Pubdate: Tue, 18 Aug 2009
Source: Christian Science Monitor (US)
Copyright: 2009 The Christian Science Publishing Society
Bookmark: (Opinion)


A US Report Cites Calderon's Progress on Human Rights. As More Legal 
Reforms Kick In, Mexicans Should Not Let Up on Their Support.

Mexicans should take heart from a report last week by the Obama 
administration that shows America's neighbor is making progress in 
honoring human rights - despite a violent, internal war against 
powerful drug cartels.

The State Department told Congress in an official evaluation that 
Mexico is successfully reforming its justice system with better 
accountability and transparency.

Such reforms include removal of corrupt officials, punishment of 
soldiers who harm civilians, civilian oversight of federal police, 
and a broad education effort to raise respect for the rule of law.

The report was a requirement for the next release of US funds under 
the Merida Initiative, a $1.4 billion, three-year aid package for 
Mexico's campaign. Both the new money and the report should help 
Mexicans overcome their battle fatigue from a long war that has seen 
45,000 Army soldiers deployed in narcotics-trading areas.

Mexicans are starting to lose faith that there will be any sort of 
victory. Ever since President Felipe Calderon began the war in 2006, 
more than 12,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence - 
most of them in fighting between competing cartels. Top leaders in 
Mr. Calderon's National Action Party (PAN) are questioning the 
strategy of using the military to do police work. The number of 
complaints of human-rights abuses by soldiers has risen, but so, too, 
has the capacity and willingness of the military to prosecute errant soldiers.

Progress is being made. The war has resulted in the arrests of more 
than 76,000 suspected traffickers. Nearly 200 cartel leaders have 
been sent to the US for trial. Most of all, the campaign allows for a 
cleansing of corrupt officials and police, which in turn allows 
communities to start to prosper and create jobs for idle youth who 
might be tempted to join the cartels.

The US has a big stake in Mexico's future. It has already contributed 
$1 billion of the promised $1.4 billion in aid, paying for special 
military equipment, police training, and better law enforcement. And 
that may not be the end of it. The US spent $6 billion in Colombia 
from 2000 to 2006 in an effort to break drug cartels in that smaller 
Latin American country. In the US, it took decades for the FBI and 
police to rid many cities of organized crime.

The Obama administration is also cooperating with Mexico to reduce 
the flow of arms and drug money across the border, but it still needs 
to stand up to the gun lobby and crack down on gun sales near the border.

President Obama should also be increasing - not decreasing - federal 
funding for US programs to reduce drug use among Americans (the 
"demand" side of Mexico's drug "supply" problem). The two countries 
have a "co-responsibility" in checking the cartels, as Secretary of 
State Hillary Clinton puts it.

Calderon's current problem is meeting public expectations for an end 
to the war. The Army isn't fully trained in police work, and the 
sooner government can train better paid and less corruptible cops, 
the faster the military can return to the barracks. Calderon hopes to 
do that by 2012, when his time as president is up.

With more improvements in the Army's human rights record, more 
Mexicans will support its difficult work in rooting out the cartels' 
deep tentacles in society. Corruption runs deep in Mexico, and the 
military campaign marks just the beginning of long-needed reforms. 
Calderon's perseverance should inspire more Mexicans to keep 
supporting his efforts.

As long as they do, the US should be there with them.
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