We are professors from universities and colleges across the United States who have been closely following the human rights violations occurring in Mexico. On September 26, 2014, students from a teachers college in the rural town of Ayotzinapa were headed to a peaceful protest when they were stopped and attacked by municipal police. These government authorities shot and killed 3 of these students, then forcibly disappeared another 43. According to eyewitnesses, the Mexican army battalion stationed close to the site of the attacks not only looked the other way, but also threatened the students. While this was occurring, the battalion’s commanding officer was at a party hosted by the wife of his close associate, the mayor of the town where the attacks took place. The mayor and his wife are accused of being the intellectual masterminds of the murders. To date, the whereabouts of the students remain unknown, and the Mexican federal government has tried to sidestep its responsibility in addressing these human rights violations by declaring that corrupt local officials handed the students over to members of a Mexican drug cartel for slaying.
These students’ disappearances are not an isolated incident perpetrated by a few bad apples. Rather, their abduction makes clear that from the federal to the local level, Mexican political officials and government security forces are thoroughly enmeshed with criminal gangs and transnational drug cartels. Moreover, this case illustrates a systematic pattern of government security forces’ collusion with criminal actors to violently repress peaceful attempts at reforming a corrupt and discredited political system. The efforts to silence the 43 student activists highlight the deep structural problems that pervade the core of the Mexican political establishment.
Currently, the United States government funds Mexico’s security forces through “Plan Mexico” (The Merida Initiative and other bilateral initiatives), providing over $2 billion since 2008. This money has been used to fund the training of both Mexican military and police. Yet, as the U.S. State Department’s own “Mexico 2013 Human Rights Report” acknowledges, “Significant human rights-related problems included police and military involvement in serious abuses, including unlawful killings, physical abuse, torture, and disappearances. Widespread impunity and corruption remained serious problems… in the security forces and in the judicial sector.” In fact, as recently as June 30, 2014, the Mexican National Commission for Human Rights issued a report condemning the Mexican army’s direct involvement in the Tlatlaya Massacre, where 22 civilians were extra-judiciously executed.
Given the high degree of Mexican government and security force complicity and participation in human rights abuses, we have reason to believe that U.S. aid has been used to perpetrate the very human rights violations it is supposed to prevent. Further evidence of this sad reality comes from two recent studies. In their 2011 investigation into the escalation of human rights violations in Mexico since the government launched its “war on organized crime,” Human Rights Watch found that,
“The patterns of violations that emerge in the accounts of victims and eyewitnesses, an analysis of official data, and interviews with government officials, law enforcement officers, and civil society groups strongly suggest that the cases documented in this report are not isolated acts. Rather, they are examples of abusive practices endemic to the current public security strategy.”
In addition, according to a 2014 report by the Washington Office on Latin America,
“The failure to implement strong accountability mechanisms has meant that [military and police] agents are seldom sanctioned for the abuses they commit, enabling human rights violations to continue unabated. This has been illustrated in the case of the Federal Police…[which] received training and assistance from the United States… The Mexican government held up the Federal Police as a modern, professional, and well-trained force, and it grew significantly between 2006 and 2012. But with demands for ‘results’ and an environment permissive of abuse, an increase in the size of the force also led to persistently high allegations of human rights violations.”
Because available evidence indicates that Mexican police and armed forces are using U.S. aid, weapons, technology, and training to systematically commit human rights violations, we believe that continued U.S. political support of the Peña Nieto government would only continue to make mass murder in Mexico possible. We cannot and should not support governments who kill or are complicit in the killings and disappearances of their own people, such as the 43 students from Ayotzinapa.
The record of human rights violations in Mexico is clear, as is what our laws require we do in the face of state-sponsored terrorism. Specifically, U.S. law—especially what is commonly referred to as the “Leahy Amendment,” Section 620M(a) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961—prohibits our government from providing military assistance to foreign governments who violate human rights. Therefore:
1) We demand that “Plan Mexico” (The Merida Initiative) and all bilateral aid to the Mexican armed forces and police be immediately suspended.
2) We recommend a federal investigation into how U.S. military aid is directly or indirectly used by Mexican authorities, especially as related to human rights abuses.
3) Based on the findings of the federal investigation, we recommend that the U.S. government condition all future military aid on the Mexican government’s ability to prove that it will not be used to directly or indirectly violate human rights.
These actions would send a clear statement condemning human rights violations in Mexico and signal that the United States will not accept any kind of government involvement, complicity, or tolerance of direct or indirect state-sponsored terrorism. The future of Mexico is at a crossroads. The same spirit of hope and change that marked your momentous election to the White House is now found in the desires of the Mexican people for a historic transformation of their country. The Mexican people are ready for this change and many are now risking their lives daily to demand a new and honest government that respects their human rights. The best way for the United States to play a positive role in this democratic process is by cutting off all military and police aid to the current government, ensuring that our tax dollars will not be used against the Mexican people.
Alexander Aviña, Florida State University
Xóchitl Bada, University of Illinois at Chicago
Adrián Félix, University of California, Santa Cruz
Alfonso Gonzales, University of Texas, Austin
Tehama Lopez Bunyasi, George Mason University
Tanalís Padilla, Dartmouth College
Héctor Perla, University of California, Santa Cruz
Chris Zepeda-Millán, University of California, Berkeley
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