During his stop in Dallas on Tuesday, Mexican President Felipe Calderon insisted that he had not come with hat in hand to beg for U.S. favors. He wants the United States to be a responsible partner and ante up in the effort to halt cross-border drug trafficking.
On that note, he's absolutely right. As the hemisphere's chief consumer of illegal drugs, the United States provides the financial engine that drives the multibillion-dollar trafficking industry. It's time for the United States to be a responsible partner, which is why Congress should pass the $1.4 billion Merida Initiative to support efforts by Mexico and Central America to defang the cartels and gangs putting drugs on our streets.
But Mr. Calderon told us that he doesn't want conditions placed on this aid and that he's prepared to reject it altogether if Congress tries to meddle in Mexico's affairs. Granted, any Mexican president would have to take this stand because Mexicans are understandably defensive about any measure that smacks of U.S. infringement on their sovereignty.
Mr. Calderon would be unwise to push this stance too far. It's evident that conservative Mexico bashers and liberal human-rights advocates on Capitol Hill are uniting in opposition to this aid package. The aid almost certainly will come with significant strings attached, probably in the form of a human rights certification process.
Before Mexico protests, it should look at other countries that have accepted such conditions and emerged better off for having done so.
Colombia, the recipient of nearly $5 billion in counter-narcotics aid since 2000, was spurred by its certification process to transform its police and military. Before U.S. certification, extrajudicial killings by Colombian soldiers and police were commonplace. Their priority was exacting confessions and eliminating anyone who was merely suspected of associating with drug traffickers or leftist guerrillas. Many innocent people were killed.
U.S. aid arrived with the stipulation that all police and military units receiving assistance be properly ”vetted” of anyone associated with past human rights abuses. It was a tedious process, and it met with harsh resistance from Colombian military commanders.
There's still much room for improvement, but today, Colombia's commanders acknowledge that their forces are more professional, and their public approval ratings are far higher than before the U.S. vetting process began. Independent polls confirm this, with several showing the police and military at the top of the list, on a par with the Catholic Church, in terms of popularity and public confidence.
In September, Mexico's human rights ombudsman called for Mr. Calderon to tighten oversight of the army because of 78 separate abuse allegations against soldiers that included torture and murder of civilians. Congress has every right to demand that our dollars don't help fund such abuses.
Mr. Calderon is correct to call for America to be a more responsible partner, but it's no crime for Congress to require that Mexico be responsible as well. A human rights certification process is a good way for both sides to get what they're asking for.
— The Dallas Morning News