine in February 2006.
Gerard noted that giving such an administration access to an unrestricted $500 million for law enforcement would make matters worse. “Indeed, the repression of labor unions and human rights organizations will likely lead even more Mexicans to conclude that their only future lies in migration to the U.S.,” he wrote.
The Bush Administration’s request for the $500 million, called the “Merida Initiative” or “Plan Mexico” is attached to the emergency request for supplemental funding for Iraq.
Mr. Gerard urged the lawmakers, as an alternative, to research methods for using the money to encourage economic development based on respect for human and labor rights in Mexico.
The USW is the largest industrial union in North America with 850,000 members in the U.S. and Canada.
By United Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard
Supporting Mexican Drug War Bad for U.S. Policy
November 13th, 2007
Last summer, while Americans worried about whether President Bush was going to attack Iran, he was secretly planning to get them involved in another war, this one closer to home.
It’s Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s drug war. Bush announced last month that he wants to give Calderon $500 million worth of military equipment and training – Bell 412 helicopters and CASA CN 235-300 surveillance aircraft and the like. This would be to help Calderon win the war he started with the country’s drug cartels by dispatching more than 20,000 soldiers to wage battle shortly after his hotly-contested election.
This engagement between the army and the cartels has left more than 2,000 dead this year and has been described by some as Calderon’s civil war. Most victims are members of competing trafficking cartels, but they also include many soldiers and police officers and some innocent bystanders like a 25-year-old school teacher and her three young children gunned down by Mexican military officers June 2 when troops opened fire on a vehicle they claimed failed to stop at a military checkpoint.
Human rights activists fear the massive military presence in civilian society and the use of the military for domestic law enforcement.
The Bush administration grant, dubbed “Plan Mexico” after a similar costly militaristic drug interdiction program begun seven years ago called “Plan Colombia,” would provide more gun power for Calderon’s war. Bush attached his appeal for “Plan Mexico” funding, appropriately, to his $46 billion supplemental budget request for Iraq war funding. One war piggybacking – or is that piggybanking – another.
Congress should be wary of this request. Plan Colombia, for all it has cost American taxpayers, has provided questionable results. Engaging this country in yet another war, even if it’s “just” a war on drugs, may not be wise. And instead of waging a “war on drugs” which hasn’t progressed since former President Nixon declared it, Congress might do both its constituents and Mexico a favor by using the $500 million to find ways to eliminate the market for illegal drugs in the United States and help stimulate legitimate business in Mexico.
Since 2000, the U.S. has given Colombia more than $4 billion in military aid, making it the largest recipient outside Afghanistan and the Middle East. Still, cocaine from its plantations flows into the United States. While the number of hectares planted in Colombia is down, it’s not clear that the growers haven’t simply moved to adjacent countries. Similarly, while the violence in Colombia is down, it’s hardly a civilized nation.
Paramilitaries, funded in large part by cocaine trade, continue to control large territories and terrorize the populace. While President Alvaro Uribe boasts that the number of murders of trade unionists is down, the paramilitaries still kill more labor activists in Colombia than in all other countries in the world combined. Still, Uribe does not find a way to prosecute these murders – or thousands of other murders that occur, some by the paramilitaries and others, called extra-judicial murders, committed by his own police and military forces.
The U.S. State Department has concluded that the Colombian military has even supported the paramilitaries with weapons, ammunition, intelligence, logistical aid, and, on occasion, troops. Now, this is the military to which the U.S. is sending hundreds of millions of tax dollars.
This is what $4 billion over seven years has bought the United States. This is not the plan to replicate in Mexico.
To human rights and labor activists in the United States, Plan Mexico is particularly frightening because of the similar history in Colombia and Mexico of egregious disregard for civil and labor rights. Human Rights Watch recently reported that Mexican soldiers have engaged in outrageous abuses while supposedly enforcing drug laws, including raping and beating detainees. And the government has long repressed labor unions, which would explain its failure to find any official responsible for the deaths of 65 miners in the explosion at the Pasta de Conchos mine in February 2006.
Before Congress gets the United States entangled in another “plan” to eradicate drugs with weapons of war, it would be wise to pause and examine the success of the conflicts for which we’re already paying. It should ask experts how to best plug that bottomless American market for Mexican and Colombian drugs. And it should seek advice on how to legally employ those drawn to employment in the lucrative illegal Mexican drug trade because the violence that spills over the border affects us all.
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