This is your war on drugsAugust 13, 2009 at 3:48 pm | Posted in Drugs, International | 1 Comment
On 16th February 2002, Valentina Rosendo Cantú was washing her clothes in a stream near her home in Caxitepec, Mexico, when six soldiers approached. Seemingly too busy for pleasantries, the men started barking questions at her: Who was she? Where was she from? Had she seen the people they were looking for? Did she recognise the names on the list they thrust in front of her?
Her answers weren’t good enough, so one soldier pulled a gun and threatened to shoot. Another punched her so hard that she passed out. When she came to, two men tore off her underwear and raped her, one after the other. She was sixteen years old.
It took several months for Valentina to find a doctor willing to treat her; her nearest hospital turned her away because they didn’t want any trouble from the military. The next nearest, which she walked for eight hours to reach, examined her but offered no medicine. Only after legal action was threatened did she finally receive the gynecological care she needed.
At the time of writing, no criminal prosecution has ever been brought against these men and no one has been formally disciplined by a military which has perpetually dragged its feet over investigations. Some 7 years later, she still hasn’t found justice.
This case is just one of many allegations of human rights abuses levelled at the Mexican military in pursuit of an expensive, bloody and failed war on drugs. As well as rape, the allegations include enforced disappearance, torture, arbitrary detention and unlawful killing. And it’s all being bankrolled by the United States of America.
Last year, Congress approved the Mérida Initiative , a 3 year aid deal worth $1.4 billion which was designed to equip and train the Mexican security forces against drug cartels & organised crime – one of countless handouts the country’s received in the past few decades. One of the conditions of the deal was that the country should receive a routine certification by the State Department that it was adhering to human rights obligations. That report was ready for publication, and the money was waiting to be released. And then someone threw a fork in the road.
Last week, Democrat Patrick Leahy blocked the report’s publication, insisting that Mexico had not met its obligations, and reflecting rising concern that American money was subsidising a security service which appears corrupt, unaccountable and sometimes barbaric. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for this aid to be frozen until the military is made more accountable for the crimes committed by its officers.
But the real question should be how much longer we can tolerate this grossly expensive, brutal & fruitless war on drugs. For decades the United States has lavished money on Central/Latin America and beyond for the purpose of fighting narco-trafficking; it’s sent these countries arms and trained their military, and all it’s ever achieved are momentary, short-lived price rises. Cartels have risen & fallen, gangsters have come & gone, Presidents have been elected & defeated. Yet for all the money it spends in its own country and throughout the region, it has never once looked like it was winning.
Instead, we just keep piling up the victims. If the ‘war on drugs’ really was a proper war, then the rape of Valentina Rosendo Cantu, and many other cases cited this Human Rights Watch report, might well have constituted a war crime . If that doesn’t bring into sharp focus the kinds of acts we’re subsidising in order to fight a drugs trade which will never end, then I’m not sure anything will.
(Image: A man with a tattoo of the “Santa Muerte,” or “Death Saint,” attends a protest by the folk saint’s followers against the destruction of their shrines in Mexico City, Sunday, April 5, 2009. Mexico’s government is targeting the folk saint, destroying “Santa Muerte” shrines in its all-out war on the cartels, saying the unofficial religion is usually a sign of something more sinister: Crime, drugs, even brutal killings.)