In clear sign of troubled times, the U.S. announced it is withholding $5 million in drug war aid to Mexico over human rights concerns. The aid is part of a 2008 deal known as the Merida Initiative, hailed at the time as a historic drug-war partnership between the two countries.
The enthusiasm for that partnership now seems to be fading.
“The U.S. State Department had no choice but to recognize that Mexico has not complied with the human rights stipulations of the Merida Initiative,” Human Rights Watch director for the Americas Jose Miguel Vivanco told Fusion. “It’s impossible to argue that Mexico is solving problems such as torture and disappearances.”
Analysts and political pundits agree that the U.S. is sending Mexico a clear message, even if the sum isn't really enough to have much effect on the war on drugs.
“To withhold $5 million won’t do anything to the operations of Mexico’s government,” said Fusion and Univision anchor Jorge Ramos. “However, symbolically it is very harmful to Mexico’s image in the world. The U.S. is very concerned about what is happening in Mexico and President Enrique Peña Nieto has to demonstrate political will to fight corruption and impunity. That hasn’t happened yet.”
Mexican Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu called the aid cut "insignificant" and said the Mexican government would not “endorse what may be unilateral qualifications.”
The Mexican government has been hounded by human rights scandals all year, from the army's alleged execution of criminals in Tlatlaya to the disappearance of 43 student protesters from Ayotzinapa and femicides in Mexico State.
But some say Uncle Sam is being hypocritical for slapping Mexico on the wrist but doing little to stop drug consumption at home or the flow of weapons that ultimately arms the cartels.
Bilateral tensions are nothing new. In 2011, the release of tens of thousands of diplomatic cables via Wikileaks revealed U.S. criticism and mistrust of Mexican security agencies, prompting the resignation of U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual.
While there’s been recent efforts to thaw relations by appointing new ambassadors and restarting extradition processes, this time the U.S. State Department didn’t overlook the human rights abuses.
“This year, we were unable to certify that Mexico fully meets the criteria,” The State Department told the Washington Post on evaluating Mexico's human rights record.
Concern over the country’s weak rule of law, most recently evidenced by the prison break of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, also seems to be deteriorating trust.
“While bilateral efforts have yielded some positive results, the weakness of Mexico’s criminal justice system may have limited the effectiveness of those efforts,”states a 2015 CRS Report for Congress.
The U.S. government will still give Mexico $190 million in anti-drug aid, according to the New York Times. The $5 million withheld will go to combat coca production in Peru.
When the Merida Initiative was signed, Congress allocated approximately $2.5 billion for programs in Mexico. “Of that total, more than $1.3 billion worth of training, equipment, and technical assistance has been provided. Mexico, for its part, has invested some $79 billion of its own resources on security and public safety, including $11 billion in 2015,” according to the CRS report.