Citing a failure to meet human rights goals, the United States government has withheld $5 million in anti-narcotics funding for Mexico, dealing a sharp symbolic blow to the administration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
The Washington Post reported the US State Department chose to withhold 15 percent of the funds earmarked for Mexican military and police under the Merida Initiative, which provides support for Mexico’s anti-drug efforts.
Under the terms of the Merida Initiative, this 15 percent of funds is conditional on improvements in Mexico's human rights situation. To release the money, the State Department is required to present an annual report to Congress detailing efforts to protect human rights by Mexican authorities.
The State Department chose not to write the report this year. In response to a question on the decision, a State Department spokesperson said, "This year, the Department was unable to confirm and report to Congress that Mexico fully met all of the criteria in the Fiscal Year 2014 appropriation legislation."
Since 2008, the US government has provided $2.3 billion in training and equipment to Mexico through the Merida Initiative. Total funding this year was $148 million.
The withheld $5 million has been reassigned to coca eradication efforts in Peru.
InSight Crime Analysis
The decision to withhold a portion of funding to Mexico is of much greater political than financial significance. Indeed, the Merida Initiative does not account for a significant portion of Mexico’s annual security budget, but the withdrawal of even a small amount of funds is a clear critique by the US government of human rights concerns in Mexico.
SEE MORE: Coverage of the Merida Initiative
Of late, Mexico's Peña Nieto administration has come under heavy criticism for alleged human rights abuses by security forces in the 2014 disappearance of 43 students in Iguala and the Tlatlatya massacre -- where members of the military allegedly executed 22 people. Earlier this year -- in response to these tragic events and the Mexican government's mishandling of investigations -- Mexican activists and human rights groups called on the US government to withhold Merida Initiative aid to Mexico.
Previously, while the Merida Initiative's conditional 15 percent of aid has been delayed, it has never been completely withheld. That it was withheld hints at real concerns among US officials -- who in the past have been accommodating of the Mexican government in order to foster a positive working relationship -- over human rights violations in Mexico.
Yet concerns over human rights violations by Mexican security forces that receive US aid or training have been raised in the past. What exactly served as the final blow prompting US officials to withhold Merida Initiative funding this year, however, remains unclear.