A new report from the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has called for a decrease in the Mexican military’s role in fighting organized crime, citing alleged army human rights abuses and increased levels of violence.
The report (available for download here), based on interviews with US and Mexican officials conducted by Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff this April in Mexico, states, “Heavy reliance upon the military to … confront the narcotics syndicates appears to have been largely ineffective – and in some instances to have exacerbated the violence suffered by civilians.”
As a result, the committee provides eight recommendations, emphasizing the importance of focusing the future strategy more on police and judicial reform over military deployment, which in some cases has “led to human rights violations,” according to the report. For this to take place, the committee advises that the US provide $250 million over the coming four years through the Merida Initiative to “accelerate the establishment of an accusatorial judicial system,” and bring about police reform at the state level.
These recommendations for a move away from military reliance come in the wake of a French NGO’s report that alleged since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006, Mexico’s military has committed an increasing number of human rights abuses, including torture and disappearances.
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Despite growing criticism of Calderon’s use of the military to combat cartels, the Mexican public have been largely supportive of the army’s role. A July 2011 poll found 58 percent of respondents believing the army respected human rights while a poll from May this year found 64 percent of Mexicans to be supportive of the military’s role in the fight against gangs. The more prevalent perception is that the the problem lies in the way that Calderon has used the military, rather than the deployment of soldiers itself.
The Senate Committee’s recommendations for a move away from reliance on the military will be welcomed by many. In November, a number of NGOs urged Washington to cut military aid to Mexico, arguing that the $1.8 billion it has provided through the Merida Initiative since 2008 has helped fuel human rights abuses by the military.
It remains to be seen what kind of security strategy president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto will adopt when he takes office in December, and how much it will differ from the current, military-heavy approach. Prior to his election, he declared that he would continue to deploy the military against drug gangs, despite previously saying he would gradually withdraw them from the streets.