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Drugs, Human Rights, Trade, and Distrust

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and U.S. President Barack Obama tried to de-emphasize the role of security in U.S.-Mexican relations, but events made that difficult. Now human rights abuses are a growing concern.

The following article was published today by War on the Rocks. Here’s a brief excerpt from my piece. –TL

Last month, citing human rights concerns, the United States quietly withheld about $5 million in counternarcotics assistance for Mexico. The State Department declined to certify that Mexico met conditions imposed on the aid by Congress under the Leahy Amendment, triggering the 15-percent reduction in funding for Mexican security agencies. Though more than $140 million of other U.S. funding will continue to flow, the decision — first reported by The Washington Post and confirmed by a deputy spokesman at the State Department — was cheered by human rights advocates. A senior official at Human Rights Watch told The New York Times that the cut was “unprecedented.”

The State Department’s decision is symbolically important, but Mexico’s muted reaction was perhaps even more surprising. The Mexican government limited its response to a statement that criticized “unilateral practices,” but painted the aid cut as a consequence of U.S. executive–legislative relations. The focus was instead on the “deep and mature bilateral relationship” between the two neighbors. The muted Mexican reaction is no doubt a reciprocation of the State Department’s low-key handling of the issue and recognition of the fact that most aid money continues to flow, but also a reflection of the evolution of Mexican foreign policy toward the United States. Changes in Mexican politics and the “maturation” of bilateral ties allow U.S. policymakers to give greater weight to human rights without jeopardizing the broader relationship. The United States should use that space to respond to the growing concerns of Mexican citizens about human rights and accountability while reevaluating the failing military-led response to Mexico’s insecurity.

Read the rest over at War on the Rocks.

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