In the last three years, The Washington Post reports, Mexico's National Human Rights Commission has received more than 2,000 complaints about abuses committed by soldiers waging the country's U.S.-backed war on drugs. But according to the Interior Ministry, only one of those cases has resulted in a conviction: A soldier who fired on civilians at a checkpoint, killing one of them, received a nine-month sentence. The military says there have been 10 convictions, but it declines to provide details. The U.S. State Department puts the number of convictions at 12 and says another 52 soldiers are being investigated for homicide, torture, kidnapping, and extortion. Evidently 97 percent of the complaints proved groundless.
A military spokesman who demands anonymity assures the Post that "the army does not systemically violate human rights." But even if it only does so in an unofficial, disorganized way, the alleged abuses—which include torture, beatings, illegal raids and arrests, and gunfire aimed at civilians—are a predictable result of expecting soldiers to act like cops and cops to act like soldiers. The military spokesman complains:
It's like the United States in Iraq or Afghanistan, only more difficult because they can usually tell who are the criminals and who are the civilians. We do not have that luxury. In the drug war, the line between criminal and civilian is blurred.
According to Abel Barra, executive director of the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center in Guerrero, "militarization has caused more damage to society here than it has helped us live in peace." Yet the U.S. supports this policy financially and politically while disclaiming responsibility for its consequences:
"The U.S. Congress made clear that it supports the Merida Initiative against the cartels, but it does not support a blank check for the Mexican military," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). "A portion of our aid is conditioned on respect for human rights."
Another way of saying this is that the U.S. would continue funding Mexico's war on drugs even if the government made no pretense of caring about human rights. With a little lip service but very little action, it can earn the entire $1.4 billion allocated by Congress.