WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
14 May 2008 | News

Military Aid Reflects Skewed Mérida Priorities; WOLA Urges More Civilian Security Aid

Today the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a bill that would authorize funding for the security cooperation package for Mexico and Central America known as the Mérida Initiative.  WOLA thinks this bill is a mixed bag.  On the negative side, it is front-loaded with military equipment.  It provides funding for police and judicial institutions but in ways that may not contribute to long-term improvement in them. On the positive side it funds important gang prevention in Central America.  

WOLA believes this bill needs to be judged by what it can and cannot achieve.  It can allow the United States to engage with Mexico at a time when that country is plagued by drug related violence, but it will not reduce the flow of drugs into the United States.  Even if the Merida Initiative succeeds in slowing the influx of drugs at certain parts of the border, new routes will be developed as long as consumption remains strong in the United States.  WOLA has long urged the U.S. government to do more to help Latin America by putting much greater resources into curbing drug demand at home. has long urged the 

The bill provides for a three-year authorization.  The first year approves spending $205 million for military aircraft for Mexico, mainly helicopters. This accounts for more than 40 percent of the plan’s aid to Mexico in the first year. Although the plan’s second and third years foresees more civilian aid, WOLA is concerned that military aid will come to dominate the package.          

Plan Colombia started out almost evenly split between military and civilian aid. But the military sector gradually swamped all other priorities and eventually accounted for nearly 80 percent of U.S. annual funding, and still the plan has failed in its core objectives.  A similar dynamic must not occur with Plan Mérida.  

“The Mexico portion of the bill is front-loaded with military assistance,” said WOLA Executive Director Joy Olson.  “The reality is that the U.S. Congress always finds it easier to fund military assistance than to invest in the kinds of long-term institutional police and justice reform needed to arrest and prosecute drug traffickers. I’m concerned about where this all goes in the long-term.” 

“Due to the human rights record of the Mexican police and the Army, we will need to closely monitor this aid to see that it is not given to human rights abusers,” she added.

In the Central America portion of the bill, WOLA commends the investment being made in the prevention of youth gang violence.  Experts agree that this kind of investment is critical and it has been woefully under-funded.

To read WOLA Program Director Geoff Thale’s testimony in Congress this week on the Mérida Initiative, click here . See also WOLAblog .



Roger Atwood, Communications Director, [email protected], (202) 797 2171