NGOs Report: Colombia a ‘Cautionary Tale’ for Mexico

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Several prominent Washington NGOs released a new report on how lessons from Plan Colombia can guide future U.S. policy in Mexico. The report warns against creating too close of a parallel between the Mexico and Colombia drug conflicts, then goes on to argue that repeating the Plan Colombia model in Mexico “would be a very a bad idea.”

Beginning in the late 1990s, the United States gave several billion dollars of aid, training and equipment to Colombia under Plan Colombia, and it has given Mexico hundreds of thousands in aid under the $1.4 billion Merida Initiative. The two plans have been compared to one another and there is the sense that Washington is looking to replicate plan in Mexico.

However, the report — by the Washington Office on Latin America, the Latin American Working Group and the Center for International Policy — presents six recommendations for overall U.S. strategy, beginning with the mandate that the U.S. must first “clean its own house” and prioritize domestic drug reduction efforts, as well as efforts to stem gun trafficking to Mexico. The report also warns against an “uncritical embrace” of the partner government, citing Colombia’s “false positives” scandal as an example of U.S. policymakers assuming a “timid” stance towards military misconduct.

The final six recommendations focus on human rights policy and are an interesting compliment to the conclusions laid out by Human Rights Watch (HRW) earlier this week (get pdf version here). The 213-page HRW report documents over 200 cases of abuse committed by police, army and marines, all institutions which have received U.S. aid and/or training.

Like the HRW report, the new NGO report notes that the judicial system is the Achilles Heel for both Mexico and Colombia, where cases move slowly and convictions are few. In order to speed things up, the report argues that U.S. policymakers should establish clearer benchmarks for how the judicial sector in these partner countries should pursue reform; and be more aggressive about withholding aid if these benchmarks are not met.

According to the report, among Colombia’s most important lessons for Mexico in terms of U.S. policy is the usage of human rights conditions as leverage. Pressure from the U.S. State Department led to a key reform in Colombia which allows military officials to be tried in civilian, rather than military, courts. This is one of the few examples of progress in judicial reform in Colombia, the report argues, and holds great relevance for Mexico, where human rights crimes are rarely prosecuted in military courts. Should the U.S. become more aggressive about withholding aid if human rights conditions are not met, this is a surefire way to ensure both Mexico and Colombia can more effectively pursue their security goals, the report concludes.

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