The Drug War: making Mexico safe for torture

By Michelle Chen Jul 09, 2009

We can now point to torture as an example of bilateral cooperation between the United States and Mexico. The Washington Post reports today that Mexico’s military-led drug crackdown is tied to tactics like electrocuting people’s genitals, suffocation, and rape. And behind it all is a U.S.-supported drug war initiative blessed by both the Bush and Obama administrations. Under Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s brutal anti-drug-trafficking campaigns, the country has seen massive bloodshed. Tens of thousands of troops have been deployed, and thousands have died in drug war-related violence. Testimonies of survivors recount a pattern of intimidation, beatings, asphyxiation, stabbings—stuff that, you know, the United States often shames other countries for permitting. Human rights problems in Mexico’s drug war aren’t necessarily directed by U.S. policy, but they’re certainly greased by Washington’s largess. In 2007, Bush requested $1.4 billion for the notorious Merida Initiative, which helps fund training and equipment for the Mexican military. Congress will soon have a chance to withhold a small portion of Merida funding when it reviews the State Department’s forthcoming report on Mexico’s human rights progress. So far, according to locals in Puerto Las Ollas, progress has been a bit slow. The Post describes an encounter between corn farmer Jaime César Acosta and the soldiers descending on his tiny village:

After he dismounted his mule, Acosta said, soldiers seized him, stood him up near one of the trucks, placed a rifle to his head and a long knife to his chin, and threatened to rape and kill him if he did not provide useful information. Acosta said that when he told the soldiers he did not know anything, they beat him with their fists. One grabbed his arm and began to pull the hair out, he said. Another took what appeared to be a sewing needle and stuck it repeatedly under his fingernails as he screamed. "One of them asked me if I was afraid to die," Acosta said. "I told him, ‘No, if God is ready for me, then it’s His will.’ " He said the soldier then picked up a suitcase and bashed him over the head with it.

While Mexican civil society groups have decried U.S. aid for the drug war, the Mexican government balks at any human rights conditions attached to Merida funding. Officials argue that traffickers may use allegations of torture as “propaganda,” according to the Post, and they can always point to America’s own record on torture carried out around the world in the name of fighting terrorism. The drug war has taken on the same cruel momentum as the war on terror, in which the hypocrisy of all state actors wraps brutality in a collective hush. There’s another moral dissonance in U.S. support for state violence in Mexico, too: The Obama administration, which supports the Merida Initiative, has tried to square its immigration platform with “border security” interests. The administration has shifted the debate toward anti-drug and anti-crime offensives, perhaps seeking to de-emphasize crackdowns on undocumented immgrants. In reality, both phenomena are inextricably linked: immigration patterns are driven by social instability, and militarizing the border drives the criminalization of immigrants. As one of many stains on the United States’ international human rights record, the blood of Mexico’s drug war is diluting Washington’s geopolitical moral leverage and destabilizing communities north and south of the border. Image: Policia Federal Preventiva (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, via Wikipedia Commons)